The Trafalgar Group’s Robert Cahaly is an outlier among pollsters in that he thinks President Trump will carry Michigan, Pennsylvania, or both, and hence be reelected with roughly 280 electoral votes. (I explained his thinking here.) Last week another pollster, Jim Lee of Susquehanna Polling and Research, echoed some of Cahaly’s points about shy Trump voters being missed by pollsters. “There is definitely a submerged Trump vote,” Lee said. Asked for a prediction, he hedged a little but then predicted a Trump win: “I can’t call it. If the turnout is going to be what I think, Trump wins it.”
Lee goes further than some other analysts in suggesting that pollsters may be deliberately overstating the strength of Democratic candidates in order to dampen Republican turnout. In this press release, he calls it “the very definition of ‘voter suppression’” for a poll, by Franklin & Marshall College, to claim Hillary Clinton was ahead by eleven points among likely voters in surveys taken from October 26–30, 2016. He frankly calls this “liberal bias.” Yet, Lee notes, Franklin & Marshall and its lead pollster are still taken seriously by the media and cited as nonpartisan experts. He thinks there should be professional consequences for pollsters who are so wildly inaccurate as to raise serious questions about their impartiality.
In a recent interview for WFMZ, Lee elaborated, saying, “When pollsters get the results back and they look suspicious, or they should, because they’re showing one candidate with a double-digit lead in a state that was carried by one candidate by, you know, a point or two, they should realize something’s not right and that’s where the art of polling comes in.” Lee calls attention to what he describes as “garbage polls” showing a double-digit lead for Joe Biden in the past few weeks in Pennsylvania. He sees this as a replay of 2016 and adds, “I called on the American Association of Public Opinion Research to crack down on egregious polling to tighten standards for firms that clearly don’t understand the landscape of Pennsylvania.” (According to the FiveThirtyEight survey of pollsters, Franklin & Marshall is more reliable than Susquehanna.)
The final Susquehanna poll of Pennsylvania in 2016 showed the race a statistical dead heat, with Hillary Clinton winning by two points, within the margin of error. Lee is blown away by polls showing wide leads for either candidate in certain states. “Do you think that’s voter suppression?” he asks. “I’m sticking up for the industry, we need to crack down, someone needs to say this is out of control. Just look at those RealClear averages.” Polls of likely voters released in the last week show a large lead for Biden in Pennsylvania — eight points per Quinnipiac, ten points per CNN. However, an October 25 poll by Insider Advantage gives Trump a two-point lead. It is the only poll published in the RealClearPolitics roundup since May showing Trump winning the duly named Keystone State. On average, Biden enjoys a 4.5 percent lead in Pennsylvania, according to RealClearPolitics.
Lee elaborates that Pennsylvania could go either way: “The polls are not moving. We have the race in Pennsylvania [within] two points in the September poll and other firms showing a margin of error that the race is tied, it’s been tied all along in our estimation.” He adds, “I don’t see this as a blue wave” and foresees a very close race in the Electoral College. He rehearses some of the arguments made by Cahaly about the nature of people who don’t want to express what may be perceived as socially unacceptable views, even to a pollster on the phone. In Lee’s view:
The president is out there with the narrative that we shouldn’t do polling. Many people called him everything from a misogynist to a racist to everything in between. There are a lot of voters out there that don’t want to admit they are voting for a guy that has been called a racist, that submerged Trump factor is very real. We have been able to capture it and I’m really disappointed others have not. In 2016 in the summer and early fall showed Pennsylvania up for grabs. Other firms are putting out leads for Hillary Clinton in double digits, that was never the case in my opinion and we are seeing it happening now.
The 2016 average of final polls in Pennsylvania showed Clinton winning by 2.1 points. On Election Day, Trump won the state by less than one point. Polling in Wisconsin, however, showed Clinton with a 6.5 point average lead on the eve of the election, and in Michigan, Clinton was up by 3.6. Trump won both. Today Biden enjoys an average lead of 5.5 points in Wisconsin and nine points in Michigan. Most pollsters are forecasting an easy win for Joe Biden in the Electoral College, but if they’re wrong you’ll be hearing a lot more about Lee, Cahaly, and the “submerged Trump vote.”