Fox News memo reminds online polls just for fun, not scientific

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Fox News reminded staff that online polls are “just for fun” and that it should only cite scientific polls. Earlier this week, Fox News’ Sean Hannity and Brian Kilmeade referred to unscientific online polls on air in order to inflate the performance of Donald Trump at the first presidential debate with Hillary Clinton.

“Online ‘polls’ like the one on Drudge, Time, etc. where people can opt-in or self-select … are really just for fun,'” the Sept. 27 memo from Dana Blanton, Vice President, Public Opinion Research at Fox News Channel, said. The Fox News memo was published in its entirety by Business Insider.

“As most of the publications themselves clearly state, the sample obviously can’t be representative of the electorate because they only reflect the views of those Internet users who have chosen to participate,” Blanton wrote.

Blanton’s memo reminded that online polls can allow people to “flood the results” by voting multiple times or getting large groups of people to vote a certain way.

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

Blanton also reminded its journalists to report on polls that follow proper polling standards. “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’s memo said.

A Fox News spokesperson pointed out to iMediaEthics that the Fox hosts who have cited online, unscientific polls are on the opinion side of Fox News and not the news site.  Hannity is openly supporting Donald Trump and recently appeared in an ad for Trump (without Fox News’ knowledge or permission). Kilmeade is a co-host of Fox News’ morning program Fox & Friends.

iMediaEthics’ polling director, David Moore, weighed in on Blanton’s memo and the importance of not sharing bad online polls. “The highly respectable pollster at Fox, Dana Blanton, the network’s vice president of public opinion research, has a difficult job: How to convince the network’s producers and politics team not to use junk polls as though they represent valid measures of public opinion,” Moore says. “Doing so undermines the credibility not only the network’s legitimate polling efforts, but the network more generally.”

“In the aftermath of the debate and the publication of several junk online polls, which showed Trump the winner over Clinton, Blanton once again had to remind the folks at Fox what the problems are with such polls, noting that they do not meet the network’s editorial standards,” Moore explains.

But, Fox News isn’t alone in having to deal with differentiating between scientific and bogus polls. “Three decades ago, ABC ran into the same problem, when its news team reported the results of junk online polls along with the results of its own scientifically-designed polls,” Moore reminds. “That problem was resolved – no polling results are aired on the network without first being vetted by their polling team. The other networks have similar policies. It’s about time that Fox upgrade its polling reports to the same professional standards.”

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Fox News Memo reminds: Online polls ‘just for fun,’ not scientific

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