The answer as to whether the Republicans will make a strong showing this November may lie in the details. Poll after poll appears to show tight races where things may not be so close. For a clearer picture of reality, check the crosstabs: the survey minutiae that never seem to make the headlines but still matter – a lot. Why? Because the Trump voter is more likely to eschew public surveys, and this could result in some surprises for the Democrats.
The Trump Voter Just Says No
An opinion poll is only as valuable as the paper it is printed on if its sample reflects the likely voter. Founder of the Trafalgar Group polling outfit Robert Cahaly has been talking about the reticent Trump voter for years, but the big box media haven’t been paying attention. Cahaly noted a few things that can go wrong when conducting election surveys.
First, voters can lie. For whatever reason, they may decide not to be truthful. This is most often detected when people are asked to specify party affiliation or income bracket. Second, voters may choose not to take part in the survey. Many of those who pulled the lever for Trump fall into this category. Third, the pollster might not spend the extra time or effort to ferret out shy voters. Taking the easy way out could yield precisely what average pollsters desire: a push poll that tells them what they want rather than what will happen.
An Oct. 3 op-ed in a prominent Washington newspaper detected something might not be right in an article titled, “Uh-oh, the polls may be undercounting Trump-friendly Republicans again.” Election attorney and political strategist Mark R. Weaver noticed something was off in the crosstabs of a recent survey examining Ohio’s Senate race: “A look at the Marist poll’s fine print suggested something that should make Democrats nervous in the run-up to November 8: Pollsters might be seriously undercounting the Republican electorate – specifically, the working-class White voters who were crucial to Trump’s electoral success.”
What caught Weaver’s eye was the indication that 45% of the Marist poll respondents said they had a college degree. That amounts to 16% more people who had completed higher education than the Ohio census reports. In other words, this poll is wildly overcounting one group that does not reflect the Buckeye State electorate. Worse still, he found other pollsters doing the same thing.
A survey in Pennsylvania by Muhlenberg College revealed similar numbers when assessing the John Fetterman/Mehmet Oz Senate race. Still another – this one from Public Policy Polling – turned up the same results in North Carolina: Those surveyed did not reflect that state’s electorate, either. Weaver correctly assessed: “Trump voters distrust pollsters and the media that reports on poll results, and simply won’t participate, out of protest or paranoia.”
Trafalgar’s Cahaly calls these folks who don’t want to participate in polls “submerged voters.” He tweeted as much in September: “At this point I think it’s fair to say that Biden’s pursuit of and attacks on ‘MAGA Republicans’ has created an army of [submerged voters].”
It doesn’t take a genius to get the picture. Republican voters, specifically Trump supporters, are being severely undercounted in many public surveys. With control of the Senate hanging on a razor’s edge, a higher GOP turnout could mean these supposedly close races won’t be so tight after all. At its most basic level, a free and fair election should come down to one number – turnout. The party with the greatest number of voters wins. So, if the pollsters can’t or won’t collect an accurate sample, they might as well be throwing darts into the wind.
Make no mistake, there is a reason large numbers of Trump voters are keeping their voting preferences private; after all, they have been called every unflattering name in the book. And it is entirely possible these undercounted “irredeemable deplorables” will have the last laugh on Nov. 8.