Donald Trump’s clickbait candidacy

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures and declares "You're fired!" at a rally on June 17, 2015, in Manchester, N.H.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures and declares “You’re fired!” at a rally on June 17, 2015, in Manchester, N.H.

BY DONALD GILLILAND  dgilliland@tribweb.com

Not all polls are created equal.

It’s a hard fact in an election year struggling with fact.

Since Monday night’s debate, Donald Trump’s campaign has been trying to peddle the idea he won in a landslide with “polls” pulled from websites as varied as Time and Brietbart.

It’s embarrassing, it’s wrong, and it’s a sad indication of how far the Republican party has fallen.

A scientific poll – such as the ones tracked by Real Clear Politics – is based on a random sample of prospective voters, carefully weighted to account for demographics. Pollsters stake their reputations on the accuracy of these polls, so the emphasis on SCIENCE should not be underestimated.

A non scientific poll – such as those that have proliferated in the Internet age – are entertainment. They are based on nothing more than how many people visiting the website have clicked on the poll – and many allow a single person to click as many times as he’d like.

That’s why they’re often referred to as “clickbait.”

The kinder term is “audience engagement.” People click on the poll, get a glimpse of the results and feel… well, something… and they’re tempted to return (more clicks) to check on the results.

There’s nothing scientific about it, and it bears no relation to reality whatsoever.

Apparently that applies to Trump’s campaign for the presidency as well.

After Monday night’s debate, Trump tweeted a conglomeration of clickbait polls and proclaimed “Such a great honor. Final debate polls are in – and the MOVEMENT wins!”

Trump poll

In an echo chamber, perhaps. In the real world, time – and scientific polls – will tell.

The fact that Trump – an inveterate, and at times indiscriminate tweeter – did a bit of chest-thumping over clickbait is less surprising than the fact his campaign proceeded to pitch the unscientific polls to reporters.

Trump’s Pennsylvania communications director Greg Manz emailed the media a list of clickbait polls with this message: “ICYMI: Donald Trump soundly defeated Hillary Clinton in Monday’s debate as evidenced by the below polls.”

Those polls aren’t evidence that Trump won anything: at best, they’re evidence of the political affiliation of the subset of each website’s readership that clicks on polls… at best.

They are – to put it nicely – what the bull deposits in the pasture after he’s eaten his fill of grass.

Neither Manz nor David Urban, Trump’s senior advisor in Pennsylvania,  responded to request to comment.

That we have a Presidential campaign that seriously conflates scientific polls with clickbait – and expects responsible reporters to peddle such garbage to American citizens – is a sign of just how far we’ve sunk this election.

Trump poll 3Why such a fuss? Because basic literacy in science and math is essential. American jobs increasingly require advanced science and math skills; that’s why schools in cities like Pittsburgh focus so intently on STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Our culture – from our smart phones to the doctor’s office – rests upon a foundation of sound science and math.

Americans must be able to distinguish between competence and a cow pat.

The greatest country on Earth cannot endure for long if its citizens are ignorant of basic science. America’s leaders – regardless of party – must foster such literacy or they will “lead” us into decline.

Yet Trump and his campaign promote clickbait as if it were science.

The Republican party should be deeply ashamed.

This was first posted Sept. 28, 2016 at 9:43 a.m.