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WaPo and The Hill Publish ‘Troll Poll’ about Postponing the 2020 Election

Today’s hot-take headline that’s burning up Twitter and Facebook is a report published in the Washington Post and The Hill with sensational headlines. The Post: “In a new poll, half of Republicans say they would support postponing the 2020 election if Trump proposed it.” The Hill: “Poll: Half of Republicans would back postponing 2020 election if Trump proposed it.”

First of all, the headlines do not tell the whole story. The Post does not provide the full sequence of the questions, which itself is somewhat suspicious given the well-known ability of “troll polls” to get answers they want by priming respondents with a series of leading questions, as I illustrated back in 2015 when PPP supposedly showed that almost a third of Republican primary voters favored bombing a fictional country. Troll polls of this nature are also unreliable because they often ask questions that are not replicated by other pollsters who use a different sequence or methodology, and can’t be compared to any election result, the tests we use as sanity checks on election polling.

To its credit, the Post does at least offer the question and some indication of the lead-in, which plainly got respondents focused on the issue of voter fraud:

After a series of initial questions, respondents were asked whether Trump won the popular vote, whether millions of illegal immigrants voted, and how often voter fraud occurs. These questions evoke arguments frequently made by Trump and others about the integrity of the 2016 election. Then the survey asked two questions about postponing the 2020 election.

‐ If Donald Trump were to say that the 2020 presidential election should be postponed until the country can make sure that only eligible American citizens can vote, would you support or oppose postponing the election?

‐What if both Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress were to say that the 2020 presidential election should be postponed until the country can make sure that only eligible American citizens can vote? Would you support or oppose postponing the election?

 . . . 52 percent said that they would support postponing the 2020 election, and 56 percent said they would do so if both Trump and Republicans in Congress were behind this.

This is not a reassuring finding, but it comes into more perspective when you have the context of concerns about the integrity of the election, and you’ll note that a few more people were willing to entertain the idea if Congress joined the call. Some of what you can take from this is simply that blind partisanship is a helluva drug, a finding that is consistent with what we see year in and year out from both party’s bases across many different types of poll questions and voting behavior.

How does the result compare to how Democrats or independents would answer the same or a similar question? Again, the Post doesn’t disclose that. Would Democrats call for stopping an election over concerns with its integrity? Just in December, Virginia congressman Don Beyer proposed postponing the Electoral College vote until more information could be obtained on Russian interference in the 2016 election. In 2013, Democratic congressman Jose Serrano proposed repealing the 22nd Amendment to let President Obama run for a third term. YouGov’s polling has consistently found for months now that a majority of Democratic voters believe, without evidence, that Russian hacking actually changed the vote totals in 2016. And in June 2016, The Hill published the results of another poll that looks a good deal like this one:

A strong majority of Democrats would cancel the 2016 presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump if it meant President Obama could serve another term, a new poll found. Data provided to The Hill by the conservative polling outlet WPA Research found that 67 percent of Democrats would take a third term for Obama over a potential Clinton administration. Only 28 percent said they’re ready to move on from the Obama White House, while 6 percent are undecided.

The Hill also didn’t disclose the question sequence or even the exact wording of this poll, so it’s impossible to compare it apples-to-apples to today’s poll. But it certainly suggests that many Democrats, like many Republicans, are mostly interested in their own side winning.

The great conceit of the media’s incessant attacks on the Republican voting base is not that Republicans include a lot of people who believe a lot of bad or untrue things. It’s that this isn’t also true of Democrats. And troll polls, rather than delivering insight, more commonly offer us a quick hit of partisan tribalism that makes the problem they claim to study worse.


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