Trump Wins In 2020
Why opinion polls increasingly fail to reflect actual voter behavior
In any world governed by reason and sanity, idiocies like Brexit, Trump, Modi, Orban, Bolsonaro, Babiş, Duterte, and all the other examples of populist incompetence would be confined to satirical TV shows.
Unfortunately our world has merely the rarest passing acquaintance with reason and sanity, and hence the list of absurdities and horrors is never-ending. This is because our small primate brains are adapted to deal with the exigencies of life on the African savannah and in the primordial forests of Eurasia. We have almost no capacity to deal with complexity. Thus we embrace the simplistic and shun reality, for reality is always complex.
Things don’t come much simpler than Donald Trump.
Back in 2015, Trump’s trash TV show was flagging and its ratings were declining as even the simple-minded slowly grew tired of the formulaic nonsense and Trump’s infantile blustering. In order to boost his ratings, Trump decided to run as a candidate for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. It’s extremely unlikely that he thought he had any chance of winning, but he knew that his appearance on the televised debates would lead to some renewed interest in his show.
As he was a bizarre combination of clown and repugnant imbecile, the news organizations proceeded to give him 85% of their coverage because everyone loves a freak show and Trump was the freakiest show in town. Ratings jumped, Trump got billions of dollars in free exposure, and the simple-minded across the USA finally found a candidate who was just as stupid as they were, only (seemingly) rich and successful. Many of Trump’s meandering rants were racist, and so a lot of people who normally don’t vote came scurrying out of the darkness, convinced that their time had finally arrived.
Meanwhile die-hard Republicans who loathed Trump and all he stood for still voted for him on election day because, well, they just couldn’t help themselves. Faced with a disgusting halfwit, a competent adversary, and the option of sitting out the election altogether, the vast majority of Republicans decided to vote for the disgusting halfwit. Because that’s what Republicans do. It’s patriotic. And besides, they told themselves, once he’s in office he’ll drop the showboating and run a halfway decent Administration.
Because, surely, he couldn’t really truly be as infantile, ignorant, and vile as he appeared on every single TV appearance and in every single tweet?
Today, after three and a half years of total incompetence and ever-more egregious pronouncements, the USA is in the toilet. It’s a joke, it’s irrevocably divided, it’s unsavable. Nevertheless the little children who buy and sell shares on Wall Street are in the middle of one of their customary periods of irrational exuberance so Trump can claim, despite all meaningful evidence to the contrary, that the economy is doing “great.” The simple-minded across the nation will doubtless believe him because who wants to attempt to interpret complex economic data when you can be stuffing your face with McSlop while gawping at and drooling over some suitably lowbrow entertainment? But the simple-minded aside, surely it’s evident that Trump has been the most catastrophically inept President in the history of nation (and, given the very low bar set by so many Presidents, that’s quite an accomplishment)?
Cue the opinion polls.
Opinion polls now consistently show Trump trailing disastrously behind the Democratic candidate. Surely, even with the Republican gerrymandering of voting districts and the total dysfunction of the US Electoral College, this means Trump will lose the election in November, right?
Ah, dear reader, remember how those same polls were predicting a Clinton victory back in 2016 right up to the point where the actual results were announced?
So we must ask: why do opinion polls reliably get things wrong when it comes to right-wing voting? Because the same thing happened in the UK with Brexit, and polls have consistently under-estimated actual right-wing support across a host of other nations. Clearly there’s a systemic issue we need to understand. Populist sentiment seems to be largely invisible to pollsters.
While there are unfortunately almost no hard data on this topic, my guess is that people who support populist/right-wing candidates don’t trust pollsters. Thus they either won’t respond at all, so their intentions aren’t captured or they equivocate, so their true intentions aren’t captured.
Meanwhile those of more moderate persuasion will readily reveal their disposition, leading to an over-estimation of one side and a systematic under-estimation of the other.
When we look at Trump’s situation, we see over the last four years a consistent hard base of support across a variety of voter blocs. Evangelical Christians overwhelmingly support Trump. These people are, like Trump himself, not very bright. Their sole fixation is on returning the USA to an imaginary 1950s so that fat old white men can once again control women’s reproductive choices and keep people with darker complexions “in their place.” Likewise a significant percentage of Catholic Christians support his position.
Meanwhile the racists will come out in force on voting day to back Trump because he legitimizes everything they yearn for. The police will likewise overwhelmingly support a candidate who, regardless of their many misdeeds, will back them to the hilt.
And generic Republican voters will, as before, hold their noses and vote for Trump because, well, the poor dears just can’t help themselves. I mean, far better to destroy the USA than to abstain or (shudder…) vote for a Democratic candidate.
Meanwhile on the Democratic side of the contest, few Democratic voters are enthused by poor old verbose Joe Biden. As those on the left customarily spend more time in-fighting than confronting the opposition, it’s highly likely that a great many Democratic voters will abstain this November on the grounds that Biden isn’t sufficiently radical. Those who convinced themselves that the small-minded intolerant Bernie Sanders represented “the future” will doubtless refuse to vote for a whitebread middle-of-the-road traditional candidate who, frankly, has little to recommend him aside from the one obvious fact that he’s not Donald Trump.
And so, opinion polls notwithstanding, I continue to believe there’s an extremely good chance that Trump will not only be re-elected in November but may well this time round win the popular vote as well.
In which case it will be impossible to argue that the USA doesn’t deserve everything that’s already happened to it, and the far worse things to come.