One day after an epic press conference during which President Donald Trump repeatedly criticized and diminished long-respected media outlets such as CNN as purveyors of "fake news," his still-operating campaign arm and the Republican National Committee have reinforced their media-as-opposition message by disseminating a "Mainstream Media Accountability Survey" to supporters.
Some professional market researchers and GOP pollsters suggest that despite its appearance, the survey is nothing more than a means of egging on supporters to cough up more data, and questioned its validity.
"You would never use data from a biased sample of email list subscribers as a replacement for traditional public opinion research, and that's not likely what they're using it for," said Patrick Ruffini, co-founder of Republican research firm Echelon Insights and former RNC digital strategy director. "Given the fact that Trump can't stop talking about the 'lying media,' I suspect this is one of the better tools in their arsenal to land people on a donation page after taking the survey."
Another Republican pollster called the survey "a data collection tool and not a survey research project." Commenting on condition of anonymity, he continued, "It piles onto an already negative view of polls this cycle, but when people are worked up, they fill this out and give their email."
The survey asked for a name, email address and ZIP code, and could be used to categorize supporters in relation to their feelings about certain issues.
A third GOP pollster who also asked not to be named had a similar conclusion. "This is not a scientific survey. It is an engagement tool. The results might be interesting. But as a scientific survey, this first of all, lacks randomness, and any attempt to make it representative."
"Did you take the survey everybody is talking about?" asked the RNC on Twitter today, following another tweet declaring, "The media attacks are relentless." Donald J Trump for President, Inc. also sent a text message to supporters asking them to "Take the Media Accountability Survey and tell me which one you think is the worst."
In addition to asking respondents whether they trust CNN, MSNBC or Fox News to report on the Trump administration fairly, the 25-question survey asks questions such as: "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 the media creates false feuds within our Party in order to make us seem divided?" and "Do you believe that the media uses slurs rather than facts to attack conservative stances on issues like border control, religious liberties, and ObamaCare?"
"When someone sent this to me earlier today, I thought it was a joke, it was so farcical," said Andy Hasselwander, senior VP-products and research at market research firm Latinum Network, noting that "Almost all are leading questions which will drive hugely biased results in favor of what the interviewer wants."
The survey question, "Do you believe that people of faith have been unfairly characterized by the media?" he suggested, if part of a valid study, might be reworded to ask, "How fairly do the media in the United States cover religious issues?"
While the survey may be an elaborate attempt at capturing additional contact information of likely Trump supporters, it will provide insight about how supporters feel regarding specific media outlets and how those outlets cover particular issues such as immigration, second-amendment rights and foreign policy.
At the very least it may serve to fuel already-smoldering antipathy among Trump supporters for journalists and media. The Trump administration declared early on that it would treat news organizations as the opposition, and during his young presidency, President Trump has continued the attacks on reporters and media outlets he made a cornerstone of his election campaign. He used his press conference yesterday -- originally intended as a forum to announce his new pick for labor secretary following the exit of Andrew Puzder from the process -- as a stream-of-consciousness rant session during which he hammered away at press outlets, calling reporters "dishonest" and pointing out CNN's "tone" in covering his administration as "such hatred."
Amid growing fears that the Trump administration could suppress media access and news coverage of its activities, the survey -- even if not scientifically sound -- serves as a transparent attempt to foster resentment and distrust of media outlets among the president's supporters and Republicans. If the administration and GOP believe their supporters trust President Trump's tweets more than the reporting of seasoned journalists, it arguably could influence decisions to squelch press access.
One survey question in particular suggests results could emphasize this line of thinking: "Do you agree with President Trump's media strategy to cut through the media's noise and deliver our message straight to the people?"
Another fallout of an administration-driven diminishment of press legitimacy could affect advertiser decisions, argued James Warren of Poynter in a morning roundup on the journalism site today, before the survey was released. He asked, "But if Trump will scare Ford Motor Co. about plants in Mexico, why not scare them and others about advertising on certain broadcast or cable outlets he doesn't like?"