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Donald Trump (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post); Hillary Clinton (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Two weeks ago, Monmouth University’s polling institute released a batch of numbers showing Hillary Clinton and Democratic candidates for Senate swooning in key states, kick-starting a story line about Donald Trump’s surge. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Monmouth released polls showing Clinton ahead in New Hampshire and Florida.

By an amazing coincidence, a fake “polling memo” on Monmouth letterhead emerged, with far-too-perfect language about the need to rig the “narrative,” prompting Patrick Murray, the director of Monmouth’s polling, to spend a few hours answering trolls.

The “leaked memo” is a small test of readers’ credulity. Written in apocalyptic terms, with strange capitalization (“the Liberal base is demoralized — but will become more enthusiastic the more Hillary is seen as an iconoclast who will overturn the last foundations of Western Culture”), it was uploaded to Scribd by a pro-Trump website with the confidence-inspiring name of RealTrueNews. For a short while, it was credited to Nate Silver; his name was blacked out, rendering it slightly less odd than someone who did not work for Monmouth was credited on a Monmouth polling memo.

Created just three months ago, RealTrueNews features “writers” with names like “Max Insider,” and writes in a gossipy style about Trump’s coming victory. (RealTrueNews did not immediately answer a question about the fake memo.) The “memo” itself is nearly a parody of conspiracy theorizing about what goes on in the media and elite institutions. “This week the news cycle MUST show Hillary regaining the lead in Florida,” writes the anonymous author. Trump’s polling uptick is credited to “a massive lack of enthusiasm on the part of minority and millennial voters who are beginning to view Obama as a failed president and Hillary Clinton as a ‘lying harpy'” — though polling has shown the president popular with nonwhite and millennial voters.

There’s also an ironic and profane warning that a leak would damage Monmouth: “If you don’t want [538 writer Harry] Enten’s gang all over you, we suggest you lock it the f— down.”

Murray began debunking the poll as it rocketed around Reddit and Twitter (often with readers tagging Trump campaign or media accounts to ask if they’d seen it).

The power of the idea — that surely, powerful forces are colluding to portray Clinton coming back — is a supercharged version of the brief 2012 habit of “unskewing” polls to find more favorable results for Mitt Romney.

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