The Online Debate Polls Donald Trump Wins Can Be Easily Manipulated

Well, that's it! The third and final presidential debate of the 2016 campaign season is over, which means all the debates are over! All that's left is for the post-debate polls to demonstrate who a majority of viewers thought won the Las Vegas showdown, and the early results look very good for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. But in the days to come, if history is any judge, you'll see GOP nominee Donald Trump insist he actually won, on the strength of a slew of online polls. So, why does Donald Trump win so many online polls?

Here's one simple, daring thesis: he wins them because they're rigged ― ironically enough, considering the fear-mongering Trump's been doing about the legitimacy of American elections. Not rigged by the sites hosting them, to be clear. Rather, rigged by some of Trump''s diehard online supporters who organize to vote in them, sometimes over and over again, explicitly to try to fight back against narratives that he's losing.

For a little glimpse into the phenomenon, take a look at this post-debate screenshot from the 4chan forum /pol/ (short for "politically incorrect"). A hotbed of alt-right and pro-Trump activity, here's one anonymous /pol/ poster putting out the call ― "Frogs, we need you!"

This is the dirty little secret ― well, really, not so secret ― about Trump's dominance in oft-obscure online polls through this election cycle. To be clear, this isn't to say that all of his online polling support derives from scheming and troop-rallying in far-right message boards. To the contrary, plenty of people voting in these sorts of utterly non-scientific polls are likely doing so innocently and answering honestly, not trying to rig the outcome for explicitly propagandistic purposes.

But that just makes it all the easier for anyone who has a deep, invested interest in Trump coming out on top ― the greater the number of average, non-nefarious Trump supporters who're voting in these polls, the easier it is for message board to organize a swamping to push him over the top. This is precisely why the scientific post-debate polls have so sharply diverged from the ones Trump (as well as his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who as a pollster surely knows better) promotes on the campaign trail.

So just keep this in mind the next time you see Trump, or hey, a politician of any stripe relying entirely on online polls to prop up a triumphalist narrative. They're not credible, and the reality of the state of the 2016 race makes that painfully clear.