News & Politics

Uh-Oh: Polls May Actually Underestimate Trump's Support

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

What we have here might be a reverse Tom Bradley effect, as folks feel more comfortable pulling the lever for Trump in private, rather than confessing their choice to a pollster:

Donald Trump leads the GOP presidential field in polls of Republican voters nationally and in most early-voting states, but some surveys may actually be understating his support, a new study suggests. The analysis, by Morning Consult, a polling and market research company, looked at an odd occurrence that has cropped up repeatedly this year: Trump generally has done better in online polls than in surveys done by phone.

The firm conducted an experiment aimed at understanding why that happens and which polls are more accurate — online surveys that have tended to show Trump with support of nearly four-in-10 GOP voters or the telephone surveys that have typically shown him with the backing of one-third or fewer.

Their results suggest that the higher figure probably provides the more accurate measure. Some significant number of Trump supporters, especially those with college educations, are “less likely to say that they support him when they’re talking to a live human” than when they are in the “anonymous environment” of an online survey, said the firm’s polling director, Kyle Dropp.

The GOP establishment has taken some very faint heart recently from polls in Iowa showing Ted Cruz (whom they loathe almost as much as they hate Trump) nosing ahead of the billionaire blowhard still, by their lights, unaccountably lapping the field for the Republican presidential nomination. This won’t make them feel very good, however:

Among the complicating factors is this: The gap between online and telephone surveys has narrowed significantly in surveys taken in the last few weeks. That could suggest that Republicans who were reluctant to admit to backing Trump in the past have become more willing to do so recently.

Some of the polls that show heavy support for Trump have also shown him doing better among self-identified independents who lean Republican than among regular GOP voters. At least some of those independents may not be in the habit of voting in primaries and caucuses, which could make a robust turnout operation even more necessary.

On the other hand, a candidate of Trump’s level of celebrity may simply not need much of a get-out-the-vote operation. No one really knows.

Which is why — choose your cliche — they have horse races, and why they play the games on the field instead of in sportwriters’ imaginations.