Accessibility links

USA

Donald Trump's 'Hidden' Support Could Turn Election - Or Not


Is there support for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that is not showing up in the polls? His campaign believes so.

“We think there’s a big hidden Trump vote in this country,” said Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, on NBC's the Today Show last month.

Trump is gaining in polls against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, and his campaigners think there are other fans out there.

"They're just very quiet about it," Pennsylvania Trump volunteer Sondra Dull told VOA. "It's, like, the silent majority. They're just not going to talk about it."

Staying out of the basket

Many Trump supporters do not trust polls or pollsters. But there could be another reason why they don't identify themselves: To some, Trump voters have a bad reputation.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton put some of his supporters in what she called a "basket of deplorables."

"They're racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it," she said.

Many people don't want to be put in that basket. So if someone asks who they are voting for, they may keep quiet about it.

"They'll go ahead and vote for that candidate in the privacy of a [voting] booth," says Dartmouth College political science professor Joe Bafumi. "But they won't admit to voting for that candidate to somebody who's calling them for a poll."

Something similar happened in the 1980s to Tom Bradley, the first African American to run for governor of California. He had a big lead in the polls, but lost the election.

"Many people argue it was because there were a lot of white Democrats who said that they were going to vote Democratic," Bafumi says. "But when it came time to go to the polls, they didn't vote for Bradley because he was black. They voted for the white candidate instead."

What became known as the "Bradley effect" seemed to have disappeared from American politics by Barack Obama's presidential candidacy in 2008.

'Reverse Bradley'

But some analysts see a "reverse Bradley effect" for Trump early in the race.

During the primaries, Trump did better in online polls than in telephone polls. According to one interpretation, respondents may have been uncomfortable telling a caller that they planned to vote for him. Checking a box in an online poll, when no one is looking, did not present the same discomfort.

But most pollsters say the difference between online and live polls has largely disappeared.

If people weren't telling pollsters about their true intentions during the primaries, "there really is not strong support to suggest that that's going on in the general election," says Courtney Kennedy, head of survey research at the Pew Research Center.

Also, if the effect were significant, it should have been evident when voters actually went to cast their ballots during the primaries. It wasn't.

"He was basically evenly split in terms of overperforming and underperforming where his polls were," says political analyst Geoffrey Skelley at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

The big, hidden undecided

What's really unusual in the polls is the number of voters who are undecided at this stage of the election: 20 percent of those surveyed, according to pollster Chris Jackson at Ipsos.

"That's twice what it was in 2012. It's a huge number of potential voters," he says.

According to Princeton University Election Consortium founder Sam Wang, "It looks like many of those undecideds are people who can't quite bring themselves to vote for Donald Trump who normally vote Republican."

"Really, the thing that probably is going to decide this election is which campaign is better able to get those people to actually show up on election day," Jackson says.

  • 16x9 Image

    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

Show comments

XS
SM
MD
LG