Analysis: Are Pollsters Missing a Key Factor That Could Benefit Trump?

Posted: Oct 19, 2020 10:25 AM
Analysis: Are Pollsters Missing a Key Factor That Could Benefit Trump?

Tomorrow marks two weeks until election day, so the hour is getting late.  The national polling average continues to show a steady Biden lead, though it has ticked slightly downward in recent days, after rising into double-digit territory last week.  If the national polls are turn out to be generally within the ballpark of accuracy, President Trump is on track to lose decisively.  But could pollsters be missing a key ingredient that may end up being something of a 'secret weapon' for the president?  We've gotten snapshots of a somewhat hidden GOP advantage this cycle in a number of very important battlegrounds over the past month or so:

Fox Business covered how some analysts on Wall Street are watching this factor closely, suggesting that Trump may have an ace-in-the-hole that's "invisible" to polls:

The 2020 presidential race may be closer than the polls suggest, according to an analysis of voter registration trends by JPMorgan Chase. Changes in the number of voters registered to each of the major parties have proven to be a significant variable in election outcomes in the past, according to strategists at the New York-based bank, which analyzed trends in some of the battleground states that will be crucial to an electoral college victory...In Pennsylvania, for example, a blue-leaning state that Trump won by 44,292 votes in 2016, the Republican Party has since picked up nearly 200,000 voters. JPMorgan says the gains suggest Trump could win the state by a margin of more than 240,000 in the upcoming election. Similar progress in battlegrounds Florida and North Carolina suggest Trump may take those states by a larger margin than in his first campaign as well.

JPMorgan also believes a surge in the number of registered Republicans will tighten the race in New Mexico, but that the state will still go with Biden. On the flipside, a growing number of registered Democrats in Arizona will make the state close, but Trump should prevail...A number of other issues that don’t show up in the polls also offer encouraging signs for Trump, according to a Wells Fargo report released last month. The firm noted Trump outperformed the polls in all of the key battleground states in 2016 and also suggested his recent Supreme Court nomination, gun ownership trends and a stronger backing from African-American voters are all playing into Trump’s hands.

You can also isolate certain data points (like this thread) that are looking hopeful for the president, but powerful aggregate counterpoints exist as well.   Stronger registration is obviously a welcome development and achievement for Republicans, but surely some of those voters are showing up in polling.  And if you're getting beaten among independents (as Trump appears to be, after winning that demographic by four points last time), boosting your registration numbers will only get you so far.  But what should we make of the Biden campaign itself sounding the alarm about too-close-for-comfort polling in swing states?  They're not being subtle about it.  Here's Biden's campaign manager:

"A lot closer."  This, to me, is one of two things.  Or perhaps a combination of both.  The first is a motivational tool.  A psychological manipulation.  Democrats got complacent four years ago, which helped Trump pull off his upset.  Team Biden wants their voters positively terrified of a replay, and therefore willing to crawl over broken glass to vote this time around.  And even if they're exaggerating the tightness of the race, they know that a blue tsunami could help elect down-ballot Democrats to support the Biden agenda starting in 2021.  The other explanation here is a reflection of genuine concern.  Their polling may look okay, but in light of some of the registration X-factors mentioned above, they're anxious about the margins they're seeing.  Allahpundit's analysis of 'red flag' warnings from the Biden camp is smart and worthwhile.  He also wrote about a GOP pollster that has bucked the trends for two consecutive elections -- and been pretty significantly vindicated each time.  What does the team at Trafalgar anticipate this year?

They’re the firm that called Trump’s wins in Michigan and Pennsylvania four years ago when nearly every other pollster was predicting Clinton victories, some by blowout margins. (Trafalgar was the only outfit to find Trump ahead in Michigan in any survey taken that year.) Two years later, with the rest of the field polling field expecting an Andrew Gillum victory in Florida, Trafalgar’s final poll found Ron DeSantis ahead. Again, they were right, everyone else was wrong...Here are the latest Trafalgar numbers from battlegrounds (although bear in mind that some of these are close to a month old):

Florida: Trump by two
Pennsylvania: Biden by two
Wisconsin: Biden by three
North Carolina: Trump by two
Michigan: Trump by one
Ohio: Trump by four
Arizona: Trump by four

If all of those results held on Election Day, assuming no unlikely Biden victories elsewhere, Trump would win 276-262. That’s right in line with [Trafalgar head pollster Robert] Cahaly’s forecast for the election

I need to stress how very far off these expectations are from basically all the other data, partially because Trafalgar attempts to account for "shy Trump voters" in their projections -- a phenomenon that other data gurus believe is significantly overblown.  My theory of the case is that there are three overall outcomes that are conceivable.  One is Trump stunning everyone again and threading the electoral college needle.  If that happens, no one will trust polling again for quite some time.  Given the national margins, Biden's large favorability edge, and the number of places he's cracking 50 percent, I think this scenario is possible but unlikely.  The second is a Biden blowout.  Trump loses handily, other dominoes fall accordingly (close Senate races often tend to break in the same direction), and it's a brutal night for the GOP.  I'm torn on whether this is the most likely scenario, or second most likely.  Regardless, it's very plausible:

Finally, there's the relatively close Trump loss possibility, in which the map ends up looking something like 2012, perhaps with a few different states flipped.  Under this outcome, Biden wins the presidency, but it's competitive enough -- and Trump performs well enough in traditionally red states -- that Democratic Senate gains are limited.  This is also a plausible resolution and one that some national Republicans see as the most realistic 'best case scenario' remaining on the 2020 board.  I'll leave you with a few new surveys that point in that direction:

The bottom line, of course, is that conservatives need to vote.  Huge early and absentee voting tallies probably point to massive enthusiasm from the Democratic base, but those tea leaves aren't necessarily simple to read or predictive.  Especially in this most unusual year.  Election Day itself is expected to bring a big red wave.  The only way to guarantee a blue wave is for right-tilting voters to throw in the towel.

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