Are Polls Underestimating Trump’s True Support?

Some voters shy about liking Trump

By William M Briggs Published on September 26, 2016

The press in 1980 did their best to scupper Ronald Reagan. They said he was an “extremist” and that he would “would divide America along racial, religious, and regional lines”. They said Reagan was a “dangerous cowboy” with his finger on the nuclear button. They seethed, raged, insinuated.

The Republican establishment joined in the calumnies. The strain on party brotherhood was so bad that after the primaries, one-time Republican candidate John Anderson split from the party and ran as a NeverReagan.

It was thus unfashionable to admit liking Reagan, and so not a few kept their mouths shut.

Presidential polls might have reflected this Reagan shyness. In the month before the election, polls had Carter up an average 44% to Reagan’s 40%. Anderson hovered around 9%, which left about 7% of voters unaccounted for. Were some of these 7% shy Reagan voters?

The final averages right before the election gave Reagan the edge, 47% to Carter’s 44% and Anderson’s 8%. That left only 1% unaccounted for.

The final tallies gave Reagan 51% of the popular vote, Carter 41%, and Anderson 7%, with the remaining 1% spread over novelty candidates.

There is a huge discrepancy here. Polls showed Reagan with 4% less support than he actually had, and Carter with 3% more and Anderson 1% more. These errors could have been caused by Reagan supporters unwilling to tell pollsters their true preference, but they also could have been because of built-in biases of the polls themselves. These biases should not surprise given that many polls are conducted or commissioned by mainstream media outlets, whose sins and biases do not need recounting.

Shy Trump Voters?

At this writing most polls show Hillary nearly tied with Trump, yet there is a suspicion that, like in 1980, some voters are shy about admitting that they like Trump. If this is so, the polls exaggerate Hillary’s true support.

Is anybody who is for Trump coy? If so, how many secret supporters are there? Or are the polls biased?

It’s easy to imagine scenarios where a pollster queries a citizen who is reluctant to say he’s voting for Trump. The college professor or student called on campus, an employee polled at any company in San Francisco or Los Angeles, a canvasser knocking at the door at a certain address in Chappaqua, New York when the lady of the house is in residence, and so on.

Hillary said half of Trump’s supporters are a “basket of deplorable.” Many on the left agree with these harsh words; deviation from leftist ideology is not countenanced.

So rather than trigger a social justice warrior by announcing their Trump preference, some surely keep their mouths shut.

On the other hand, as the election nears and, for instance, the NeverTrump camp realize how horrible the alternative is, and adding in the common knowledge that Americans like a winner, liking Trump grows easier. The polls, as in 1980, are tightening. Even so, there is still a sense polls under-count Trump’s true base.

Shy Brexit Voters

Disentangling voter shyness from poll biases is not easy. Modern polls over emotionally contentious questions suggest shyness is not negligible. Journalist Michael Tracey reminds us that six weeks before the Brexit vote, which the media and majority of the establishment hysterically disfavored, “Remain” led by 4% with “Undecideds” at 14%. But the final tally was 52% for “Leave,” a huge discrepancy and 8-point swing.

In the Brexit case, poll bias is not a likely explanation because Brexit polls were not sampled in the complex way presidential polls are. The results of the Brexit polls were also simple, in the sense that the numbers released were close to the actual numbers received in the polling process. By these comments I mean that the numbers released to the public in presidential polls are not in their raw form; they have been manipulated by various statistical models (this article explains how).

Scientific Polls? Nah

Now, despite what you might have heard, there is no such thing as a “scientific poll.” Or, rather, all polls are equally scientific. But not all polls are equally good. That public poll numbers are actually the result of statistical models means there is plenty of opportunity for bias and error to creep in.

This is well illustrated by no less than the New York Times, which recently gave four polling groups the same raw data. If polling were a rigid science, the answers should have been the same. But they weren’t. Results ran from Hillary +3 to Trump +1, a 4-point swing, a discrepancy more than large enough to change the outcome of the election (especially considering details about the Electoral College which needn’t detain us here).

There is also the possibility that some biases are intentional, as in so-called push polls, or because the samples are finagled in a preferred direction. Unscrupulous pollsters know that simply showing a candidate is ahead causes some people to favor that candidate (Americans like a winner). And if that candidate is shown to be well ahead of her true support, others will be discouraged from voting (why bother?). But surely the mainstream media would never lie to us, right?

Whatever the polls show, there is no certain way to say anything about their performance until after the election. See you on the other side.

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  • 6thinclass

    I offer the option that when some are polled they intentionally want to inflate Hillary’s ratings as to mislead her in her popularity. Or, it could be the provider of the ratings my be inflating Hillary’s ratings thinking it would persuade the fence-sitters into voting for her. Just a thought.

  • DaninMichigan

    If I put a Trump bumper sticker on my car, the “tolerant” leftists I work with will (a) be triggered, (b) crybully me about racism, and (c) vandalize my car. Note that the reverse is not true – Hillary stickers even in the biker bar parking lot are ignored. So yeah, I think a lot of people like their car paint the way it is and their windows unsmashed by the fragile and vulnerable leftists who are traumatized by the idea someone has different values.

    • emsnewswordpresscom

      What Hillary stickers? Literally the only ones I have seen said ‘Hillary for Prison’! Lots of Trump in Upstate NY, not one pro-Hillary sticker, sign, whatever anywhere. When I went to NJ yesterday, zero pro-Hillary signs there, too.

    • mac12sam12

      We have a Trump sign in our front yard and I’m waiting for the brick through my window.

  • L Garou

    Polls done in Giant Metropolis, big city bureaucrat stuffed welfare strongholds are hardly indicative of the common consensus. Yet even there, half of those polled pick Trump!
    Poll the other half of real America. Small cities, towns, villages, burgs and boroughs.
    They’re 80% Trump!

    The 5th Column M$M is Hillary’s #1 ally. Well, besides the foreigner, George $oro$.
    The so-called news is wall to wall phony Editors and their hired Corporate Presstitutes.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    One method for defusing sensitive questions is to provide the respondent with a coin and two alternative questions: one is the sensitive question, the other is a harmless one (Is 2+2=4? or something of that sort, for which A is the only answer). Respondent tosses a coin, then answers Question A or B based on the coin. The pollster does not know which question has been answered, only the percentage of questionnaires in which A was checked (or B). There are mathematical ways to correct for the likelihood that half the answers were for the alternate question, all of which were A. This allows for an estimate of %A without identifying which respondents actually chose A.

  • Nels

    Two of the factors skewing analysis of the polls are assumptions about “likely voters” and the assumptions on likely voter turnout by party and by voting bloc. Pollsters seem to be assuming that Democrats will turn out in much higher numbers than the Republicans and independents will, and they are assuming that people who wouldn’t bother to go vote in the past won’t bother to vote this election.

    Polls which sample likely voters ignore the nearly 40% who will vote this election, for the first time in years. Polls which assume high Dem turnout and low Repub and independent turnout make an implausible assumption.

    In the last two elections, the Dems ran a candidate who energized their base, and got unusually high turnout from their black voting bloc. In the last two elections, the Repub candidates were hard to tell from the Dem candidate and they made it clear that they despised their support base. In the last two elections, Republican and independent turnout was low. Why go vote for Romney-care, when we already had 0bammy-care?

    In this election we have a Republican candidate who is strongly anti-abortion and an American nationalist, running against a Democrat candidate who is strongly pro-abortion and an anti-American globalist. The Republican candidate is energizing his base (not the traditional Republican base, but his own) and will bring to the polls a big chunk of the 40% of Americans who could vote, but normally don’t. The Democrat candidate has no energy (indeed, there is reasonable speculation that she may not live long enough to take office), and no ability to energize any of the Dem voting blocs.

    In short, this is not your father’s election, and your father’s statistical models don’t work.

  • Paul Matthews

    You mention the Brexit vote. You could also have discussed the May 2015 UK general election. All the “experts” told us the result would be a hung parliament, with neither the Conservatives or Labour having an overall majority and the smaller parties holding the balance of power.

    A team of UK academic “experts” thought that Labour would get 278 seats and the Conservatives 274. Your US polling guru Nate Silver (who you may recall said that Trump had a 2% chance of winning the nomination) had the Conservatives slightly ahead, 278 to 267.

    In the event, the Conservatives won an overall majority with 331 seats to Labour’s 232, doing far better than the predictions from any of the polls. One of the more plausible of the various explanations for the polls being so wrong was the “shy Conservative” factor that you discuss here.

  • Tarus the jesus slayer

    People around the world are angry at the globalists who are destroying our nations. Trump’s massive support in America will be mirrored in Germany and France.

  • // //

    Ha! I’ve never met a shy Trump supporter!

  • He is winning the youth big time. Kings College polls 75% Trump & Wilkes University is having a night with Allen West

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