Accuracy in Media

According to Aaron Rupar of Vox, the poll President Donald Trump touted Monday that showed half of America now believes Mueller’s investigation is a “witch hunt” is a product of poor wording.

“Trump uses bad poll question to claim half of America thinks Mueller’s on a ‘witch hunt,’” read the headline on Rupar’s story. The subhead: “The president capitalizes on a poorly framed question in an outlier poll.”

Rupar was focusing on a tweet from the president that read: “Wow! A Suffolk/USA Today Poll, just out, states, “50% of Americans AGREE that Robert Mueller’s investigation is a Witch Hunt.” @MSNBC Very few think it is legit! We will soon find out?”

Even if the result is legitimate, it has nothing to do with Mueller’s failure to produce a single significant finding as yet. Rather, “that finding suggests Trump’s regular, repetitive attacks on the special counsel are working,” Rupar wrote.

“It would also indicate anti-Mueller sentiment has significantly increased since December when an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that only 33 percent of American adults viewed Mueller’s investigation as a ‘witch hunt,’ compared to 54 percent who viewed it as a fair investigation.”

But that’s not the case at all, Rupar assured readers. “Trump’s tweet was based on a poorly framed poll question and an even more poorly framed USA Today story about it that’s headlined, ‘Poll: Half of Americans say Trump is a victim of a ‘witch hunt’ as trust in Mueller erodes.’”

The poll question, according to Rupar, was: “President Trump has called the special counsel’s investigation a ‘witch hunt’ and said he’s been subjected to more investigations than previous presidents because of politics. Do you agree?”

It is true 50.3 percent of the poll’s 1,000 respondents said yes to the question, Rupar admits. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean they believe the Mueller investigation is a ‘witch hunt.’ The prompt packs two different questions into one – a poor strategy for a poll question. Respondents may have meant to agree that Trump has been ‘subjected to more investigations than previous presidents because of politics’ – a controversial but defensible position – without intending to go further and indicate they think Trump is the victim of a ‘witch hunt.’”

Besides, Rupar wrote, the result – regardless of the flaws of the question – represents an outlier. A poll last month found 56 percent of respondents regarded Mueller as more credible than Trump, and a poll conducted in December found 58 percent regarded the Mueller probe as “’unbiased.’”

Also, other parts of the Suffolk/USA Today poll “contained bad news for Trump,” Rupar wrote. Another question – presumably better worded – found 52 percent had “’little or no trust’ in Trump’s denial there was collusion in his campaign with Russian meddling,” and “a plurality of respondents” think Democrats are on the right track with their broad array of investigations.

Yet, 62 percent say impeachment should remain off the table, and this was after Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was “not for impeachment” because “the process is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan.”

So, Rupar claims a poll result that shows more than half the people no longer trust that Mueller is not conducting a witch hunt, as the president charges, is the result of a poorly worded question. But “a plurality” saying Democrats should investigate Trump and 62 percent saying not to impeach him is not.

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