Donald Trump, at the moment, is unambiguously losing in the polls. HuffPost Pollster’s model has him running nearly 8 points behind Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. Of the most recent 20 surveys of the race, not a single one shows him ahead.
Trailing in the polls often prompts candidates to spout truisms about Election Day being “the only poll that matters.” Trump’s Republican opponents certainly tried that tack during the GOP primaries, despite the fact that Trump had a commanding, unbroken lead throughout nearly all of the process.
But the depth of Trump’s polling deficit seems to have driven some of his surrogates and backers to increasingly more imaginative lengths. Here’s a quick primer on some of them:
Claiming Polls Are Skewed
This one’s a classic. All the way back in 2012, proponents of Mitt Romney repeatedly argued that polls were including too many Democrats, culminating in an entire website dedicated to taking actual survey results showing Barack Obama ahead and “re-weighting” them to put Romney in the lead.
The fact that this argument proved to hold exactly zero water hasn’t deterred Trump’s partisans from trying it again. A new website, LongRoom, is attempting to “unskew” the polls in Trump’s favor, based on the nebulous notion that he should somehow be winning, save for the machinations of biased pollsters.
“Think about what that means: The website is saying that a large number of professional pollsters who make their living trying to provide accurate information — and have a good record of doing so — are all deliberately biasing the polls and aren’t correcting for it,” FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten wrote earlier this week. “Like many conspiracy theories, that seems implausible.”
Claiming Trump’s Supporters Aren’t Talking To Pollsters
Donald Trump has repeatedly argued that some of his backers are too embarrassed to admit their support to pollsters ― maybe not the most uplifting messaging, but a reference to a real phenomenon, called “social desirability bias,” in which respondents are loath to admit an unpopular position.
The only problem? There’s no evidence that’s actually the case this time around. If it were, Trump would theoretically be faring better in online and automated phone polls, which don’t require talking to another person, rather than those conducted by live interviewers. So far, however, he’s performed about equally well in both types.
Reminding Everyone That The Polls Got It Wrong 68 Years Ago
Pollsters like Gallup famously missed Harry S. Truman’s narrow win in 1948 ― in large part because they’d stopped polling the race weeks before Americans went to the polls, a mistake today’s survey houses seem unlikely to repeat. (Survey methodology has also changed just a little bit over the past few decades.)
Just Pretending Trump Is Ahead
This is not actually true.
Pretending Polls Don’t Even Exist
Well, that just got existential.
(Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein, in response: “Without polls we’d assume the candidate with the united party, running a real campaign, and not insulting key groups was winning big.”)
Oddly, Mitchell, a pro-Trump radio host, didn’t seem to have any concerns about polling accuracy when it came to surveys showing Trump ahead.
Polls, of course, don’t always get it right. Individual surveys can be outliers or flukes, the polling industry is struggling through some dramatic changes, and there are plenty of systemic misses more recent than 1948 ― take this year’s Iowa Republican primary and Michigan Democratic primary, not to mention a number of international miscalls.
There’s also still plenty of time for the race to tighten, although the winners of the last 16 presidential elections were all ahead by this point in the campaign.
But there’s no reason to believe that practically every national survey is getting the current state of the race dramatically wrong.
If anyone really wants to believe Donald Trump’s in the lead right now, though, here’s a free idea for a fresh argument: