Right now all the best polls show Trump trailing Joe Biden by significant margins. Why is it no one seems to believe them? Past experience, no doubt: Trump in 2016 ran ahead of his polls in most of the Republican primaries, and then again in November. True, the nationwide polls had Hillary’s popular vote margin over Trump about right, but that accuracy depended on the lumpy Democratic vote mostly in just two states—California and New York. The state-by-state polls were mostly wrong, especially in the key swing states.
The clever pollsters in 2016 wondered if there might be “shy Trump voters,” like the “shy Tories” in England, where polls in the last several general elections have consistently underestimated the Conservative Party vote share. So a few pollsters started asking people, “Who do you think your neighbor is going to vote for?” Lo and behold, lots of pro-Hillary respondents said “Trump” about their neighbors, and pollsters who adjusted for this factor (that is, intuiting that many of these respondents were also for Trump) called the election closer in those key midwestern states.
Right now it is interesting to note several things that suggest the 2016 history is likely to repeat itself. The betting markets still have Trump as the favorite, as does Barron’s magazine poll of 107 leading money managers:
Nearly 50% of Big Money respondents grade President Trump an A or B for his handling of the current financial crisis. Fifty-six percent expect the president to secure a second term in November, while 89% predict the Republican party will keep control of the Senate, and 75% say Democrats will continue to rule the House of Representatives.
The final piece of contrary evidence comes from Gallup’s latest weekly survey, which unexpectedly found Trump’s highest approval rating to date, with much of his improvement coming from the all-important independent voters:
Gallup’s April 14-28 poll finds Trump’s overall job approval at 49%, the same as in a March 13-22 poll but higher than his reading of 43% in an April 1-14 survey. To the extent that these variations are not a function of sampling error, they could be tied to Americans’ changing outlook on the coronavirus situation in general and Americans’ increasingly evaluating Trump on the COVID issue alone. . .
Most of the variation in Trump’s recent job approval rating is among independents. In the current poll, 47% of independents approve of the job he is doing as president, the highest Gallup has measured for the group to date. . .
Generally speaking, Trump’s recent job approval ratings have been higher than at any point in his presidency, largely because of modest rallies in support for him tied to his acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial and the coronavirus crisis.
A lot can and likely will change between now and election day, and how the aftermath of the lockdown unfolds (if it ever does end) is anyone’s guess, but if Trump is at or near 49 percent job approval rating on election day he will win.
And this doesn’t even take into account Joe Biden’s ongoing problems, which will become more evident and severe once he emerges from his basement.