Within moments of President Donald Trump finishing his freewheeling press conference Thursday, his campaign sent out the “Mainstream Media Accountability Survey”: 25 questions polling Trump supporters on how the media has been treating the administration.
“You know that I don’t trust the media to report on anything we achieve,” the campaign’s email said. “Instead, you — the American people — are our last line of defense against the media’s hit jobs. You are our greatest asset in helping our movement deliver the truth to the American people.”
The questionnaire was an extension of the press conference — a hour-plus affair that the president used to admonish the media for “fake news,” “illegal leaks,” and a generally negative “tone” in stories about him — and as such, it echoed many of the same sentiments:
- “Do you believe that the mainstream media has reported unfairly on our movement?”
- “Do you believe that the mainstream media does not do their due diligence fact-checking before publishing stories on the Trump administration?”
- “Do you believe that political correctness has created biased news coverage on both illegal immigration and radical Islamic terrorism?”
- “Do you believe that the media purposely tries to divide Republicans against each other in order to help elect Democrats?”
“On several questions, the description of Trump's actions or the media's behavior [is] slanted,” says George Washington University political scientist John Sides, highlighting the use of familiar and preferred phrases like “radical Islamic terrorism.”
Of course, at its core the survey was a political stunt.
“Look at the language ‘our message,’ ‘our party,’ ‘our movement,’” says Kathy Frankovic of YouGov polling. “It's not a poll but a political message. The assumption clearly is that people who answer the questions will agree with the assumptions and give the ‘right’ answers.”
It is on one hand a list-building exercise for Trump’s reelection campaign, with fields asking for participants’ name and email address, and on the other a rallying cry for the “movement.”
Trump’s war with the press has long been part of his political strategy, both in a systematic effort to delegitimize forces of accountability and to inoculate his supporters against attacks on his administration.
Often his criticisms of the media are paradoxical. He says he wants straight reporting and an honest media, but gets angry when he isn’t lobbed easy questions. At one point Thursday, he admitted there are “real” leaks, but said stories on them are “fake news.”
The point seems to be to remind his supporters to trust him above all else — just like with this survey.
“I assume this is designed to get a convenience sample, largely composed of Trump supporters, to ratify the talking points embedded in the questions,” Sides says. “It's not designed to survey a representative sample of American adults and voters.”
Predictably, after more than a year of watching Trump on the campaign trail, voters on the other side of the aisle recognize the game — and they are taking the survey too, seemingly to skew its results.