Issues & Insights

The Ultimate Test of the Hidden Trump Voter Theory

Tuesday’s election will be the ultimate test of the “hidden Trump voters” theory. It is the only test that matters. Current polling says, that without these voters, Biden will win handily. However, should they materialize — again — Trump will score an even bigger upset than 2016’s. For several reasons, it would be wrong to underestimate Trump voters materializing.

Polling shows Biden is well ahead of where Clinton was at this time in 2016. On November 2, Real Clear Politics calculated Biden’s average net favorability rating more than twice Hillary’s. His average national polling margin is also twice Hillary’s and his average lead in battleground states is well more than twice Hillary’s. 

Additionally, we get the experts’ assurance that today’s polls are much better than 2016’s. (Never mind that the same experts were famously wrong four years ago. Now we are to believe they are even more expert.) 

So, we can just skip Tuesday, the race is over, and we can start thinking about Biden’s inauguration? Not so fast. 

Tuesday is still Election Day; as such, it will be the only definitive test of the hidden Trump voter theory.

For the uninitiated, the hidden Trump voter is a theory that pollsters claim is the political version of Big Foot. Interestingly, they assert this for the same reason that others dismiss Sasquatch: They cannot find them. Of course, the pollsters’ inability is based on the questionable assumption that people who are initially reluctant to give a pro-Trump response, will be somehow more willing to admit this unwillingness. In Big Foot terms, such an approach would be akin to expecting Sasquatch to turn himself in. 

The hidden Trump voter theory also has a dual meaning few acknowledge. Commonly, it is understood to mean voters who are reluctant to say they support Trump. That four years of vituperation and one year of violence makes this plausible, if not downright sane, matters not at all to those who dismiss this. 

The overlooked meaning of hidden Trump voters is that the polls themselves are hiding them: They are not looking where Trump supporters are. To see the plausibility here, just look at the variability in the most recent national polls. On Monday, five national polls gave Biden leads of 1 (Rasmussen), 3 (IBD/TIPP), 8 (Fox News) points, 10 (NBC News/WSJ), and 11 points (Quinnipiac). This is a large range. Some polls are finding appreciably more Trump, and fewer Biden, supporters than others. 

Deconstructing the current polls further undermines them. Most obviously, national polls are meaningless and always have been. This race, like 2016, will be decided in a handful of battleground states. Democrats’ superfluity of votes in big states like California and New York will not affect the electoral vote that determines the winner. 

Yes, Biden holds a consistent lead in an average of battleground state polls, too, and it is larger than Hillary’s in 2016; however, it is still only 2.7%. This is well within the margin of error for most polls. There would not need to be many hidden Trump voters to erase that lead — less than 3 percentage points overall and less than 1.4 percentage points if Trump voters were “hiding” by falsely claiming to support Biden.

The race is far closer than it appears and closer still than is commonly perceived. And this reality ignores another important one: Trump’s figures will be even stronger as the votes are counted because there will be greater attrition in Biden’s support. 

Biden is disproportionately dependent on mail-in votes and mail-in votes are disproportionately subject to attrition. In comparison to in-person voting, mailed ballots can be lost, late, or wrong — technically invalidated for failing to meet a jurisdiction’s requirements. Despite ballots being mailed to, or even submitted by, Biden supporters, a certain percentage will not arrive in Biden’s column in the finally tally. Such mail-in ballot attrition cannot be captured by polling.

When put in context, Biden’s small battleground lead looks even smaller. Less than three percentage points is a small margin to cover such serious adverse possibilities: Hidden Trump voters and mail-in ballot attrition.

If Trump wins, the experts will have to explain how they got it so wrong…again. They will have to admit that the hidden Trump voter theory was right; that there were Trump supporters who hid from the polls, and polls that hid Trump supporters.

The experts should also admit that the pollsters and establishment media were complicit in this hiding. Whether by driving them underground or burying them, the pollsters and establishment media were guilty of distorting, not reporting, the race.

J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987 through 2000.

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