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Breaking with media polls, Trump debate strategy to pummel Biden on corruption

"The mainstream media polls — they're not asking these questions at all, they're not acknowledging that this ever happened," says Trump pollster John McLaughlin.

Updated: October 21, 2020 - 6:24pm

Breaking with conventional mainstream media wisdom about voters' top election concerns, part of President Trump's strategy will be to pummel rival Joe Biden on corruption allegations during Thursday's presidential debate in Nashville.

In a race that could hinge on questions of character, a Trump campaign pollster told Just the News that mainstream media polling questions asking voters to pick their top issues of concern from a list usually don't include corruption or scandals such as the Hunter Biden/Burisma investigation or FISA abuse among the options listed.

For example, recent polling from Gallup gave registered voters a list of 16 issues to rank in order of importance for their vote. None of those 16 options included questions around government accountability or corruption or surveillance of the 2016 Trump campaign and alleged FISA abuse.

A recent Pew Research Center survey employed a similar methodology with 12 issues, none of which included government integrity or public trust as an option. 

Because of this information gap, the Trump camp is prioritizing discussing these issues throughout the debate.

"The mainstream media polls — they're not asking these questions at all, they're not acknowledging that this ever happened," John McLaughlin, a pollster for the Trump 2020 campaign told "Just the News AM" television show on Tuesday. "I mean yesterday, Joe Biden was out someplace getting a milkshake. And they asked him what flavor he was getting, they didn't ask him about, you know, 'Did you take a cut from this Chinese money that Hunter Biden got according to these emails?' They won't even acknowledge that the hard drive, that's clearly Hunter Biden's, that he signed a receipt for this now out there, is a factor."

McLaughlin said even though reporting by the New York Post released last week alleging a direct meeting between Joe Biden and a Burisma executive was censored by Twitter and Facebook, this still has not stopped it from rising in importance among voters' concerns.

"The mainstream media is not carrying the story, but over the weekend, we saw corruption popping up as the top negative for Joe Biden, and that's coming from social media, word of mouth, emails, the Trump campaign, the president mentions that in every rally," McLaughlin said. "It is a shock to the system, to American voters, if they find out that while Joe Biden was vice president, he was influence-peddling with his son Hunter, and then somehow, whether it was in office or afterwards he was profiting from it ... And it's well known that Hunter Biden had huge Communist Chinese clients that funded his hedge fund. I mean that would be a shock to the American system."

Gallup representatives did not respond to request for comment from Just the News. A Pew spokeswoman told Just the News on Tuesday it was declining to respond to inquiries about its polling methodology.  

"We are currently receiving a high volume of inquiries ahead of the election, and our research experts are working on a number of urgent deadlines this week," the Pew spokeswoman said over email. "As a result, we unfortunately won't have the availability to offer additional insight in to your questions at this time."

On Monday, Trump senior adviser Jason Miller told reporters in a press call that the president would ask Biden about corruption issues because the media hasn't done it. Trump himself doubled down on this campaign theme at a rally Sunday in Nevada, alleging the Biden family was a "criminal enterprise," also calling the media criminal for not reporting it.

"He is a criminal," Trump told reporters Monday. "He's a criminal. He got caught. Read his laptop. And you know who's a criminal? You're a criminal for not reporting it. You are a criminal for not reporting it."

Samantha Zager, deputy national press secretary for the Trump campaign, confirmed that the president would be discussing the corruption questions.

“President Trump was elected in 2016 because voters had enough of career politicians like Joe Biden using their power to gain wealth and influence while producing no meaningful results for the American people," Zager said in a statement to Just the News. "After one term, President Trump has proven he’s the antithesis of Biden’s 47 years of failure, and he will continue talking about that proven track record of success as he seeks reelection. The President will also talk about Joe Biden’s decades of failure and how the Democrat candidate for President doesn’t believe voters ‘deserve’ to receive answers – on everything from court packing to his lies about his family’s corruption during his vice presidency.”

A Just the News poll with Scott Rasmussen released Tuesday found that a 53% majority of likely voters agreed it was "a conflict of interest for Joe Biden to oversee Ukraine anticorruption policy while his son worked for a Ukrainian company that was under corruption investigation." Only a quarter of likely voters disagreed that Biden was conflicted.

McLaughlin challenged the notion that because Hillary Clinton's unfavorable ratings in 2016 were much higher than Joe Biden's unfavorables today, hitting Biden on ethics issues won't pay off the way attacks against Clinton did. Trump made corruption questions a central part of his campaign against Clinton, including scandals on everything from deleted emails during her time as Secretary of State to foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation — not to mention the interrelationship between the two.

"First of all, Joe Biden's not that popular," McLaughlin said. "Our negatives were as high as Clinton, and they became less at some point. The difference now is, as of today, the president has a 49% job approval, according to Rasmussen Reports."

The last two presidents who were reelected were in the same range as Trump is now, McLaughlin noted. Barack Obama in 2012 "had 51% on Election Day ... but in fact, at this point in time, two weeks out, he had a 48%," said the pollster. "He didn't break 50 until after Hurricane Sandy. George W. Bush on the day he was reelected had 51% job approval and was reelected [with] 51%. President Trump is there at 49, but two weeks to go, and Joe Biden is really vulnerable because of this corruption charges mess."

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