If you’ve been paying any attention to the ongoing US Presidential election, you’ll likely be aware that Donald Trump is down in the polls, and down big, you could even use one of Donald’s favourite words; ‘bigly’. Trump has, however, dismissed these polls as fake, understating his support. And while he has been accused of making over 20,000 false or misleading statements as President, there could be some truth in his claims that the polls don’t reflect his true levels of support.
Donald Trump frequently touts the ‘silent majority’ in his tweets and at his rallies, the ‘silent majority’ being a nod to the ‘shy Trump voter’ phenomenon. This is a theory that was used by some political commentators after the 2016 US Presidential election as a means to explain the inaccuracies in the polls from that election, which had Hilary Clinton leading in multiple states she went on to lose to Trump. It essentially suggests that there is a group of voters who intended to, and did, vote for Donald Trump and either kept their opinions to themselves or said they were voting for someone else, thus the polls didn’t capture an accurate image of how the public were really going to vote, underestimating the true extent of Trump’s support.
While this theory has been disputed by some, there is evidence to suggest there is truth to Trump’s claims of a ‘silent majority’. Neil Newhouse, a prominent pollster who worked on the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, conducted some post-election polls in 2016 to try and explain the surprising Trump Victory. He found that up to 35% of Trump voters had been unwilling to discuss their vote, and when you’re working with such fine margins in the closest states, as was the case in 2016, it has the potential to make a huge impact on the end results, and it did. Hilary Clinton led the polls by 2.1% in Pennsylvania and 3.4% in Michigan, yet she ended up losing to Trump by 0.7% and 0.3% respectively. And even though it’s impossible to prove for definite that those polling discrepancies were due to shy Trump voters, there’s clear evidence that the polls failed to capture an accurate picture of Trump’s support and thus Trump won more votes than expected.
Some would argue that it could go both ways, someone planning to vote democrat would be equally likely to keep their vote to themselves or avoid pollsters. However, this is not the case, there is research to suggest that conservatives keep their opinions private more often than liberals, in the fear that they are more susceptible to a hostile reaction and being labelled as offensive. The Cato Institute found that 77% of conservative leaning individuals said they felt they couldn’t share their political beliefs, compared to just 52% of liberal leaning individuals.
So, while it is entirely possible there is a sizeable bloc of hidden Trump supporters that haven’t been picked up in the polls, the gap they’d have to close is much larger now than in 2016. Joe Biden is currently holding big leads in the most crucial part of this year’s electoral map; the ‘Rust belt’. Biden holds a 7.2% lead in Michigan and a 7% lead in Pennsylvania, These leads are much larger than the ones Clinton held in 2016. She led by only 3.6% in Michigan and 2.1% in Pennsylvania. And pulling off a victory in a state where you trail by just over two points is a much more feasible task than if you’re trailing by 7 points or more, so the pathway to victory for Trump is a much taller order now than it was in 2016.
Trump does, however, have a glimmer of hope; Wisconsin. Trump was in fact trailing by nearly 7 points in the polls in 2016, and he still did the impossible and won the state. Clinton lead the polls in Wisconsin by 6.5% yet she ended up losing by 0.7%, a swing to Trump of 7.2%. Biden actually holds a smaller polling lead at just 6.3%, if Trump can manage to repeat the same swing in Wisconsin from 2016, he’d win the state.
So, if the electoral map were to stay the same as 2016 with Trump retaining states he won last time such as Florida and North Carolina, which is definitely in the realm of possibility, he can afford to lose Michigan and Pennsylvania, out of the 3 Rust Belt states he only needs Wisconsin to take him to the magic number of electoral votes; 270, and he’s back in the White House for another four years. And while relying, arguably hoping, on a group of ‘shy trump voters’ to buck the polls and provide Trump with another shock win in Wisconsin doesn’t sound like an entirely convincing campaign strategy, do you really feel comfortable saying for sure he can’t do it again?