Commentary: Are Trump’s Polls Understating His Lead?

Donald Trump
by David Catron


During the two months since President Biden delivered his State of the Union address, a wide variety of legacy news outlets have been at pains to portray an infinitesimal improvement in his polling as a shift of momentum in the presidential race. Last week, for example, USA Today breathlessly reported that “Trump and Biden are ‘darn near even’ in the 2024 election.” If this was meant to provide moral sustenance for worried Democrats it was thin gruel indeed. Biden is an incumbent president struggling to keep up with a challenger most of whose time and money has been devoted to fighting off a ruthless lawfare campaign. Moreover, if history is any guide, it’s probable that the polls understate the strength of Trump’s support.

At present, the RealClearPolitics average indicates that Trump holds a narrow national lead. But the averages that really matter are those which show him ahead in all seven of the battleground states where the election will be decided. It’s a good bet that they are, once again, underestimating the number of votes that will be cast for Trump. Lest you have forgotten amidst the economic and cultural chaos that has attended the return of “the adults” to power, the 2020 polls undercounted Trump voters by wider margins than in 2016. At length, the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) commissioned a task force to assess how badly the polls performed. The conclusion was brutal:

Public opinion polls ahead of the 2020 election were the most inaccurate in a generation … The task force found that polling during the two weeks before the election overstated support for then-Democratic nominee Joe Biden by 3.9 percentage points, which was the largest polling error since 1980 when support for Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter was overestimated by 6 percentage points. The presidential election between Biden, the eventual winner, and incumbent president Donald Trump was much closer than polling had indicated.

The leader of the task force, political scientist Josh Clinton of Vanderbilt University, insisted the problem had nothing to do with partisan bias on the part of the pollsters, but this is hard to swallow considering that the three most egregious polling failures of the past four decades (1980, 2016 and 2020) all overstated voter support for Democrats. It becomes even less credible after perusing figure 11 of the full AAPOR report which frankly admits, “It is immediately obvious that polls overstated the Biden-Trump margin in nearly every state.” Nor was this phenomenon restricted to the presidential race. The 2020 generic ballot favored the Democrats most of the year, yet the Republicans flipped 15 House seats for a net gain of 12.

So, unless the pollsters have solved the problems that plagued them in the last two presidential elections, it’s probable that Trump’s actual support among voters is stronger than his polling suggests. This is particularly important in 2024 because Trump, for the first time ever, has maintained a consistent lead in most national and swing state polls since last fall. This was never true in 2016 or 2020. It’s obviously difficult to say precisely how far off the polls are this time, but if they are understating Trump’s support as much as they did four years ago, he will win most of the crucial battleground states and the general election. Is this a real possibility? William A. Galston at the Brookings Institution takes it very seriously indeed.

Although polls do not reliably predict the outcome of elections far in the future, they do provide insight into the dynamics of these contests. They are more like X-rays than snapshots, helping us probe beneath the surface to assess trends in different parts of the electorate. Here’s what they are telling us now … Fewer and fewer states are closely contested between the parties, while more and more are dominated by one of the parties. By 2020, only seven states were truly up for grabs, and Biden won six of them. As of now, however, he trails Trump in all seven.

Galston explains why this is such bad news for Biden. Referring to a recent Bloomberg poll he writes, “For these states in the aggregate, about half the voters selected either the economy or immigration as their top issue.” Trump is more trusted to deal with these issues. Galston expands on Biden’s troubles in battleground states. He won Arizona in 2020 by 0.3 percent. Trump now leads by 5.0 percent, a 5.3-point swing. Biden won Georgia by 0.2 percent. Trump now leads by 3.8 percent, a 4-point swing. He won Michigan by 2.8 percent. Trump now leads by 1.2 percent, another 4-point swing. Biden won Nevada by 2.4 percent. Trump now leads by 4.5 percent, a 6.9-point swing. If Trump flips these states, he wins.

This is true even if his current polling doesn’t underestimate his actual strength. Trump will win every state he won in 2020, including North Carolina. This gives him a floor of 235 electoral votes. He will also win Georgia, which gets him to 251. If he wins Pennsylvania, he’s there. Sadly, that probably won’t happen. He may well win Michigan, however, which will get him to 266 electoral votes. Then, all he needs is Nevada(6) or Arizona (11) and he’s home. All of this assumes that Trump’s current poll numbers are accurate. It is more likely that they understate his support. The voters remember the peace and prosperity of Trump’s tenure in office. They have had enough of international conflict and penury.

– – –

David Catron is a recovering health care consultant and frequent contributor to The American Spectator. You can follow Catron on X / Twitter at @Catronicus.



Appeared at and reprinted from The American Spectator

Related posts