A whole lot of pollsters had a whole lot of egg on their faces after the 2016 election returns were in and Donald Trump was declared victorious. Two who didn’t were Arie Kapteyn and Robert Cahaly. Four years ago, Kapteyn oversaw the USC/Los Angeles Times poll that had Trump 3 points ahead of Clinton going into election day. At the same time, Cahaly was running the Trafalgar Group, a polling institution that showed Trump with a lead over Hillary in Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. To everyone else’s shock, Trump took all of those states when the final vote was in.
Now these two pollsters say that mainstream polling is making the same mistake it made last time: Missing the so-called “shy” Trump voter.
“There’s a lot of hidden Trump votes out there,” Cahaly told Politico. “Will Biden win the popular vote? Probably. I’m not even debating that. But I think Trump is likely to have an Electoral College victory. We live in a country where people will lie to their accountant, they’ll lie to their doctor, they’ll lie to their priest. And we’re supposed to believe they shed all of that when they get on the telephone with a stranger?”
Kapteyn said that there is a stark difference in the way voters respond when asked who they support and when asked who they think their social circle will support – a clue that people may not be completely forthright about their plan to vote for Trump.
As an illustration, Kapteyn described what his team at USC sees in its polls. Beyond simply asking voters whether they support Biden or Trump, USC asks a “social-circle” question—“Who do you think your friends and neighbors will vote for?”—which some researchers believe makes it easier for people to share their true opinions without fear of being judged for their views.
“We actually get a 10-point lead, nationally, for Biden over Trump” when asking voters who they personally plan to support, says Kapteyn. “But if you look at the ‘social-circle’ question, Biden only gets like a 5- or 6-point lead. … In general—and certainly on the phone—people may still be a little hesitant to say to that they’re Trump voters.”
If this was a problem with the polling in 2016, how much worse could it be in 2020? This year, you don’t even have the cover of a historically-unpopular candidate like Hillary Clinton. Plus, cancel culture is in full swing, and Trump supporters know all too well that liberals regard them not just as ideological enemies, but ACTUAL enemies – white supremacists who want to cage children, shoot black people, and God knows what else. And they’re going to be completely honest with a total stranger on the phone with an unknown agenda?
We will, of course, see very soon what the real story is. But from the looks of the rally crowds, the misleading polls, and the oceans of Trump 2020 signs we see blanketing the country, we’ll be damned if this scene doesn’t look awfully familiar.