National polls are tightening in the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump — but there’s reason to believe Mr. Trump has a greater advantage than even those polls indicate.
According to the Real Clear Politics national average, Mr. Trump has a 0.2 percentage point lead over Mrs. Clinton, meaning they’re statistically tied. Many in the press, including myself, have argued Mr. Trump’s gain in ground is because the Republican base is coalescing around him. Mrs. Clinton — as long as Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders is in the race — doesn’t have that luxury.
But there may be more.
Thomas Edsall, writing in the New York Times, argues traditional polling — that is, calls made to potential voters on the phone — undersells Mr. Trump’s appeal. It appears Mr. Trump does much better in online polling.
“There is strong evidence that most traditional public opinion surveys inadvertently hide a segment of Trump’s supporters,” Mr. Edsall writes. “Many voters are reluctant to admit to a live interviewer that they back a candidate who has adopted such divisive positions.
In matchups between Trump and Hillary Clinton, Trump does much better in polls conducted online, in which respondents click their answers on a computer screen, rather than in person-to-person landline and cellphone surveys,” Mr. Edsall says.
He goes on to note that Kyle Dropp, the executive director of polling and data science at Morning Consult, an online poller, wrote Mr. Trump’s advantage in online polls compared with telephone voters is eight or nine percentage points higher.
The reason? Highly educated voters are much more reluctant to voice their support for Mr. Trump over the phone because they’re concerned with “social desirability.” Online? These voters check the box for Mr. Trump without being scared of any social ramification.
Mr. Trump has been a divisive candidate throughout the primary season and now into the general election. But there’s reason to believe that his divisiveness isn’t the deal-breaker many in the press are painting it out to be.