Donald Trump, along with the news media, gobbled up a recent poll proclaiming that he leads Hillary Clinton in the Hispanic vote 55%-45%. The results come as a major surprise, given his uncouth remarks on undocumented Mexican immigrants being killers and rapists; his tweeting a picture of himself on Cinco de Mayo with a taco bowl; and a March Gallup poll that found only 12% of Hispanics viewed him favorably. (Of course, that is on top of the overarching surprise that anyone would support Donald Trump.)
Trump, naturally, tweeted the results:
But for all the ballyhoo, there has been little scrutiny of who is actually behind the poll showing Trump’s Hispanic landslide.
To begin, the poll was commissioned by the One America News Network (OANN), an admitted right-leaning news channel. Charles Herring, president of OANN’s parent company Herring Broadcasting, said when announcing the channel’s launch at the Conservative Political Action Conference that its purpose would be to provide an additional rightwing channel besides FOX News:
Fox is a great platform. A lot of people like it, it gets outstanding ratings. There is nothing wrong with Fox. The problem is that if you take the channel lineup, the sources of national news tend to lean to the left…and all we have is Fox…With only one outlet, if you happen to be an independent or a libertarian, or you are on the outside, you only have one platform right now, which is Fox.
OANN initially had a partnership with the conservative Washington Times. At the time, the paper’s CEO Larry Beasley said the partnership “fits right into our conservative values and conservative views.”
Herring insisted OANN would provide accurate news reporting on top of conservative news talk.
However, OANN does not particularly hide the fact that it has an ideological agenda. In its press kit, OANN says it “Appeals to viewers with self-described independent. conservative & libertarian values.” It also says its news talk programming is “Providing a platform for independent and conservative ideas for healthy debate” and “Welcoming all voices and viewpoints under the independent and conservative umbrella to be heard.” The kit includes a montage of Rand Paul, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Paul Ryan, and Sarah Palin, who once guest hosted a show, and nary a Democrat.
The press kit even refers to OANN as a “credible” news source – as opposed to an accurate news source. Of course, a number of things can come across as “credible” with the right presentation.
Then there is the firm that conducted the poll: Gravis Marketing.
Although billing itself as nonpartisan, Gravis has conservative leanings based on its clientele and results. An analysis by the blog FiveThirtyEight found that the firm’s results skew an average of 1.4 percentage points in favor of Republicans, and gave the firm an overall grade of C (which still put it ahead of a number of other pollsters).
Gravis boasts on its website that it received positive coverage in the “highly respected publication People’s Pundit Daily,” a rightwing paper that does not appear to have any inordinate amount of esteem.
And in what seems to be unique for a polling firm, Gravis has its own political action committee, according to FEC filings, although it reports having never received or disbursed money.
The firm was founded by Doug Kaplan. Based on an archived version of his website, Kaplan’s post-high school education consists of DeVry University and Valencia, a Florida public college that did not offer bachelor’s degrees at the time he attended. (That education might explain his poor spelling and grammar when he once took to the comments section of an article to defend himself.) Kaplan dubiously boasted, “By the age of 14, I had read several books.” According to Kaplan’s LinkedIn, his previous professional experience consists of operating call centers: first for a company selling Florida vacation packages, where he received a citation from the FCC for sending spam faxes, and then a company selling mortgages.
Gravis Marketing first appeared on people’s radars in August 2012, when it began putting out more swing state polls than established polling firms in the same time window, perhaps as a way to get noticed. The results regularly skewed right, including a Colorado poll that showed Mitt Romney winning the black vote by over 17 percentage points.
In 2014, Gravis earned the dubious distinction of being called “The Worst Poll in America” by reporter David Weigel, after being off by double digits in polling for two GOP senatorial primaries. Nonetheless, Weigel recanted later that year when Gravis ultimately did very well in predicting the margins in that year’s general elections.
Kaplan even conceded that the operation was shoddy until 2014: “In 2012 the operation was just me and a statistician…This time we brought in someone from a big polling firm. I had a brilliant kid from an Ivy League school.”
Despite progress, the reliability of Gravis still seems questionable. In January, it released a poll commissioned by Michael Smigiel, a Republican who was primary challenging incumbent Maryland Congressman Andy Harris. Gravis showed its client Smigiel having double the support of Rep. Harris, winning a primary with 58% to Harris’s 29%. When the primary occurred last month, Harris won 78.4% of the vote compared to 10.8% for Smigiel.
How did Gravis get it so wrong? Because its poll was a blatant push poll for its client. Consider that these are the questions Gravis asked leading up to asking whom voters supported:
- If you knew that Congressman Harris had voted to fully fund Obamacare would you be more or less likely to vote for him?
- If you knew that Congressman Harris had voted to fully fund President Obama’s unconstitutional use of executive powers to grant amnesty to tens of millions of illegal immigrants, would you be more or less likely to vote for him?
- If you knew that Congressman Harris had said “It’s just fine” for Planned Parenthood to sell baby parts as long as they did not use federal money, and that he voted to give money to Planned Parenthood, would you be more or less likely to vote for him?
- If you knew that Congressman Harris is leading the fight against decriminalization of marijuana laws would you be more or less likely to vote for him?
- If you knew that Delegate Michael Smigiel (SMEE-GULL) is one of the State of Maryland’s leading 2nd Amendment advocates and protectors over the last decade would you be more or less likely to vote for him?
- If you knew that Delegate Michael Smigiel is leading the fight against Common Core, putting in legislation to repeal it, would you be more or less likely to vote for him?
- If you knew that Delegate Michael Smigiel earned the highest rating in the entire State Legislature for upholding his oath to the Constitution, would you be more or less likely to vote for him?
- If you knew that Delegate Michael Smigiel is a former active duty U.S. Marine, who has fully supported our veterans, would you be more or less likely to vote for him?
- If you knew that Delegate Michael Smigiel was the successful lead sponsor of legislation to prevent spying on Maryland citizens by any State or Federal government agencies without a warrant, would you be more or less likely to vote for him?
- If you knew that Delegate Michael Smigiel had signed the pledge for no new taxes and has consistently upheld that pledge, would you be more or less likely to vote for him?
So clearly Gravis is willing to contrive results to the benefit of its client, even if it does well on its independent polling, making it exceptionally plausible that it would push certain results when commissioned by a rightwing news organization.
And even more clearly, Trump should not consider the Hispanic vote to be in the bag.
Copyright notice: the featured image accompanying this article is courtesy the One America News Network press kit.