One day before the 2016 presidential election, most mainstream polling suggested that the chances of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe dangerous erosion of Democratic Party foundations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat Left laughs off floated changes to 2024 ticket MORE being elected were at or above 80 percent. Relying on data and surveys that systematically underestimated Donald TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger welcomes baby boy Tennessee lawmaker presents self-defense bill in 'honor' of Kyle Rittenhouse Five things to know about the New York AG's pursuit of Trump MORE, the leading national news publications ran headlines declaring that his “chances of winning approach zero.”
The rest, as we all know too well, is history. Before 2016, polls provided useful and relatively accurate political forecasts. But today, they can no longer be trusted, even when Trump is not on the ballot. While polls for the 2018 midterm election predicted more accurate overall results than for 2016, they still underestimated Republicans in key states and races.
So what caused the decline of accurate polling? The answer, at least in part, is related to the public othering and harassment of Republicans over the last several years. Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro showed an egregious example of such treatment by tweeting the names of nearly four dozen Trump donors who live in his San Antonio district. Castro continues to refuse that he crossed a line by intentionally attempting to ostracize local Trump supporters with embarrassment and shame.
Unfortunately, Castro is not an outlier in his behavior or attitude toward conservative voters. Mainstream leftists, including several of the 2020 contenders, insist that the president and his supporters are not just wrong on policy, but that they are supporters of white supremacism and share responsibility for mass shootings. Left wing opposition to the president has evolved into derangement. Trump supporters who go public with their views subject themselves to being heckled, ostracized, having property vandalized, or even being violently assaulted by left wing groups like Antifa. My own brother had his vehicle broken into and damaged because of a bumper sticker supporting Trump.
The risks of “coming out” as a Republican, or worse as a Trump supporter, can be severe. As a result, many conservatives simply keep their mouths shut and remain quiet about their political views. Then on voting day, these same conservatives show up at the polls and pull the lever for Republican candidates. Fear of stigma has likely a driving factor behind Republican voters misleading not only their friends and relatives, but pollsters as well. Considering invective against Trump and his supporters, why would you tell a pollster from a partisan press how you truly felt?
There is a direct and recent analogue to this phenomenon across the pond. Media and public officials attempted to shame the British Conservative Party, with graffiti admonishing “Tory scum” branding war memorials and reached a peak with a song calling for the death of conservatives. The result? Right wing and populist messages won over voters who would not publicize their opinions. The “shy Tory” effect skewed polls that missed the 2015 general election and the 2016 Brexit vote. Shaming the right did not diminish its votes. It simply made conservatives across the country invisible to pollsters.
Of course, back in the United States, there are other reasons that contribute to the unreliability of polls. For example, 2016 surveys may not have predicted turnout correctly by reflecting media, rather than public, excitement surrounding the Clinton campaign. But the public stigma that comes from openly declaring oneself a Trump supporter cannot be underestimated, likely damaging polling accuracy heavily.
Most reasonable Americans realize that supporting Trump due to a lack of trust in the economic policies of Elizabeth Warren or Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says he didn't 'overpromise' Finland PM pledges 'extremely tough' sanctions should Russia invade Ukraine Russia: Nothing less than NATO expansion ban is acceptable MORE does not make you a white supremacist. Likewise, most reasonable Americans realize that opposing blanket weapons bans does not make you responsible for mass tragedies committed by maniacal shooters. But the mainstream media and their vocal allies supporting the Democratic Party today no longer represent the views of moderate Americans.
Michelle Obama famously said of Republicans in 2016, “When they go low, we go high.” Left wingers use these slogans as a cudgel to silence political foes, but have no issues turning around and calling Republicans racists or worse. The left has made being a conservative socially unacceptable.
The surprise many felt after the last presidential election was genuine. With nearly every mainstream poll predicting a Clinton coronation, it is easy to understand the blindside. But the factors that led to Trump winning are now stronger, especially considering the leftward sprint of the Democrats and the strong economy. Opponents of the president should pay heed to the lesson they missed the first time. If they do not, a repeat of 2016 is a real possibility, complete with cable news analysts gnashing their teeth, screaming, and crying on election night because the results did not turn out the way the polls assured them it would.
The political climate that demonizes the right is one that will lead not just to more division, but to surprise election results like we saw three years ago. The American “shy Tories” are regular mainstream voters unwilling to be branded racists due to their support of smaller government.
Kristin Tate is a libertarian writer and an analyst for Young Americans for Liberty. She is an author whose latest book is “How Do I Tax Thee? A Field Guide to the Great American Rip-Off.” Follow her on Twitter @KristinBTate.