A former campaign adviser to Donald Trump has said that dire polling numbers predicting the president will lose to Joe Biden may be failing to take account of people who do not want to share their political views.
In a discussion on Newsnight, political strategist Barry Bennett said that the president’s standing in the polls should not depress his supporters or give Democrats too much hope, pointing out that Hillary Clinton was firmly ahead at a similar point in 2016, and that many Trump supporters might be hiding their preference.
Asked whether he was worried about the state of Trump’s polling, he sounded phlegmatic. “Four years ago, we had numbers that were even worse,” he said. “So nervous, no; anxious to get started, yes.”
Mr Bennett, who in 2017 co-founded a consulting firm to help companies who found themselves the target of Mr Trump’s tweets cope with the fallout, pointed to a “structural issue” with polling, and suggested something else may be at work.
“There’s also this new phenomenon that we’re seeing in this age of hyper-politics in the United States: there was a poll where over 65 per cent of the people said they wouldn’t tell people what their political views are, because they didn’t want to be called names. So it’s affecting polling, particularly on the Republican side.”
It is true that Ms Clinton polled ahead of Mr Trump for much of 2016, including during the summer and in the weeks just before the election. However, despite what Mr Bennett said last night, there was no point at which her national polling average put her 12 points ahead, and Mr Biden’s national lead over Mr Trump is in fact much wider than Ms Clinton’s at this same point in the race.
Ms Clinton’s lead was also not as consistently wide as Mr Biden’s has been over the last weeks and months – and pollsters working on current data have pointed to several crucial differences between the president’s support then and now, including Mr Biden’s strength among suburban voters.
He is now leading the president in an array of swing states – and closing in on him and even pulling into a tie in former Republican strongholds such as Georgia and Texas.
Meanwhile, pollsters have had nearly four years to pore over their “failure” in 2016, and have come up with several explanations. Among them are high turnout among Trump supporters, a failure to sufficiently weight polls by voters’ educational differences, and the fact that many voters seem to have decided who to vote for as late as election day itself.
With the polling industry learning from its failures and Mr Trump now running as an incumbent rather than an insurgent, it is unclear whether these and other explanations for Mr Trump’s unexpected victory will apply again this year – especially since the president is running during the combined crises of the continuing pandemic and the tanking economy.