Will “secret Trump voters” end up making for a surprise result in the state of Pennsylvania come November? Many Pennsylvanians think so, according to a new poll.
The Monmouth University survey, released Wednesday, showed former Vice President Joe Biden with a 13-point lead over Trump. That was cut to 7 to 10 percentage points when you looked at the expected turnout.
In the poll of 401 registered voters conducted in the Keystone State from July 9 to 13, 53 percent supported Biden while 40 percent supported President Trump. Independent voters, who would likely drive any sort of push Trump might make to capture Pennsylvania again, favored Biden 54 to 43 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 4.9 percent.
“Even taking into account any polling error from four years ago, Biden is clearly doing well in swing areas. The Democrat has roots in this region which may be helping him, but there seems to be an overall erosion of support for Trump compared to 2016,” Monmouth University Polling Institute Director Patrick Murray said in the news release.
Models that project who will actually turn out show Biden with a smaller lead — but a lead nonetheless. One model gave him a 10-point lead, 52 to 42 percent. Another had him at 7 points, 51 percent to 44 percent.
There were two bits of good news for members of the Trump campaign team, however. The first was that they’ve been here before: “Comparing the current results to a Monmouth University Poll taken in August 2016, Biden’s likely voter position is similar to Clinton’s summer standing in the swing counties, where she led Trump by 50% to 40%,” the media release from Monmouth University stated.
“Interestingly, Trump is doing slightly better now in core Clinton counties than four years ago, when he was polling at 21% to 67% for Clinton. Biden, however, is currently stronger than Clinton was in the president’s base counties, where she was polling at 27% to 60% for Trump.”
The second is that Pennsylvanians polled don’t necessarily think Biden is a lock to win. In fact, slightly more of those polled think that the president will take the state.
“Most registered voters (54%) say they were surprised in 2016 when Trump ended up winning Pennsylvania’s electoral votes. They are evenly divided on whether they expect Trump (46%) or Biden (45%) to win the commonwealth this time around,” the release stated.
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“One reason for this seems to be that most voters (57%) believe there are a number of so-called secret voters in their communities who support Trump but won’t tell anyone about it. Less than half that number (27%) believe there are secret voters for Biden. The suspicion that a secret Trump vote exists is slightly higher in swing counties (62%) and Clinton counties (61%) than in Trump counties (51%). The belief in a secret Biden vote is somewhat more prevalent in Trump counties (32%) than Clinton counties (23%) and swing counties (23%).”
“The media consistently reports that Biden is in the lead, but voters remember what happened in 2016. The specter of a secret Trump vote looms large in 2020,” Murray said in the release.
The existence of the “shy Trump voter” remains a debatable one, four years after the current president scored the biggest political upset in recent memory.
Some dismiss the theory outright, like The Washington Post’s Philip Bump.
“The 2016 polling nationally did a good job of capturing the results of the race,” he wrote in a May 13 piece. “That Trump overperformed in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania was obviously hugely significant for the outcome of the election, but that was far more a function of flaws in how the polls were conducted than any ‘shy voters.'”
Politico’s Steven Shepard, however, noted those flaws were still there, four years later.
In a June 17 piece, he wrote that “some pollsters, especially the relatively few who conduct surveys in battleground states, are still grappling with the problems that plagued those polls four years ago. In fact, most pollsters believe that, on balance, state polls are overstating the scale of Biden’s advantage.”
“That was precisely the problem in 2016: The national polls were largely accurate, to within the margin of error. But there were too few state polls, and many of those that were conducted failed to collect accurate data, especially from white voters without college degrees in key swing states,” he continued.
“And those issues haven’t been fixed.”
To the extent that shy Trump voters can be proved to exist, the battleground state polling problems are key. Notice the fact that the national polls were accurate. If Trump voters are “shy,” one might assume the reason for their electoral bashfulness might result from the social stigma of being labeled a MAGA type when a pollster asks which candidate they support. It’s the “Bradley effect” in reverse.
If you don’t live in a state where the vote is competitive — particularly in deep-blue states like New York, California or Washington — and you have a psychological aversion to considering yourself as being That Type of Person — there’s no incentive to vote Trump even if your ballot is secret.
If you’re in Florida or Ohio, however, the situation is markedly different. You may present yourself to the neighbors as the kind of person who listens to NPR and frequents the gastropub and you may tell the pollster that yes, you’re a good Hillary/Biden voter like every other kind, tolerant person in the nation. When the curtain closes in that booth, however, you’re a lot more likely to make a choice in line with your political values than one that feels socially desirable.
This is mere conjecture, though — and the point is that swing state polls remain problematic.
“I think some of the fundamental, structural challenges that came to a head in 2016 are still in place in 2020,” Courtney Kennedy told Shepard for his Politico piece.
She’s the director of research at the Pew Research Center. She also authored a postmortem on how pollsters got 2016 so wrong. Apparently, they can still get it wrong.
Shepard noted: “Biden’s current lead over Trump is so large — over 8 percentage points in the national RealClearPolitics polling average, and an average advantage of 3 points or greater in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — that a 2016-level polling error wouldn’t matter. A lead that large would probably guarantee Trump would be denied a second term, and even a polling miss on par with 2016 wouldn’t be enough to overcome it.”
While some of those numbers have changed since the June piece, they haven’t moved much.
The president, in other words, can’t tarry if he wants a second term.
It’s also worth noting that despite Pennsylvanians’ belief in the prevalence of “shy Trump voters”, might be unlikely he’ll carry that state this time. Biden has strong roots in the area and his brand of faux-blue collar bluster can play well.
When it comes to states like Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina and Florida, however, the “shy Trump voter” could play a major role, particularly if the numbers begin to close. If that’s the case, there remains the possibility this could end up looking a lot like 2016.