A number of my Trump-loving friends have told me that the polls are wrong. When I inquire further, I hear that the polls are rigged or that Trump is so hated that voters tell pollsters they’re voting for Clinton while actually intending on choosing Trump.
This concept that a certain segment of the population will lie to pollsters is an old theory, but it’s still a myth. There will not be a landslide by Trump. In fact, Trump will be extremely lucky to fall one or two states short, let alone win.
The Trump landslide myth starts in Germany where the spiral of silence theory was first proposed in 1974. The premise states that people fear isolation, and thus those who are ostracized by society will not express their opinions in public (or to pollsters apparently).
Other nations have subsequently developed similar theories to try and explain instances where the polls turned out to wrong. In the U.S.A., the Bradley effect stems from the 1982 California governor’s race where the African American candidate, Tom Bradley, was leading in the polls, but lost the election. Pundits explained away his loss as a function of social desirability bias — voters will virtue signal to pollsters that they love racial minorities, but at the poll booth pick the candidate they actually like (because they’re actually racist). This theory tends to fall apart when we consider the fact that Obama did better than the polls predicted.
In the U.K. and Canada pundits have tried to peg discrepancies in the polls on the shy Tory factor. Tories is another name for Conservatives. The theory goes that conservative voters are — for some reason — shy with pollsters.
There are no shy voters. It’s a myth invented by wishful thinking (or sometimes fear-mongering if trumpeted by opposing candidates). There are especially no shy Trump supporters. Have you seen how many people show up at his rallies? Clinton might have 50 people at her rally, but Trump will have 100 times that amount. These are not shy voters!
The polls are incredibly accurate and scientific, and not subject to rigging. When they do miss the mark, it’s largely because voters changed their minds during the last few days of the campaign. Polls only reflect the viewpoints of voters on the day they were surveyed, and since polls are conducted over several days, they’re already behind current public open as soon as they’re released.
Trump supporters point to Brexit as an example of polls getting the results wrong. Not all pollsters got it wrong (the Telegraph nailed it). In fact, the polls were quite close to the actual result. There was some surge at the end, which most polls did pick up on. It was the pro-EU voters who suffered from a Trumpian sort of willful ignorance by denying the reality of the polls, and instead going with the betting markets.
Here in Canada we have had similar problems with the polls appearing to be wrong. During the 2013 provincial election in British Columbia, the Liberals saw a huge surge in the final week of the campaign. Because of the lag factor, it only looked like the pollsters missed the mark. Further investigation revealed that following the polling trends through to election day called the election result correctly. A similar scenario played out during the 2015 federal election. The pollsters called the correct result, but they underestimated the margin because of the rapid change in public opinion in final few days.
There is no Trump surge over the final few days of this election.
Sometimes it’s not the pollsters who get it wrong, but the political spinsters. On one side are the wishful thinking voters who insist that they are not behind in the polls, and on the other you have fear-mongers, who say “vote for me, or the bad guy will win.” In Canada, for example, you will have a politician knowing his New Democratic Party (NDP) was well back in third place telling the Green candidate who is in first place to vote NDP to stop the Conservative candidate who is in second place.
Trump supporters might be right in a certain sense in that this election is not like a typical one, and thus the pollsters might not be able to accurately gauge who will vote. I would agree that uncertainty is up this time around, and the result could fall outside of the margin of error, but the polls are more likely over-estimating Trump’s support. It could also be that the undecided voters who are largely Republican leaning come home to roost at the last minute. In the important states like Florida, one third of voters have already cast their ballots in advanced voting, so it’s more likely that a large percentage of these voters have already cast their ballots.
Republicans normally attract richer and more educated folks, but not this election. Unlike previous Republican candidates, Trump’s supporters have less education than his rival’s supporters. This is an important factor because better educated and wealthier voters are more likely to vote. Another factor determining propensity to vote is religiosity, and on that Trump’s moral failings have turned many on the religious right toward Clinton.
Polling firms try to take age and other factors into account when estimating support, but they can’t account for everything. Trump’s ground game of getting voters out the polls by all accounts is lacking. Meanwhile, Clinton has been offering free bus rides from Universities to polling stations among other measures to ensure she gets her supports out to vote. Obama’s support was underestimated because African-Americans showed up at the polls in much higher numbers than they expected. It could be that some Trump supporters will show up in higher numbers than expected, but by all accounts Hispanic voters who overwhelming support Clinton are going to vote in higher numbers than forecast on November 8th.
As of the latest polling data, Clinton has a 2/3 chance of winning against Trump’s 1/3 chance. Trump probably needs to win New Hampshire, which is a tall order. The polls have to be 2 points wrong in his favor there. He also needs to win Nevada, North Carolina, and Florida, where the polls show a dead heat. If Clinton is underestimated by the polls as I suspect, then she will win all three of those states. If I’m wrong (which I doubt since I’ve never been wrong in my entire life), Trump will win all three. If I’m really wrong, he’ll win New Hampshire too, and the presidency to boot.
I’m putting my money on Clinton.
Update: The polls missed Trump’s support in the Mid-West, but still, the shy voter theory is still not the reason.