If “hidden Trump supporters” do not exist, then how did he win in 2016? Democrats insist there are no such things as the political poltergeists known as hidden Trump supporters. Yet for all their self-assured insistence there are too many unexplained occurrences that make them jump at things that go “Trump” in the night.
Four years ago, Hillary Clinton appeared to be in great shape. According to RealClearPolitics on October 20, 2016, Clinton had solid leads based on an averaging of polling data: a 5.4 percentage point advantage nationally, a 4.4 percentage point advantage in battleground states, and a whopping 14.9 percentage point advantage in favorability rating. Then, on Election Day, something went terribly wrong. Clinton won the popular vote, but only by 2 percentage points, and lost the battleground states — and with them the election.
Considering the unrelenting negative press and partisan attacks, hidden Trump supporters are even more likely this time than four years ago.
The question is: What happened? It is an important one, not just because Biden is in similar shape today, but because he is in worse shape in the determinate battleground states. Again relying on RealClearPolitics’ October 20 polling averaging, Biden holds an 8.6 percentage point advantage nationally and an 18.7 percentage point advantage in favorability. Ominously for Democrats, however, Biden’s battleground advantage is 3.9 percentage points — 0.5 percentage points below Clinton’s 2016 lead.
Either Clinton voters vanished, hidden Trump supporters appeared, or there was a combination of the two. These can only happen if you are polling the wrong people (getting too many Clinton supporters and not enough Trump supporters) or the people you are polling are not revealing their real preferences. Regardless of what caused some supporters to mysteriously vanish and others to strangely appear, the cause is secondary to the effect.
One thing is very likely: 2016’s dynamic of falling Democrat support and rising Republican support will repeat in 2020. This arises from Democrats’ disproportionate dependence on mail-in ballots. On October 16, Morning Consult published a poll showing 65 percent of Democrats preferred to vote by mail and 55 percent planned to do so. For Republicans, the results for preferring and planning to vote were identical: 68 percent for voting in person and 28 percent for voting by mail.
There will be more attrition in mail-in ballots. Ballots could never show up, being lost or simply unmailed. Those that arrive can be technically deficient, or they can arrive too late. Further, the 10 percentage point gap between Democrats’ desire to vote by mail but planning to do so in person offers a big risk: Some of these voters decide not to go to the polls and do not vote at all.
In contrast, Trump supporters are nothing if not resilient. Through four years of negative press and partisan attack, and a 2020 worthy of the Apocalypse, President Trump’s national support stands at 42.5 percent in RealClearPolitics’ average of national polling — just 3.5 percent below what he actually won in 2016’s popular vote. There is little reason to believe that they will not be there this time. There is also real reason to believe that they will be there in greater quantities than predicted.
Considering the unrelenting negative press and partisan attacks, hidden Trump supporters are even more likely this time than four years ago. It is no mystery what the currently politically correct answer is to a question about presidential preference. If administration members, celebrities, and public officials face vicious vilification, and increasingly violence, for expressing a Trump preference, only the most naïve Trump supporters would consider themselves immune.
Such “hidden Trump supporters” could add an unpredictable boost. If they are “hiding” by claiming to be Biden supporters, the boost could be doubled: a subtraction from Biden’s projected total and an addition to Trump’s.
The response from Democrats and the establishment media is that vanishing voters and hidden supporters do not exist. Not in 2020. This time, they have worked out all the bugs and the projections are right. But at its core their insistence rests on this: There can be no such things because they cannot find them. Like ghosts, they simply cannot exist; there must therefore be another explanation why the furniture keeps moving in the room.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton was strolling on her way home, back to the White House. She knew the way because she had lived there before; everything was going fine. She never arrived. Something “got her.” There are all kinds of ideas about what “it” was, but just one certainty: She never arrived.
In 2020, Joe Biden is strolling on his way home, back to the White House. He knows the way because he worked eight years for a man who used to live there; everything seems to be going fine. Nothing is going to “get him.” There is one certainty: Political poltergeists do not exist.
If Democrats keep saying there are no vanishing Biden voters and no hidden Trump supporters often enough, maybe it will be true this time. And if they keep saying it loudly enough, maybe they can drown out the sound of things that go “Trump” in the night.
J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987 through 2000.