I’m still an old coach at heart and even in politics I worry about what could go wrong. We have reached the stage in the campaign where the media is trying to fill their time with the beauty contest polls. There are a plethora of reasons to not put a lot of stock in them and this time around I have to wonder if there is a Trump Effect added to that mix. Let’s explore.
Before I get into my theory of the Trump Effect I’d like to briefly cover two major reasons I’m not putting too much stock in national polls at this point. The first is simply that it is early. Junkies have been paying attention for over a year now, but much of the American electorate is yet to really tune in. The second is that we do not elect our President via a national referendum, but in 51 separate though simultaneous elections using the Electoral College as a mechanism. A candidate can lose the popular vote and still win the Presidency. It has happened several times in our history, most recently in 2000.
The idea of a Trump Effect is not a completely my original theory. Rather it is a takeoff on the Bradley Effect. The Bradley Effect is a political theory named after the former and late Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. In 1982 Bradley, who was African-American, ran against a Caucasian candidate for California Governor. The polls had him up going into the election which he lost. The theory is that voters are afraid and/or ashamed to tell pollsters that they are voting against a black candidate for fear of being labeled racist. Bradley’s election is not the only one in question and the effect seemed to run around 4 to 5% back in that era. In more recent elections with a black-white matchup the Bradley Effect seems to have largely disappeared. Racism hasn’t disappeared; it is just that the racists don’t care what pollsters think and most Americans disregard race when voting.
Donald Trump is widely seen as a buffoon with many outlandish, xenophobic, and misogynist views. Thinking Americans find it difficult to accept that anyone would actually vote for him. In fairness Hillary Clinton is not exactly a beloved character but most Americans take her and her candidacy seriously. I can see where we could have a sizeable portion of Americans who intend to vote for Trump but are ashamed to tell a pollster that. Let’s assume the Trump Effect is in the 4 to 5% range like the Bradley Effect was. Couple that with the 3 to 5% margin of error most polls inherently have and you can see why their conclusions are somewhat suspect. The biggest danger is that we don’t know whether a Trump Effect exists and if so just how large it is.
Don’t get lulled into overconfidence because Hillary is up big in the beauty contest we call a national poll. You have much work to do; at a minimum that includes voting.
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