Will Trump’s Secret Voters Be Strong Enough To Pull Him Through?

It’s not just Trump who seems to think so…

We’ve been skeptical of a growing number of articles and commentators recently asserting Trump is delusional to think the people who would never publicly admit they were voting for Trump 4 years ago but did, will be back doing the same thing this time around. They argue American society has genuinely changed too much in the past 4 years—especially this year—for that to happen again.

Look, if they’re right, great. Because that means Trump’s damaging himself every time he whines about how this country is unfair to white people, or says something borderline or overtly racist, or repeatedly Tweets “LAW AND ORDER!”, because he thinks he’s touching a vast, hidden source of voter support. And that would be people who don’t want to be perceived as racist and don’t perceive themselves as racist, but who—for various reasons—would strongly prefer to see white people making most decisions and hanging on to most power in this country for as long as possible. Which is also why Trump’s recently started accusing presumed opponent Joe Biden of wanting to “abolish suburbs” among other things. And you can be certain we’re going to hear a lot more of that.

At the same time, there’s a lot of undefined space in which those type of voters may continue to exist even in the absence of hard evidence. And there’s also a growing amount of evidence those voters continue to exist, or at least people strongly believe they do.

A new Monmouth poll, which focuses on Pennsylvania (which Trump won in 2016 by about 40,000 votes), caught our eye for that very reason.

Its top-line finding is that Biden’s support in that state has widened to an impressive 13 points over Trump. But when it asks those same people who will win the Presidency, they say Trump wins: 46% to 45%.

And that’s because nearly 6 in 10 voters, as the pollsters at Monmouth put it:

Believe there are a number of so-called secret voters in their communities who support Trump but won’t tell anyone about it.

Now the poll doesn’t seem to drill down further on the reasons behind that response.

Is it:

  • Just because that’s what happened last time?
  • Or do they personally know someone who says they aren’t going to vote for Trump but they think will?
  • Or do they personally know someone who says they aren’t going to vote for Trump but they know will?
  • Or is it what they actually plan on doing themselves?

What the poll does touch on is whether that sense of inevitability or fatalism or whatever you want to call it will lead to more people trying to vote Trump out or less, and the answer is decidedly less. Because with the poll’s focus narrowed from “registered” to “likely” voters, Biden’s lead drops from 13 points to 7-10 points, depending on how it’s modeled. That still obviously enough for Biden to win by a lot, but also shows a lot of verbal support that isn’t translating right now into probable votes. (Although there’s other, broader data that suggests otherwise.)

Now, we’ve also posited this could go both ways this time: with some voters in pro-Trump households secretly voting for Biden. And there’s some evidence for that in the Monmouth poll too, with about 1/4 of all respondents saying that’ll happen, so in a more muted way.

Pennsylvania holds a special place in our heart when it comes to Presidential elections, because it’s where we went (on our own dime) in the last days leading up to the 2016 election, after we tried to volunteer closer to where we lived and found the Hillary Clinton campaign staff there to be disturbingly smug and complacent. Not so when we got to Pennsylvania, where everyone realized they were in a real fight. (At least where we volunteered, in Reading, where incidentally Hillary won.)

And unless the 2020 election is a landslide one way or another, it’s extremely likely both Biden and Trump will need to win Pennsylvania in order to win.

Biden could lose Pennsylvania potentially, if he wins Florida, but that seems less likely even though he’s also ahead there in polls now. But Republicans always seem to squeak out Florida wins, plus all relevant state offices are held by Republicans. It’s also quite likely Trump might have to win both Pennsylvania and Florida if he can keep it close.

Meanwhile, a couple of more just-out polls, from Quinnipiac and NBC News/Wall Street Journal, show Joe Biden widening his lead nationally, and beyond the level where he’d comfortably have to be in order to potentially avoid winning the popular vote by even a larger number than Hillary Clinton, yet still losing in the Electoral College. Notably, in the Quinnipac poll, Biden scores even higher than Trump on the economy, which was one distinction Trump had hung on to even as his poll numbers faded, as his reputation as a “successful businessperson” endured. Til now.

And although Trump calls most polls “fake” these days, he seems alarmed enough that late last night he shook up his campaign team and demoted his campaign manager. But those who have been inciting Trump to displace Brad Parscale might be careful what they wish for. We remember Trump’s campaign floundering before, and then him bringing in a guy named Steve Bannon.

Polls also show Trump’s support is eroding significantly among white male voters with college degrees. But of course that’s the group of folks most likely to not voice support for Trump and then vote for him, especially if he’s able to convince them that their families are threatened by marauding mobs. Although we’ll hopefully acknowledge it’s also the group that felt it was only fair to “give Trump a shot” last time around, and now maybe they’ve genuinely changed their minds for good.

And keep in mind that even if the “silent majority” isn’t enough to deliver Trump a decisive victory this time, they might not have to. Because Trump seems to be setting it up where if he has a slim lead or is behind just by a little bit on election night, and then that lead slips away or small loss widens to a giant gape as mail-in ballots are counted, he can cry “fraud” and try to invalidate or ignore results.

But also keep in mind some very wise words from Trump’s original campaign chair and now convicted felon, Paul Manafort, which we were just reminded of tonight when we went back to research this story. It also speaks to Biden holding back a bit–which he’s been criticized for–although he’s been more open and busy announcing policy proposals in recent days. Said Manafort:

Whoever is in the spotlight on election day will lose.”