If the only source of information you had about Monday’s presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were the multitude of post-debate online polls put out by almost every media outlet, you’d be excused for thinking it was an utter blowout for Trump.
However, a cursory glance at the shadier parts of the Internet shortly after the debate shows that the fix was in for Trump and, sadly, Trump seems to be buying his own artificially inflated hype.
In an Instagram post, the person who runs Trump’s profile posted a compilation of online polls from 10 different more or less reputable media outlets including The Hill, CNBC, and Time that showed him dominating, links to which were posted to the Donald Trump sub-reddit /r/the_Donald and 4chan’s /b/ forum just hours before with incitements to “brigade.”
Brigading is the act of flooding online polls or contests with a certain opinion so as to skew results. 4chan drew a lot of attention for employing this tactic in a contest put on by Mountain Dew in 2012 to name their new soda in which “Hitler did nothing wrong” came out with the most votes. By using software to mask or change their unique IP addresses, those so inclined can easily vote in online polls hundreds of times.
Such polls are statistically worthless, but this doesn’t stop Trump from citing them in an effort to excite his base, nor does it dissuade Fox News from citing these polls to call into question the consensus that Hillary wiped the floor with him. Trump is even citing non-existent polls , telling Fox & Friends “I won Drudge in almost 90% of the vote in the poll, I won Time Magazine. I won CBS. I won every single poll other than CNN,” even though CBS didn’t conduct a post-poll.
Furthermore, Sean Hannity, who nobody seems to want to call, incredulously read the list of skewed polls on his show when confronted with the results of the only scientific poll conducted after the debate that showed Hillary winning.
Trump’s love affair with “the polls” has been a consistent feature of his campaign since the primaries when, at rallies, he would continually reference them as evidence of his superior debate skills compared to “lyin’ Ted” and “little Marco.” Unlike now, however, the scientific polls gave Trump statistically significant leads throughout the Republican primary.
Despite how close the genuine polls put the race, the phenomenon of public, unscientific online polling has made sure that Trump and the radical right retain the ability to cherry pick their own reality, just how they like it.