Online Polling, Editorial Standards and Fox News

Fox News reportedly reprimanded Sean Hannity for citing inaccurate online polls as evidence GOP nominee prevailed inMonday night’s first presidential debate over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Fox News reportedly reprimanded Sean Hannity for citing inaccurate online polls as evidence GOP nominee prevailed inMonday night’s first presidential debate over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Presidential candidates routinely claim they win debates. GOP nominee Donald Trump buttressed his claims by citing online poll results after Monday night’s debate. Fox News hosts joined Trump in ballyhooing the online poll results.

However, according to Business Insider, Dana Blanton, the vice president of public opinion research at Fox News, circulated a memo Tuesday that says opt-in or self-selected online polls are subject to crowd-jamming and don’t meet the network’s editorial standards for legitimate, newsworthy polling results.

“We know some campaigns/groups of supporters encourage people to vote in online polls and flood the results," she wrote. "These quickie click items do not meet our editorial standards."

"News networks and other organizations go to great effort and rigor to conduct scientific polls – for good reason," Blanton wrote in the memo. "They know quick vote items posted on the web are nonsense, not true measures of public opinion.”

"Fox News policy is to focus on non-partisan telephone polls (with both landlines & cellphones) that use live interviewers, and random digit-dial sampling techniques – a methodology that enables everyone an equal chance of being interviewed,” Blanton said.

The use of non-scientific poll results as news can be a problem when polls with representative samples show vastly different results, as was the case with the Trump-Hillary Clinton debate. A CNN “instant” poll conducted after the survey with a representative sample of debate viewers showed Clinton won the debate over Trump by a 49 percent to 26 percent margin.

Many political commentators have bemoaned this as a post-fact era, when truth or accuracy are no longer standards to determine facts.  Interestingly, at least two Fox News hosts, including Trump booster Sean Hannity, continued to cite the quickie polls, which Blanton called nonsense, as evidence of Trump’s triumph in Monday’s debate. Not surprisingly, Trump tweeted his approval of such reports.

As we have pointed out in previous blog posts about election-year public opinion polling, readers and voters need to take care in assessing results and not assume the results are true.

News agencies in particular have shown a tendency to highlight certain poll results that support a running narrative, such as a tightening race. Credible pollsters using different methodologies can come up with varying results, without trying to mislead. But without question polling techniques can be used – including self-selected polls on websites with a definite political bent .

The bottom line: Listen warily to online poll results. Trust your own judgment as to who won or lost based on what you actually saw and heard in a debate. Everything else is often just spin.