Robert Cahaly is a pollster and political consultant who gained media attention in 2016 for being one of the few to accurately predict the election of Donald Trump in the 2016 United States presidential election. He based his prediction based partially on the premise of “Shy Trump Voter Theory,” which claims that poll respondents are afraid to reveal that they are voting for Trump due to a “social desirability bias.”
Will ‘social acceptability bias’ deliver another surprise? Cahaly sees polls again underestimating Trump support, and thinks Trump will win again.
The reason is “shy” Trump voters—people reluctant to share their opinions for fear of being judged. Though the “shy voter” idea is thrown around a lot by both Trump supporters and Democratic skeptics, Cahaly have specific insights into why, and how, Trump support might be going undetected.
“We live in a country where people will lie to their accountant, they’ll lie to their doctor, they’ll lie to their priest,” says Cahaly. “And we’re supposed to believe they shed all of that when they get on the telephone (for a poll) with a stranger?”
For Cahaly, those votes are likely to make the difference again. “There’s a lot of hidden Trump votes out there,” he says. “Will Biden win the popular vote? Probably. I’m not even debating that. But I think Trump is likely to have an Electoral College victory.”
Cahaly tells Politico “we don’t do national polls…It’s an irrelevant statistic. But the battleground-state polls are a little closer [than the national polls], and there’s a lot at play. People are going to be shocked. A lot of people are going to vote this year who have been dormant or low-propensity voters. I think it’s going to be at an all-time high”.
“The models of who’s going to turn out this year are very flawed. What type of person comes out for Trump? They’re not a normal election participant. They’re a low-propensity voter. We included them in all of our surveys in fall 2016, and we are including them now”.
Cahaly: Relying on live callers for polls is especially bad in this modern era, where “social desirability bias” is in full play. People avoid awkward conversations. So when a person you don’t know calls and asks how you feel about Donald Trump—and you don’t know how they feel—you tend to give them an answer that you think will make them look at you in the best light. We’ve seen it year after year, and I think it is very much at play this year.
Cahaly says polls are undercounting the people who don’t want to give their real opinions. If they had corrected anything, why didn’t they see Ron DeSantis winning in his 2018 race for governor in Florida? They made the exact same mistake with his opponent, Andrew Gillum. [The final RealClearPolitics polling average in that race had Gillum up by 3.6 percentage points. DeSantis won by 0.4 percentage points.] This wasn’t some random state’s race; this was the hottest, meanest—neck-and-neck races for governor and senator in Florida in an off-year election. Every single major player was polling that state. And 100 percent of them got it wrong; we got it right.
Political analysts however say they are more certain about polls this year because the public appears to be much more certain about their vote.
“The polls are much more reminiscent of 2012, when there was an incumbent on the ballot and the electorate was much more decided,” said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia.
“And since there are fewer undecided voters, Biden is more consistently hitting above 50% support,” Kondik said. “And to me, that is a higher-quality lead than Clinton’s was because it suggests Biden has majority support.”
The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that less than 7% of likely voters have yet to back a major-party candidate, less than half of what it was four years ago.