[guest post by Dana]
CNN is reporting that a new poll shows Trump closing the gap against Biden’s lead among registered voters:
Overall, 50% of registered voters back the Biden-Harris ticket, while 46% say they support Trump and Pence, right at the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Among the 72% of voters who say they are either extremely or very enthusiastic about voting this fall, Biden’s advantage over Trump widens to 53% to 46%. It is narrower, however, among those voters who live in the states that will have the most impact on the electoral college this fall.
Across 15 battleground states, the survey finds Biden has the backing of 49% of registered voters, while Trump lands at 48%.
The pool of battleground states in this poll includes more that Trump carried in 2016 (10) than were won by Hillary Clinton (5), reflecting the reality that the President’s campaign is more on defense than offense across the states. Taken together, though, they represent a more Republican-leaning playing field than the nation as a whole.
The movement in the poll among voters nationwide since June is concentrated among men (they split about evenly in June, but now 56% back Trump, 40% Biden), those between the ages of 35 and 64 (they tilt toward Trump now, but were Biden-leaning in June) and independents (in June, Biden held a 52% to 41% lead, but now it’s a near even 46% Biden to 45% Trump divide).
Trump has also solidified his partisans since June. While 8% of Republicans or Republican-leaning independents in June said they would back Biden, that figure now stands at just 4%. And the President has boosted his backing among conservatives from 76% to 85%.
The poll also reveals that among those questioned, more Trump voters say they may change their minds before November than Biden voters.
While the President’s approval ratings are historically low at 54% (disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job) and 42% approve, that is still an improvement over previous job approval ratings.
With that, Nate Silver is estimating that Trump has a 27% chance of winning the election based on FiveThirtyEight’s average of national polls. However, that estimate comes with a caveat:
Silver said “uncertainties related to COVID-19,” like what the economy will look like in November, make the election especially unpredictable.
“It’s simply too soon for a model or for anybody else to be all that confident about what is going to happen,” Silver said.
Silver’s bottom line: “Yes, Trump definitely still has a shot at re-election.”
Meanwhile, a report came out this weekend, discussing the “hidden” Trump voters. If they do exist, will they number enough to bring Trump a victory?
The belief that Americans aren’t getting the real story about Mr. Trump’s chances for re-election has taken hold among many of his supporters. For Trump loyalists, it is an appealing story, and one with some validity: The news media, which largely failed to anticipate Mr. Trump’s victory in 2016, are undercounting his voters, many of whom are even more reluctant today than they were four years ago to declare themselves in his camp.
Mr. Trump makes this argument often; on Saturday evening, he told reporters that “we have a silent majority the likes of which nobody has seen.” One of his pollsters, John McLaughlin, has even put a name to this supposed flaw in the data, predicting that the “hidden Trump voter” will prove the news media wrong.
But the idea that there are substantial numbers of Trump voters who will emerge from hiding on Election Day, large enough to sway the outcome, is not supported by the latest public opinion research — or by a proper understanding of what happened in past elections where the voter surveys were off, said pollsters who work for Republican and Democratic candidates.
Pointing out the obvious: If there were substantial “hidden Trump voters,” would they really be willing to respond to public opinion research questions or polling? Would they want to reveal their preferences to pollsters? It doesn’t seem likely to me.
“There are many people who are voting for Trump who are in environments where it’s politically untenable to admit it because he’s become so toxic,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster. “But I’m still not convinced that not telling your business associate or the people in your Rotary Club or the people in your country club is the same thing as not telling a pollster.”
The possibility that Americans are hiding their true intentions from pollsters has provided an irresistible sense of intrigue to presidential elections before, even though there are few confirmed examples where it made a difference…
Four years ago, some suggested there might be a similar phenomenon at work with Trump supporters who were too embarrassed to reveal themselves. And when Mr. Trump won by squeaking out victories in a few battleground states, his backers argued that shy voters were a reason the polls missed his strength in those places.
“The idea that people lie, it’s an interesting theory, and it’s not like it’s completely off-the-wall,” said David Winston, a pollster who works with congressional Republicans. “But it’s obviously a very complicated thing to try to prove because what do you do? Ask them, ‘Are you lying?’”
If voters were indeed afraid of voicing their support for the president, Mr. Winston said, other numbers in the poll would reflect that, like seeing an uptick in the percentage of undecided voters rather than a rise in support for Mr. Biden. “It would not be people saying they are voting for Biden,” he said, “but that they’re undecided.”
While the effects of a hidden Trump vote are certainly overstated by the president’s allies, that does not mean that no evidence exists that polls are missing some of his voters. A small percentage of his support is probably being undercounted, and has been in the past, public opinion experts said. And in states like North Carolina, where the margin of victory could be narrow, the undercount could make a difference between a poll being right or wrong.
A small percentage of his support is probably being undercounted, and has been in the past, public opinion experts said. And in states like North Carolina, where the margin of victory could be narrow, the undercount could make a difference between a poll being right or wrong.
“We assume the race will tighten, and as that happens, the size of the shy Trump vote could very easily come into play,” said Neil Newhouse, a Republican who led Mitt Romney’s polling in 2012.
In 2016, Mr. Newhouse said that Mr. Trump tended to score 2 or 3 points higher in phone surveys when respondents were asked to press a button to record their preferences rather than talk to a live person. In postelection polling, when he asked people if they had ever been unwilling to talk about their vote, 35 percent of Trump voters said yes. And they tended to be women from Democratic-leaning counties.
Mr. Newhouse has picked up further evidence of such reluctance recently. In polls he conducted late last month in North Carolina and Iowa, he found that one-quarter to one-third of voters answered “yes” when asked if they knew someone who is voting for Mr. Trump but would not say so to anyone but their closest friends.
“This totally confirms the notion of ‘shy Trump voters,’” Mr. Newhouse said. But, he added, if polls are undercounting some Trump voters — a group that tends to be uniquely expressive and adamant about their support for the president — no one can say by how much.
It’s hard to say what the numbers might actually be. And just as America was shocked by Trump’s win in 2016, that scenario might very well repeat itself in November if those hidden voters materialize in large numbers. But I agree with Silver that his identified factors could certainly shift the polling between now and November, even substantially so in either direction. I’ll add that, in my view, as far as sheer enthusiasm goes, Trump supporters take the cake. I just don’t see the same level of excitement about Biden from his supporters. However, the selection of Kamala Harris certainly perked up the enthusiasm meter on the Democratic side. Whether that will translate into enough votes for a win, is anybody’s guess.
Oh, and as a reminder: the Democratic National Convention begins tonight.