Can Trump Rely on the ‘Silent Voter’ to Power Him to Victory?

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While several key polls have tightened since the Democratic and Republican national conventions, Trump still trails Biden in a number of key states.

Not to worry, says many diehard Trump voters. According to these faithful supporters, there’s a sizable number of people who plan to vote for Trump but won’t tell people, not even pollsters.

A recent Rasmussen survey suggests the phenomenon of the silent Trump voter is very much real. A poll released Wednesday found “that 17% of Likely U.S. Voters who Strongly Approve of the job President Trump is doing say they are less likely to let others know how they intend to vote in the upcoming election. By comparison, just half as many (8%) of those who Strongly Disapprove of the president’s performance say the same.”

Some on the right argue this is evidence of a “silent majority” that is not showing up in polling.

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But famed pollster Nate Silver doesn’t buy this theory. “I’ve pointed out this contradiction before, but there’s a type of person who believes that outward, highly public signs of Trump enthusiasm (yard signs, rally attendance, etc.) are more reliable than polls BUT that Trump voters are too ‘shy’ to tell the truth to pollsters.”

Silver, however, misses the point. No one disputes that a large number of Trump voters outwardly support him. What they are saying is that a small but statistically significant fraction are “silent Trump voters” who don’t tell people they plan to vote for him, and if polled, would not declare their intent to vote for him. That is a phenomenon independent of the people who proudly go to rallies or put bumper stickers on their cars. The loud and silent Trump voters aren’t mutually exclusive.

And that “silent voter” phenomenon is real according to a study by CloudResearch, an online market research and data collection company based in Queens, New York.

According to this study, Republicans and Independents were about twice as unlikely as Democrats to state their true preference for president in a telephone poll.

Some 11.7% of Republicans and 10.5% independents said they would not give their true opinion, vs. 5.4% of Democrats, according to the study by CloudResearch LLC […] Among the reasons they gave was that “it’s dangerous to express an opinion outside of the current liberal viewpoint,” according to Leib Litman, the co-chief executive officer and chief research officer.

But did this study reflect reality? Let’s look back at a couple of key states from the 2016 election.

Hillary Clinton was criticized for never campaigning in Wisconsin after she barely lost the state to Trump. Why didn’t she stop there though? According to historical polling data from Real Clear Politics, polls showed her with an average of a 6.5 point lead in the state, and was leading comfortably in virtually every poll. She ultimately lost the state by .7 percent. Her average lead in the polls was actually higher than Barack Obama’s lead in the state in 2012 (4.2 percent) yet Obama ultimately won by 6.9 percent.

Pennsylvania is another state Trump wasn’t expected to win, and always trailed Hillary Clinton in the Real Clear Politics average. Hillary’s average lead before the election was 1.9 percent, and once again, Trump edged her out by .7 percent.

A similar phenomenon occurred in Michigan, which Trump won, and in Minnesota, where he lost. In Minnesota, polls showed Clinton with a comfortable lead between 6 and 10 points, and she only won the state by 1.5 percent.

So it’s undeniable that Trump outperformed the polls in 2016. The most likely explanation for this that the “silent Trump voter” is very much real.

But, that’s no reason for Trump supporters to get cocky. The silent majority may be real, but that’s no reason to assume that they’ll be enough to win. Trump’s support in the polls may be undercounted but in an election this important, when the fate of at least two possible Supreme Court vacancies occurring over the next four years, don’t leave anything to chance.

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