The Silent Majority: the Impact of Hidden Trump Voters
The current consensus among most pollsters is that Donald Trump will lose the 2020 election — just as they claimed in 2016. However they were wrong then: could they be wrong again? Can hidden Trump voters can make the difference in pulling the President to victory once again?
What the Polls Say
The opinion polls are clear: Trump is trailing Joe Biden significantly, including in many decisive swing states (for example in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan). FiveThirtyEight gives Biden a lead of 8.4 percent at the national level. RealClearPolitics, which evaluates the nation’s main polls’ averages, sees Biden ahead of Trump by 7.1 percent.
Thus, the assumption is that Trump will lose the election and then speak of manipulation; the fear is that he will not recognize defeat and somehow steal it.
The Major Failure of Pollsters in 2016
Memories are awakened of 2016. At that time, almost all institutes were far wrong with their forecasts. Shortly before the election, FiveThirtyEight predicted that Trump’s chances of getting the most electoral/female votes would be 15.2 percent. Are the pollsters and various institutions wrong this time too? That is not entirely inconceivable.
However, a lot is different than it was four years ago. Hillary Clinton was a bogeyman for many, and her lead on Trump was smaller than Biden’s current lead. Moreover, Biden is a highly relatable character, and Trump enters the election with the incumbent’s malus.
Secret Trump Voters
Nevertheless, the polling institutes know that many people lie. That does not make things any easier. The question arises, how many answering questions are the “hidden Trump voters” — if there are any.
Many Trump supporters believe the president is more popular than polls suggest. They explain this by the fact that many people who are asked about their political preferences do not tell the truth. That was already the case four years ago when in the end, the so-called “hidden Trump voters” tipped the balance. A few days ago, Trump himself said with the usual modesty:
“We have the silent majority behind us on a scale that has never been seen before.”
How Significant are Hidden Trump Voters?
The country is divided and emotions boil over quickly. Do large amounts of hidden Trump voters exist? The Cato Institute has asked Americans if they feel free to express their political beliefs publicly. Seventy-seven percent of conservatives and 52 percent of progressives say no.
It was also found that Trump did better in phone polls when participants could respond at the push of a button rather than answering questions from someone on the other end of the line. Some “secret” or “shy” Trump voters seem embarrassed about their sympathy for the president.
The phenomenon does indeed exist, but its magnitude and relevance are challenging to grasp. When the first black mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley, lost the gubernatorial election in California in 1982, even though he had always been ahead of his white opponent in polls, some observers spoke of a Bradley Effect: whites who feared the racism allegations had said in polls that they wanted to vote for Bradley, had given their vote to the white opponent in the anonymous protection of the voting booth.
The Los Angeles Times has called the hidden Trump voters theory a SMAGA thesis (Secret Make America Great Again) for which there is no evidence. For one thing, the polls four years ago were far more accurate than their later image would suggest. On the other hand, the number of undecided voters who would traditionally vote against the challenger is much smaller this time than then.
Four years ago, the number of “hidden Trump voters” was high, but it was also a perfect storm for the president with Clinton as a candidate and millions of former Obama voters who stayed at home on election day. Furthermore, while nobody knows how high the share of hidden Trump voters will be this time, a recurrence of these factors, such as in 2016, remains highly improbable.