Joe Biden leads Donald Trump by an average of 7 or 8 points in national surveys, more narrowly in battleground states. Everybody remembers the shock of 2016, but can the polls be wrong again?
Ask the question in a different way: Are poll respondents telling the truth? Robert Cahaly, head of the Trafalgar Group, thinks a lot of people aren’t. Trafalgar polls accurately foresaw the outcome in 2016, calling Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan for Mr. Trump. In 2020 the Atlanta-based consulting firm has generally shown Mr. Trump to be in a stronger position than the conventional wisdom would suggest.
In an interview over a catfish supper at the OK Cafe diner, Mr. Cahaly won’t reveal much about his methods, but he says his polls mitigate what social scientists call “social desirability bias.” The mainstream media and other authority figures have openly and aggressively contended that Mr. Trump is a white supremacist, a would-be dictator, a cretinous buffoon and an inveterate liar. In such an environment, poll respondents who sympathize with the president, or who believe his administration has on balance done more good than harm, may be forgiven for not saying so to a stranger over the phone.
Do people lie to pollsters? “Yes,” Mr. Cahaly says, “but they’re not necessarily doing anything wrong. If a grandmother says, ‘This is my grandson, isn’t he a handsome boy?’ and you can see he’s anything but handsome—he’s sickly and weird-looking—you don’t say, ‘No, he’s sickly and weird-looking.’ You just say, ‘He sure is.’ ”