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Writer’s Lounge – Trump’s Empty Threats To Sue Over CNN Election Polling


Trump’s Empty Threats To Sue Over CNN Election Polling

Trump and his campaign are smarting from the cold slap of the polling trend that shows Americans are rejecting the (impeached) president and favor his opponent, Joe Biden.

What we have not seen before Trump’s presidency, is a president and his campaign, threatening legal action against media platforms for publishing election polls that the incumbent president finds unacceptable, or in Trump’s words, “very unfair.” 

Trump’s campaign, on his behalf, has sent a “cease and desist” letter to CNN President Jeff Zucker, demanding CNN retract their most recent poll and apologize to Trump.  The language of the letter describes it’s requirement as a “full, fair, and conspicuous retraction, apology, and clarification to correct its misleading conclusions.” 

The objections at the base of the complaint are outlined in part, by the Trump campaign’s senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis and chief operating officer Michael Glassner, as the following:

“the CNN poll is designed to mislead American voters through a biased questionnaire and skewed sampling.  It’s a stunt and a phony poll to cause voter suppression, stifle momentum and enthusiasm for the President, and present a false view generally of the actual support across America for the President.”

Included with the letter, was a critique of the poll from a polling firm contracted by Trump – McLaughlin & Associates, in which the firm takes issue with the methodology of the CNN poll, calling it a “skewed poll.”
The outline from McLaughlin & Associates contained little to nothing in the way of scholarly analysis, but was big on typical rhetoric bemoaning “left wing and media bias”: 
“The latest skewed media polls must be intentional. It’s clear that NBC, ABC and CNN who have Democrat operatives like Chuck Todd, George Stephanopoulos and other Democrats in their news operations are consistently under-polling Republicans and therefore, reporting biased polls.”

Curiously absent from the list of evil, biased media entities, was Fox News, which, despite largely functioning as a propaganda medium for the president, have consistently in recent months, produced polls that have enraged Trump

If you haven’t heard of McLaughlin until now, as I had not, it is because it is a rinky dink operation with a small shop and is an inside joke with the major players in the polling sector and with serious experts that rate the accuracy of various polling organizations. 

They have some spectacular failures that they prefer to leave out of their resume. Among the most notable, was McLaughlin’s projection in 2014, that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) would smash his GOP opponent in the June party primary, college professor Dave Brat, by 34 percentage points.

Cantor actually suffered a stunning defeat by 12 points. That McLaughlin & Associates had the cheek to criticize the CNN poll, tells you that their credibility was not the main consideration, but a check from a deep pocketed campaign client, was. 

FiveThirtyEight is a prominent election analysis site and a large factor of what they do, is examine the methodology and the data used by a long list of polling organizations.

To give you a sense of what their assessment of McLaughlin & Associates is, as contrasted with that of CNN, here are the accuracy and reliability ratings, first of CNN and then, in comparison, McLaughlin & Associates. For those reading this in mobile view, CNN receives a “B+” rating and McLaughlin & Assoc., a “C/D”:

FiveThirtyEight metrics of polling orgs

rating details by election analysis platform, FiveThirtyEight, of CNN's accuracy as a polling entity.

rating details by election analysis platform, FiveThirtyEight, of McLaughlin & Associates' accuracy as a polling entity.

How this works: FiveThirtyEight’s pollster ratings are calculated by analyzing the historical accuracy of each firm’s polls along with its methodology. Accuracy scores are adjusted for the type of election polled, the poll’s sample size, the performance of other polls surveying the same race, and other factors. We also calculate measures of statistical bias in the polls.

Neither Trump or his mediocre at best, hired gun, can effectively discredit the accuracy of the major polls, which are universally reporting Trump falling behind Joe Biden, so it is necessary to appeal to the long standing bugaboo of “bias”. They’re just against him, plain and simple and it is their fault he’s doing so poorly and that is just, well -there is is again, “unfair.”:

Trump tweet about unfair polls

This coming from an (impeached) president whose followers call those who resist Trump’s illegitimacy and corruption, “snowflakes.”

But what is Trump actually doing with this?  We know that “cease and desist” letters are often tactics used to either wring some sort of concession out of the recipient as a prelude to an actual filing of a lawsuit or they are part of a public relations stunt. 

It seems obvious that the letter from Glassner and Ellis, is the latter. There is no legal precedent for suing over the results of an election poll. 

The only lawsuit that even touches on polling accuracy actually has nothing to do with public opinion vis a vis, elections.  It was a suit brought against the Gallup organization, by the Justice Department in 2013, alleging that Gallup overcharged the U.S. Mint and the State Department for research about public demand for new coins and American passports.

In the complaint, the Justice Department said Gallup gave the government inflated estimates for the work. In other words, it was a contract dispute and not related to libel or defamation, which Trump seems to be alleging.

Trump’s attorneys will strongly advise their client not to file a suit related to his complaints about CNN’s polling. It would be seen by any court in the country as a frivolous lawsuit, as so many of his suits have been and would be tossed out on summary judgment.

What this letter then, has directly to do with, is to express Trump’s desperation. Trump’s campaign has been advising him to break away from his “base strategy” mode, which he has persisted in since the last election. Trump doesn’t wish to, doesn’t recognize the value of doing so and may also be aware that he is incapable of performing such an act. So he has to double down with the base.

But the base shows signs of erosion and what alarms Trump more than anything about polls showing him behind with Biden, is the violence it does to the overarching narrative of Trump’s status – the invincibility factor. Trump has put all of his chips on the story he has told his voters about always being a “winner.”

The minute that certain elements among his supporters that have most profoundly invested in the illusion of Trump’s invincibility and interminable success begin to see evidence to the contrary, the illusion is destroyed, the idol is found to be gold plated and they decouple themselves from him.

In some regards, this is analogous to the syndrome in sports of the “bandwagon” effect. 

American University professor Trina Ulrich describes it. 

“[It’s] essentially a psychological phenomenon that happens when people are doing something because others are doing it already.  It has to do with a psychology term called dispositional hope. It’s the belief that you can achieve personal goals. And this hope resides in everybody,” Ulrich said. “Some people have higher dispositional hope and others have lower dispositional hope.”

There is a contingent in sports and politics that roots for and follows teams or politicians when the team or politician is successful by the metrics of winning and popularity. And it is just as easy to jump off a bandwagon as it is to jump onto one. 

It doesn’t take very many of these bandwagon MAGA supporters to lose interest to put Trump’s re-election prospects in grave jeopardy.

But there’s also a sense of entitlement at play in Trump’s emotional response to this. He has always been able to bend the media to his will before he became president and he had expectations that such relationship would continue.

After all, Trump became a celebrity by dint of his being able to manipulate the media and he captured more “earned media coverage” than any other politician, including Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election cycle. It doesn’t work now and he is not able to wrap his mind around that, so he’s flailing out.

He “deserves” good polls whether they reflect reality or not. He’s president for crying out loud, but now appears to simply be what he is – a crybaby. 

by Richard Cameron      

Editor’s Note:

Since this report was published 20 hours ago, CNN’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel, David C. Vigilante, has responded to the Trump campaign, in what can be colloquially described as a “Go Pound Sand” letter. 

One of the noteworthy points in the letter, reinforces our summary of the peculiar and unprecedented nature of the Trump campaign complaint:         

“To my knowledge, this is the first time in its 40-year history that CNN had been threatened with legal action because an American politician or campaign did not like CNN’s polling results. To the extent we have received legal threats from political leaders in the past, they have typically come from countries like Venezuela or other regimes where there is little or no respect for a free and independent media.”

You can read the rest of the response from CNN, here:


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