When one side starts complaining that the “polls are skewed,” that side is usually about to lose an election. So for that reason alone, I don’t like to question polling methodology. Polling has a pretty good track record, and it has proven to be accurate most of the time.
I can’t help it. I’m somewhat skeptical of the polls this year. Since the primary ended, I’ve had a nagging feeling that the polls — both nationally and at the state level — might be underreporting Donald Trump’s support.
Well, for starters, this isn’t a typical election cycle. GOP candidates always do battle with a biased media, but I’m not sure we have ever seen anything like this year’s ridiculous coverage. Reporters and news anchors continue to obsess over every little thing Donald Trump has said, while completely ignoring bad things — criminal things — Hillary Clinton has actually done.
Late night television has become a non-stop campaign commercial ridiculing Trump. Debate moderators are teaming up with Clinton and Kaine in “two-on-one” fights against Trump and Pence. Hollywood and the sports-entertainment complex are fighting against Republicans like never before, staging boycotts in key swing states, holding fundraisers, and running ads in support of Clinton.
And this time, unlike 2008 or 2012, the rhetoric is different. Millions of totalitarian leftists have adopted Hillary Clinton’s position that everyone who votes for Donald Trump is a “deplorable” racist bigot, and they are taking to social media to say so.
It’s obviously not easy to be a Trump supporter amidst a 24/7 avalanche of anti-Trump propaganda, and it takes real intestinal fortitude to say you’re a Trump supporter publicly when you might be subjecting yourself to insults and lost friendships, vandalism, or even, God forbid, violence.
Given this stark reality, how comfortable can tepid Trump supporters really be telling a live pollster over the phone that they’re supporting Donald Trump? And are these Trump supporters even willing to admit their Trump support to themselves prior to Election Day?
This idea, often called “social desirability bias,” is not new. U.S. News & World Report reported on it in July:
Call it the Trump Effect: the notion that voters won’t admit they support him, because it’s distasteful to back a populist celebrity billionaire who’s unafraid to offend immigrants, women and minorities. There’s some evidence to support the theory, including a recent analysis that shows Trump’s support increases by about six points in online surveys, compared with surveys conducted over the phone.
Coupled with recent face-plants by pollsters at home and abroad – including erroneous numbers on President Barack Obama’s re-election, the Scottish independence referendum and the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote – polling skeptics and Trump supporters have room to embrace the theory.
But many pundits remain skeptical. FiveThirtyEight, a highly respected political blog that focuses on using advanced analytics to project election outcomes, has largely dismissed the significance of a social desirability effect, which they often refer to sarcastically as the search for the elusive “shy Trump voter,” because there was very little deviation between GOP primary polling and GOP primary results.
On the surface, that seems like a fair point, but I would argue that failing to differentiate between media attitudes toward Trump during the primary and the general election is a mistake. Donald Trump’s media coverage has changed dramatically since the GOP primary, and that’s going to have an impact on social desirability. As The Hill reported, Ted Cruz predicted the shift in media coverage in March:
Cruz said the media has given the front-runner “hundreds of millions of dollars of free advertising.” Every press conference Trump has is shown on every television station, he said, noting the media helped create this “phenomenon.”
“And all of the attacks on Donald that the media is not talking about now, you’d better believe come September, October, November — if he were the nominee — every day on the nightly news would be taking Donald apart,” he said.
In March, the media was cheering for Donald Trump. He was making them a lot of money by earning high ratings and inducing millions of clicks. And while Trump was attacked early on for his so-called “racist” comments — I use scare quotes because calling Trump’s comments “racist” is utter nonsense — his voters were generally left alone. The media, along with most politicians, often went as far as flattering Trump voters by talking about how Trump had “tapped into” something important.
But by August, most members of the media, committed to electing Hillary Clinton, had entered full-on character assassination mode, not just of Trump, but of his supporters, the so-called “deplorables.”
Many of us are willing to publicly state we are supporting Trump. Personally, I enjoy saying so — it feels like a form of rebellion against the political and cultural elites who have been fleecing hard-working Americans for so long — but I’m not your typical Trump voter.
And if you’re reading this, well, neither are you.
Many Trump voters — heck, I’d say the vast majority — aren’t attending rallies. They’re not people who follow political news on a daily or even weekly basis. They don’t watch CNN or listen to talk radio.
They’re people who just want to live their lives, love their country, and provide for their families. They want to be able to live out their faith without fear of persecution. They’re tired of our failing education system. They’re frustrated by stagnant wages and a political class that cares more about Wall Street than a quickly crumbling Main Street.
They want to make America great again.
A number of them may not say so publicly, out of fear of criticism from the totalitarian left, but you can bet they’ll say so loud and clear on November 8th.
Jon Schweppe is the Communications Director at American Principles Project.