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Here’s What Could Make Trump’s Lead in the Polls Irrelevant (And I’m Not Talking About Fraud)

AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

Donald Trump's 2024 presidential campaign is looking good right now. He's raising huge amounts of money (erasing Biden's past cash advantage), and, more importantly, he's leading in both national and battleground state polls. 

Trump is performing better in the polls today than he ever did in 2020 or 2016. But what if none of this matters? Something might actually threatening Trump's victory, and I'm not talking about voter fraud.

The left has often sought to find silver linings in the polls to help convince them that Trump's lead is just a mirage. For months now, they've been convincing themselves that Trump's support relies too heavily disengaged, low-propensity voters who may not actually turn out on Election Day.

I don't completely buy this theory, and I explained why in a previous article. But there's another concern about Trump's lead in the polls that is worth discussing. Obviously, there are plenty of Trump voters who are concerned about voter fraud — and yes, that's a concern we can address another time — but the real issue might be turnout.

Shawn Fleetwood of the Federalist argues that there are warning signs that Republican voters simply aren't turning out in the numbers that they should. He cites the special election in Ohio’s 6th Congressional District on Tuesday as proof.

"The matchup between Democrat Michael Kripchak and Republican Michael Rulli wasn’t expected to be a close race," he explains, because it has been a +30 GOP district for several cycles. "While Rulli defeated Kripchak in Tuesday’s matchup and expanded Republicans’ thin House majority, the election was much closer than originally predicted. Preliminary results indicate Rulli won the race by 9.4 points — a more than 20-point shift in Democrats favor."

Recommended: There’s Something Fishy About FiveThirtyEight’s Election Projection Model

But one election isn't the sign of a trend, is it? It's not. And certainly special elections aren't exactly bellwethers either. But he argues that during the 2022 midterms, we saw a similar discrepancy, where Republicans didn't perform nearly as well at the ballot box as they did in the polls. 

For instance, Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto won her Nevada Senate race despite trailing in polls. Similar surprises occurred in Michigan's gubernatorial race, where Gretchen Whitmer won by a wide margin despite a predicted tight race. 

This trend continued into 2023, with Democrats exceeding projections in special elections and winning key races in off-year elections, demonstrating significant electoral strength even in traditionally Republican strongholds like Mississippi. More recently, the special election for George Santos's seat saw Democrat Tom Suozzi win by a larger margin than the polls predicted.

"While a long-used tool to predict election outcomes and margins, electoral polling has largely become obsolete because it can’t account for the highly-sophisticated election machine Democrats have spent years building," Fleetwood warns.

That is a concern, but much of this trend he observes is based on special elections, which are nothing like presidential election years, and the 2022 midterm elections may have been an aberration because of the way the abortion issue impacted turnout following the Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson. 

I don't mean to dismiss his concerns because it would be foolish to be lulled into a false sense of confidence about the 2024 election. After all, as we have seen multiple times, Democrats will do anything to win, no matter how shady.

Last week, the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee launched their newest initiative aimed at mobilizing swing-state voters and encouraging the use of mail-in, absentee, and early voting methods. Dubbed the "Swamp the Vote" program, it marks a strategic effort to bolster voter turnout in key battleground states.

Let's hope it's enough.

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