2020 polls: The Trump ‘hidden voter’ isn’t a real threat this election - here’s why

·3 min read
Is the secret Trump voter a real phenomena this time around?  (Getty Images)
Is the secret Trump voter a real phenomena this time around? (Getty Images)

Last week, a theory of the Donald Trump presidential upset in 2016 resurfaced when the pollster who predicted it said a repeat is in store on November 3 for the same reason: Trump voters are too darn shy (i.e. embarrassed) to honestly state their intentions.

Pollster Robert Cahaly of the Trafalgar Group calls it “the social desirability bias theory.” This posits that “when dealing with a live caller, the person being asked the questions will craft their answer in a way that puts them in the best light of the person asking the question.” Since Trump is generally loathed and viewed as a racist by half the public (with another 13% saying they’re “not sure), many presumably would rather not say they’re actually voting for him.

But the evidence that the shy Trump voter exists enough to skew polls is highly debatable. Forget the MAGA hats and rallies, just look at other indicators of partisan support this cycle compared with 2016. Then, the best indicator that Hillary Clinton was actually not a favorite - never mind a prohibitive one - was the movement in House races. And no one suggests this “shyness” extends to them.

The generic polling for these House races, which occur in every district just like the presidential race, showed on the eve of the election that the Democrats held just a 0.6-point lead (Clinton actually won the popular vote by 2.1 points). That had fallen steadily from 4.2 points on average on October 25, according to RealClearPolitics. And it certainly made plausible the electoral college Trump victory that actually occurred.

Furthermore, the collapse in the Democrats in House polling was actually overstated compared to the ultimate margins both the national House vote (which they won by 1.1 points) and the presidential election (won by 2.1).

What about this year? According to RCP on October 25, Trump's party trails the Democrats by 6.6 points (it’s 6.9 at FiveThirtyEight). This is the biggest lead by far by either party in the last five presidential cycles except for Barack Obama’s 2008 election, where the generic House ballot edge was 9.5 points on October 25 for the Democrats, who won the House and White House by 10.7 and 7.2 points, respectively.

Generic House polling is going to have to move considerably in the GOP’s direction like in 2016 where it was practically a dead heat in the final analysis. Of course, the opposite occurred in 2018 when voters were not shy about giving the Democrats the biggest midterm (non-presidential year) margin since the immediate aftermath of Watergate in 1974. And then they actually beat the forecast.

Also picked up in this polling is the average top number of Democratic support, 49.6%. The highest the Democrats ever received in their most successful presidential cycle through the eve of the election was just 48.2% in 2008.

House district-level polling is being closely monitored by experts, as it was the canary in the Trump coal mine in 2016. Thus far, that polling actually predicts an even bigger Biden victory (and bigger coat tails in both the House and the Senate).

CNN Politics analyst Harry Enten tweeted that even “the GOP internal polling has Trump getting beat ‘big league.’” And Dave Wasserman, the House editor of the Cook Political Report, wrote, “District-level polls (which showed big problems for Clinton in '16) back up national/state polls.”

Last week, of the 12 races “on the move,” Wasserman noted almost all were toward Democrats.

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