Question 1: “Do you believe that the media purposely tries to divide Republicans in order to help elect Democrats?”
Question 2: When did you stop beating your wife?
The first question is one of 27 in a “Media Accountability Survey” conducted this month by Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee. The second is, of course, a classic example of a loaded question - a key device in the RNC survey.
Sent by email to Trump supporters, but not publicized outside of GOP ranks, the survey is actually a shrewd marketing tool. Similar to “push polls” used in political campaigns, it seeks to foster opinions rather than gather them.
“Why is the mainstream media’s opinion any more important than yours?” Trump asks in the opening of his cover email. In urging his supporters to take the survey, he leaves no doubt about the goal: “To show the media that the American people are fed up with the Fake News Machine.”
Question 23 asks: “Do you believe that the media has been too quick to spread false stories about our movement?”
Donald Trump’s relentless effort to disparage journalists covering his presidency - and in doing so discredit their reports - is not new. But the intensity of his attacks is growing. In his email the president singles out “coastal elitists” in media, who “have used every possible tactic to slander, undermine, and insult our movement.”
Interestingly, the survey mentions only CNN, MSNBC and Fox News by name. It never asks about the national print and digital publications such as The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, which have dug the deepest into Trump’s troubled administration. Nor, for that matter, does it ask about broadcasters CBS, NBC, ABC and NPR - whose newscasts reach more Americans than the cable channels do.
Several questions use the term “movement,” suggesting that respondents are part of a special class, victimized by journalists.
Question 10: “Do you believe the media disdains conservatives?” Question 11: “Do you believe the media dislikes Americans of faith?”
The objective of a push poll is not to find out what you think, it’s to signal you about what you ought to think. A frequently cited example is from George W. Bush’s campaign in the 2000 GOP primaries. South Carolina voters were asked: “Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?” McCain lost in South Carolina and never recovered.
Six years earlier in the Texas race for governor, Bush’s pollsters asked residents if they would be more or less likely to vote for incumbent Ann Richards if they “knew that lesbians dominated on her staff.” Richards lost the election.
The very morning that Trump’s survey went out he was tweeting as usual about his scorn for media, in this case “Fake News CNN.” Unable to shed his insecurity about losing the popular vote in 2016, Trump blasted CNN, 21 months after the fact, tweeting: “They were sooooo wrong in their election coverage. Still hurting!”
Trump’s alternate universe is one in which his own “hurt” is projected onto CNN and other media. His online survey is a reminder to his base that no matter how bad the news about Trump is in months to come, it’s all fake.
But why would the Trump campaign bother with a survey that essentially asks the choir to vouch for the views of the preacher? Beyond cementing anti-media views, the survey provides insight into which topics are most important to the base.
Question 9: “On which issues does the mainstream media do the worst job of representing President Trump?” The choices are “immigration, economics, radical Islamic terrorism, pro-life values/social issues, religion, health care and Second Amendment rights.” Naturally, no question asks about issues on which media do the “best job.”
After completing the survey, respondents are asked to “go the extra mile and make a contribution to help defend our movement from the outrageous attacks from the media coming our way.”
The $100 box is pre-checked, but $2,700 is offered as an option. Who would give that much? Only someone answering “yes” if asked: “Do you see value in Trump’s blatantly biased surveys?”
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker.