As a raft of polls show Donald Trump getting shellacked in November, he and his campaign have intensified their criticism of basically every public poll, since they all figure pretty badly for Trump.
“The Silent Majority will speak on NOVEMBER THIRD!!!” Trump promised last Sunday. He followed up on Monday by complaining about “suppression polls” to reporters. “We get a lot of fake polls, just like we have fake news,” he said. “I mean, it’s a terrible thing when you look at it.”
Following Trump’s surprise 2016 win, much debate ensued over the mythical “shy” Trump voter who wouldn’t tell pollsters what they really thought, resulting in skewed polling. But the more the issue was studied, the less support analysts found for that theory.
Instead, two phenomena appeared to conspire to produce some crucial surprises in swing states, even though national polling proved to be a pretty accurate measure of the popular vote.
First, an analysis by the American Association for Public Opinion Research concluded that many state polls had underrepresented people without college degrees and therefore undercounted support for Trump. The good news about that finding is that it was something pollsters could adjust for moving forward.
Second, a higher than usual portion of the electorate remained undecided almost right up until Election Day. That unusually high proportion of undecideds ultimately broke for Trump in decisive numbers.
But data suggesting that Trump voters—white working-class voters, in particular—responded to pollsters in lower numbers never materialized in any definitive fashion.
Naturally, that’s the exact argument the Trump campaign is making now. Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien recently showed election reporters a half-hour Zoom presentation arguing that Republican voters were being undercounted and polls weren’t properly capturing voter enthusiasm for Trump.
But tellingly, the campaign isn’t releasing any of its internal polling even as Trump and his aides say it puts Trump in a much more competitive position. As CNN’s Harry Enten has noted, who’s releasing internal polls and who isn’t can alone be “highly predictive” of where an election is headed.
Furthermore, several important factors differentiate this election cycle from 2016. First, the number of undecided voters is roughly half of what it was in the last presidential cycle, lowering the chances of an election-night surprise. Second, Joe Biden is either approaching or surpassing 50% in many of the swing state polls and nearly all of the national polls; in 2016, Hillary Clinton consistently polled ahead of Trump but she stayed well below the 50% threshold, in part, due to the high number of undecided voters. Third, more pollsters are weighting by education this election cycle, helping to eliminate, or at least temper, one of the key flaws found in 2016 polling.
None of this is to say the results on election night are a given—they’re not. And Trump and his team are doing everything possible to make the election results murkier by hamstringing election security funding, undermining mail-in voting through a variety of tactics, and casting doubt on the results long before we have any idea what they are.
In short, Trump is working very hard to delegitimize the results of this election—and those aren’t the actions of a candidate who’s confident about his positioning. On Thursday alone, Trump suggested delaying the Nov. 3 election over safety concerns and then later declared that the results of the election “must” be known on election night, “not days, months, or even years later!”
Trump is so twisted that he surely thinks he’s far more popular than the polls suggest while also believing he’s going to lose the election. In other words, he believes in the “silent majority” but also thinks he’ll come up short in the election.
But to date there isn’t any data proving the existence of Trump’s “silent majority” beyond it being a figment of his imagination. As for the “suppression polls,” if they’re so fake, why isn’t the Trump campaign wowing America with their real polls?