Why is Trump lashing out at polls? Look at the numbers
President Trump has complained about polls from CNN and other news agencies showing that he is lagging behind Joe Biden. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
Polls have long been a favorite topic in President Trump's hyperactive Twitter feed, but lately he's been more angry than boastful.
"They are called SUPPRESSION POLLS and are supposed to dampen the enthusiasm," Trump recently wrote about surveys by CNN and other news agencies, which show that he is clearly lagging behind rival Joe Biden. "Despite three and a half years of false witch hunts, we are winning and will close it on November 3rd!"
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His warlike tone comes when surveys show that the alleged democratic candidate opens up a national 8-point advantage over Trump and, more importantly, gets smaller but consistent voting results in major swinging states like Michigan, Florida, and Wisconsin.
"Given the size of his scope and the consensus between the surveys, I think there is fairly strong evidence that Biden has a clear lead," said Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School survey in Milwaukee. "Although it is possible that the polls are wrong, you would all have to be wrong to overdo Biden's support.
Democrats barely crow - at least openly. They remember all too well of their almost certainty in 2016 that Hillary Clinton would win, a view that was corroborated by national polls (which were largely correct) and some key government polls (which were not applicable).
"Ignore the polls. We can't take anything for granted this November - the stakes are just too high," Biden tweeted on Wednesday along with a link to register to vote.
The missteps of four years ago have led to the feeling that Trump's true reputation can defy conventional survey methods.
At that point in 2016, the poll showed that Clinton defeated Trump, albeit with a slightly tighter margin than the current Biden-Trump matchup. Clinton largely maintained her advantage in national polls until election day, and national polls were within 1 percentage point of her freedom in the referendum.
However, the presidency is decided by the electoral college, and state polls, including Franklin's Marquette poll, failed to capture Trump's scarce victories in the previously democratic strongholds of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that catapulted him into the Oval Office.
In their postmortems, the survey participants identified one main problem with surveys at the state level: the failure to take into account the level of education of the respondents.
"What we saw in 2016 was that depending on your education, you voted for very different candidates, especially among the white respondents," said Josh Clinton (unrelated to the former presidential candidate), who teaches political science at Vanderbilt University and heads Vanderbilt - School survey.
Trump did particularly well with white college graduates, while his rival was more popular with college graduates. By ignoring these differences, respondents underestimated Trump's support.
Now, Clinton said, state pollsters are more careful in considering levels of education, a move he thought he would make more accurate.
Trump can hardly cheer in the latest opinion polls. Not only does he stay behind Biden in head-to-head games, but a growing majority disapproves of his job performance. He gets bad marks for his temperament and trustworthiness, and more and more people prefer bids for the ability to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and racial relationships, two issues that are high on the campaign agenda.
In addition, the number of presidents among women and the independent is falling, two groups that cost Republicans control of the house in the 2018 midterm elections. Older voters who supported Trump in 2016 are now saying they prefer bids. A recent poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 62% of white Evangelical voters voted Trump positively, a decrease of 15 percentage points in this constituency.
Trump continues to have a modest advantage in who voters trust to best manage the economy. This is an important indicator of an incumbent who has put much of his reelection on robust stock market performance and low unemployment in the country during most of his tenure. But even there, the pandemic and the related economic shutdown have lowered Trump's approval rate.
The president appeared to be particularly concerned about a CNN poll released on Monday that showed Biden a substantial 14 point lead based on the responses from around 1,100 registered voters. Trump's campaign asked the network to withdraw the survey and apologize. CNN rejected the extraordinary request. Trump tweeted a memo from a GOP pollster that accused CNN and other outlets of intentionally underrepresenting how many Republicans would likely vote in November, downplaying the president's chances.
"Refusing to search for voters who are actually likely to do so will result in a sub-poll of Republicans, and therefore Trump voters," wrote pollster John McLaughlin. "It seems intentional. That's what the media did in 2016. Let's prove again that they're wrong."
The argument goes back to 2012 when the Republicans gathered on an obscure website that claimed the polls were "unaffected", showing that GOP candidate Mitt Romney lagged behind President Obama. The mathematical contortions turned out to be unfounded when Obama struck Romney handy, as surveys had shown.
"Anyone who made these John McLaughlin-like arguments in 2012 was completely wrong," said Matt Barreto, a UCLA political scientist and democratic pollster. "You had these brain-wrenching ideas, and that's exactly it."
Despite the many good election news for Biden, warning signs remain for the alleged democratic candidate. Surveys indicate that the former vice president is less enthusiastic among black voters, the backbone of the democratic base.
"If elections were to take place today, it wouldn't look good for Biden," said Ray Block Jr., a professor of political science and African American studies at Penn State University.
The risk for Biden is not that a significant number of black voters are going to Trump, but that they may not be voting at all. Recent protests against racial injustices in response to the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis prove that the black community is clearly motivated to take political action, Block said. But he warned: "It will be up to the Biden camp to move forward with this dynamic and not against it if he is looking for the support of black voters."
Trump has another advantage: surveys have shown that his die-hard base is more excited about the November vote than Biden's supporters. Trump's campaign will likely try to further dampen the Democrat's excitement as the election gets closer by beating Biden with negative advertising.
"Voters will have a choice until November," said Neil Newhouse, an experienced Republican pollster. "They already know what they love and hate about Donald Trump. They are absolutely sure about it. What voters don't know is what they love and hate about Joe Biden, and that's what the campaign is about."
And there are almost five months left - plenty of time for voters to change their mood.
"We should have a lot of confidence that Biden is ahead today," said Mark Mellman, a longtime democratic strategist who conducted polls for Bill Clinton and John Kerry's presidential campaigns. But he warned, "It's not the same as saying that Biden will be ahead on election day."
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