“Put not your trust in princes” as Psalm 146 advises… nor put such trust in princesses or polls. For “princess,” awaiting a queenly coronation, read Hillary C and for “polls” include any of those focused on the current presidential race.
In point of fact, as the Brits would say, the proper way to read the current presidential polls may be with a modicum of cryptographic decoding and guided by a few essential considerations.
The first is the obvious fact that a respondent answering the pollster may not rank toward the top of the ingenuousness scale. That is to say, he (she) may be directly lying about, or incorrectly predicting, his (her) ultimate vote… and that includes, as well, the possibility of not voting at all.
The second pertinent fact is that such inauthentic self-reports are not randomly distributed so as to generate mere statistical “noise” of the sort reflected in the reported “error limits” of the particular poll. To the contrary, the majority of those who misinform the interviewer may go in one direction rather than the other, whether the choice is between classical or country music or between Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
From what precedes there follows this crucial assertion: considerably more pro-Clinton respondents in the current polls will, in ultimate fact, vote for Trump than will “Trumpers” vote for Clinton. A much smaller number of others will vote for the Libertarian candidate or won’t vote at all. Does this prediction have a basis in any reality known to pollsters, sociologues, and social psychologists or is it mere wishful conjecture? It does indeed have a very potent basis. To use the jargon of the social psychologist, that basis is now called “Evaluation Apprehension.”
Simply put, EA is the respondent’s concern that he be positively evaluated by the interviewer who is on the phone or at the other end of the social media link. This inner pressure toward positive self-presentation is, of course, stronger in some people and weaker in others. But if there are cues available suggesting what the asker privately favors, those among the asked who are prone to EA arousal will tend to shape their answers in the direction that they think likely to win the asker’s approval or at least to fend off his displeasure.
And are such cues actually available? Of course they are and in vast supply. The media and digital spheres are full of them, as we know to the point of surfeit, and the redundant prevailing message is that Trump is crude, ignorant, brutal, sexist, probably criminal, and incapable of sustained thought. In effect, his possible election looms as a national disaster that must be prevented.
Amplified through the now omnipresent media blitz this view of Trump is available to all, influencing many, fostering rejection by others, and undisclosed rejection by yet a few others. It is the last group, the secret rejecters, who are most prone to enact the EA sequence: say Clinton to the pollster, but vote against her or don’t vote at all at the “moment of truth.”
It follows that the slight Clinton majorities coming from the “closely contested” and electorally crucial states such as Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina may be illusory. If there is a small silent majority for Trump out there it will show from the privacy of the voting booth rather than in the polls.
But to this realistically optimistic assurance, a worried postscript must be added. Namely, that so much depends on whether Trump can, for the next month, render irrelevant the dour view from another biblical source, Ecclesiastes who tells us that “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”