Washington: Depending on what side of the political spectrum you fall, the theory of the shy Donald Trump voter is either your last best hope or nagging fear that wakes you up with night sweats.
The theory is that pollsters were wrong predicting the Brexit vote for two reasons. There was a group of “shy” Brexit voters, who told pollsters they would vote to remain, but in the privacy of the booth voted to leave. Then there were the voters who were so alienated from the political process that their existence was not known to pollsters.
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As polls have hardened against Donald Trump some of his supporters have suggested the same phenomenon could be at work in the US, and that many people who have claimed in interviews with pollsters to be outward looking and welcoming, will sneak into polling booths and vote for Trump’s beautiful big wall.
As recently as this weekend one of Donald Trump’s key supporters, the former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, advanced the theory during a radio interview.
“Just as with the Brexit vote in Great Britain, [Trump] is in fact very likely to end up in a position where there’s three or four percentage points that won’t say his name [to pollsters],” he told a New York program.
The theory is widespread enough that pollsters have spent a lot of time this year in a confounding search for shy Trump-voters.
“The very simple answer about hidden votes is that we have no way of proving them one way or the other,” John Zogby, founder of the Zogby Poll, told Fairfax Media.
“Our way of getting information is to talk to people about what they are going to do, not not talking to people.”
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives in Florida, campaigning for votes in the vital swing state. Photo: AP
On balance, Zogby believes the theory might be correct, but he has not seen the evidence to prove it.
Douglas Schwartz, director of the respected Quinnipiac University Poll, told the Financial Times earlier this year that the primaries elections proved the theory of the shy Trump supporter wrong, noting most had accurately predicted the primary outcomes, meaning that when, say 10 people told pollsters they were going to vote for Trump, the polls revealed those 10 showed up.
Newt Gingrich has pushed the theory of the shy Trump voter. Photo: AP
“My thinking is if it didn’t show up in the primaries it’s not going to show up in the general,” he said.
“The Trump voters don’t seem shy. At the rallies they don’t seem afraid to say how they feel.”
Supporters of Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Florida. Photo: AP
One of America’s leading political scientists, the University of Virginia’s Professor Larry Sabato, also has little time for the theory.
“Where is the evidence? This candidate election couldn’t be more different than the Brexit issue vote,” he told Fairfax Media. “Just one example: 6 per cent of UK Brexit voters were minority, while 30 per cent of US voters will be.”
Whether or not shy Trump voters exist, polling is becoming more difficult, more expensive and less accurate says Zogby, not because people are hiding their preference from pollsters, but because they are using mobile phones, and pollsters do not have access to mobile phone numbers.
These days, he says, pollsters have to make thousands of calls to get a single response.