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Beware of a fake poll circulating about the special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District

Ryan Deto Mar 5, 2018 15:24 PM
Polls in recent weeks taken of potential voters for the March 13 special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District have shown candidates Conor Lamb (D-Mount Lebanon) and Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth) in a close race. Since the second week in February, no poll has given either candidate a significant lead. Two polls from February gave Saccone leads of three points and six points, respectively, but the most recent Emerson poll, released March 5, gave Lamb a three-point lead.

But political observers should remain wary, as a fake poll of the 18th District race is circulating. A Virginia-based group called the Blumenthal Research Daily released a survey on March 2 at 1:45 p.m. which showed Lamb with a one-point lead over Saccone. The survey was announced via Twitter and has since been retweeted 34 times and liked 46 times, even though the BRD Twitter account only has 36 followers.

Three hours after the survey was released, Timothy Blumenthal, of BRD, posted a statement about the survey announcing that it is fake. “Hello everyone. I guess I’ll just start off with the obvious. Yes, Blumenthal Research Daily is a fake pollster,” wrote Blumenthal on March 2. “The numbers used were random, and I did little to no research before piecing together a rather sloppy google doc.”


However, the poll appears consistent with many other polls released for the race. For example, the fake poll reports a positive approval rating of President Donald Trump among district residents, similar to all other PA-18 polls. But one seemingly out-of-place data point in the fake poll was the reported approval rating of Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Lehigh). Toomey isn’t up for re-election until 2022, and no other PA-18 poll has reported Toomey’s approval rating.

And while Blumenthal admits that his PA-18 survey was fabricated, the BRD Twitter account is filled with tweets defending its other polls. In fact, BRD’s pinned tweet states: ”Reminder: We were only 3 points off in the Virginia gubernatorial race. @MonmouthPoll, an A+ pollster according to 538, was 7 points off. We have been around for three months and have only released three polls, but our track-record is strong! Keep up the momentum. Follow/retweet!”

Image courtesy of Twitter
Screenshot of the fake PA-18 poll
Also, the BRD tweet linking to the statement admitting that the PA-18 poll was fake has since been deleted. Luckily, no publication has printed a story reporting the fake BRD poll results as legitimate. Data-journalism website FiveThirtyEight reported in August 2017 that fake polls were becoming a growing problem in the world of political journalism, and that political observers and journalists interested in polls “need to be more careful than ever.”

Blumenthal, who did not return a request for comment from City Paper, didn’t show many signs of regret of releasing the fake poll. “Other than a few hopeful Conor Lamb fans, almost nobody fell for the poll,” wrote Blumenthal in the March 2 statement. “People were quick to catch on, which did not surprise me in the slightest. I literally made the poll in fifteen minutes.

“If you fell for this, too bad. You’re way too gullible and should probably receive some sort of treatment. If you caught on, good job but thank you for giving me exactly what I was looking for by allowing it to go viral.”