The “Shy” Trump Voter
What if not participating in polls is a winning strategy for the GOP?
I’ve been thinking of 2016 here and there. I see the spread between Trump and Biden on FiveThirtyEight and Real Clear Politics today and I think there may be cause for comfort for liberals. But I still think about how far off the polls were in 2016. I just have some concern that the polls are wrong.
I’ve also been thinking about why the polls could be wrong. I think about this dynamic, the way the people who support Trump behave. They tend to be shy about their support for Trump. They have friends and relatives who don’t approve. I think I can see why. To me Trump epitomizes selfishness. From a biological perspective, nature does not favor selfishness. Every species must cooperate to survive. Raising children requires cooperation. And yet, somehow, Trump managed to prevail in 2016.
In my interactions with people who support Trump, I find that they don’t trust the polls. They don’t answer the call from polls because they don’t trust how their inputs will be used in any published poll. I found some confirmation of this idea in the following article on Politico by Zack Stanton, “‘People Are Going To Be Shocked’: Return of the ‘Shy’ Trump Voter?” It’s an interesting read, that article. One of the passages that caught my eye, the nugget, says this:
Polls are undercounting the people who don’t want to give their real opinions. If they had corrected anything, why didn’t they see Ron DeSantis winning in his 2018 race for governor in Florida? They made the exact same mistake with his opponent, Andrew Gillum. [The final RealClearPolitics polling average in that race had Gillum up by 3.6 percentage points. DeSantis won by 0.4 percentage points.] This wasn’t some random state’s race; this was the hottest, meanest — neck-and-neck races for governor and senator in Florida in an off-year election. Every single major player was polling that state. And 100 percent of them got it wrong; we got it right.
I agree with the idea that people might not give away how they really feel to pollsters for fear of shame. But I would not be terribly surprised to learn that conservative voters have considered the idea that not participating in polls is a winning strategy. If liberals have no idea what conservatives are thinking, then conservatives have the element of surprise, then conservatives have a greater chance of winning.
If the majority of your samples are Biden supporters, your polling is skewed because conservatives are not answering the phone. My impression is that most conservatives are skeptical of the media and therefore polling. They don’t believe that their views are fairly represented in the press. They think that Trump is doing a great job, but their local paper won’t print any stories that are flattering to Trump. So again, they don’t trust the polls.
I can also see how this would be a winning strategy, too. All Trump supporters have to do is tell the polls that they are voting for Biden when they get the call. When the polls show Biden in the lead, a fair number of people may say, “Cool. I don’t have to vote. I can spend my night playing Overwatch instead.” This is something I might expect from the younger crowds.
A comfortable lead could encourage complacency and that is something that the geniuses on the conservative side would want to encourage. If I was sitting on a pile of money that I bagged as a private equity manager as a result of a rigged system, I’d want the liberals to feel like they’re going to win. Then I can call them snowflakes when their beloved candidate loses, and tell them to get real. Huh. Sounds like behavior modification.
So I checked out some of the work by Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight. In case you didn’t know, FiveThirtyEight is the place to go for betting odds. They run lots of predictive models to test for outcomes like sports and this year’s election. In their models, Trump has a 10% chance of winning, far lower than the 36% chance of winning like he had in 2016.
Maybe Trump won in 2016 because of bad polling and those shy Trump supporters, and maybe Trump could do that again this year. Nate Silver has covered this ground, too. According to Silver’s Twitter account, Trump had been leading earlier this year. Then the pandemic hit and he lost his lead. Silver doesn’t seem to think that the change is due to the shy Trump voter gone missing, he thinks they’ve been persuaded to change their minds.
But wait, there’s more. Silver wrote another article a few days ago disecting the available data to find that if Trump were to win, the polls would have to be off much more than they were in 2016. FiveThirtyEight runs thousands of predictive models and scenarios to test the available data for possible outcomes, and of those tests, only 10% suggest a Trump win. So there is hope for the liberal voters out there that this trial could be over soon. Wait? What trial?
The Supreme Court now has 3 people who are alumnis of Bush v. Gore, a lawsuit filed in 2000 to stop the recount of votes in Florida. When they stopped the recount, they handed the White House to George W. Bush. Three of the attorneys involved in that case now sit on the bench of the Supreme Court: John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. What an uncanny valley.
I could see maybe one of them getting a seat on the Supreme Court. But what are the odds that Trump would select two more judges that were involved in the winning side of Bush v. Gore? I’d say that among the thousands of qualified candidates that could fill those seats, the odds of picking two of them in the same term without conscious effort are astronomically slim. By the way, Ted Cruz is another Bush v. Gore alumi and he’s on the short list if Trump wins another term and another seat opens up next to Amy Coney Barrett. I hope the models run by FiveThirtyEight have considered the composition of the courts, too.
So get out there and vote if you haven’t already. There is lot more than just the White House hanging in this balancing act we call democracy.