Hillary Clinton is on the upswing, and on track for a victory against Donald Trump this November. Indeed, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls, it could be a shellacking. Clinton currently leads by almost six points on average and has lead the average this entire year except on May 23 when Trump lead by 0.2 points.
Given this consistent lead, some people, including Trump, have wondered whether there’s a false negative for the Republican, and if he could in fact be experiencing a reverse Bradley Effect.
While we still have five months to go until Election Day and a lot could happen, our read on the data is that Trump’s support is not being severely underestimated and there isn’t a “silent majority” unwilling to speak their minds in polls.
For those who don’t follow polling theories closely, the Bradley Effect is when polls overestimate the performance of a minority candidate against a white candidate because voters don’t want to admit to a stranger on the phone that they aren’t voting for the minority candidate for the fear of appearing racist. The Bradley Effect is named after Tom Bradley, the first African-American mayor of Los Angeles who ran for governor of California in 1982 and 1986. Polling in the 1982 gubernatorial race predicted that Bradley would win, but he ended up losing to Republican George Deukmejian.
Now, according to the Trump theory, the reverse is happening: voters are embarrassed to tell a stranger that they’re supporting Trump, although not for racial reasons clearly. In order for this to occur, secret Trump voters either need to say they’re voting for Clinton or that they’re undecided. According to our latest national poll of 1,000 adults conducted online from June 17-21, we found that neither are the case.
Our poll shows Clinton leading Trump among registered voters by 12 points, 45-to-33 percent, respectively, with 22-percent undecided. Looking closely at the numbers, and at common sense, it’s highly improbable that Trump’s “silent majority” is saying that they’re voting for Clinton as a majority of voters don’t have a problem saying they have an unfavorable opinion of the former secretary of state (51 percent in our poll). Moreover, 81 percent of Clinton voters have a favorable opinion of her, and 88 percent have an unfavorable opinion of Trump.
Basically, we can rule out secret Trump voters saying they’re supporting Clinton.
For the reverse Bradley Effect to apply in this case, it would be more probable that an overwhelming number of voters are claiming that they’re undecided when they, in fact, plan on voting for Trump. Given the high number of undecideds in this poll, this is possible, as rarely are this many people truly undecided in a presidential election. In fact, we would go as far as to say, there’s no way on earth that 22 percent of voters are actually undecided on whom they’re going to support this November.
But as much as Trump may hope that he’s being underrepresented in polls, undecided voters aren’t primed to break strongly in his direction. Undeniably, they’re likely to split somewhat evenly to both candidates, which, when you’re trailing by double digits isn’t going to be enough help.
In our poll, undecided voters aren’t secret Trump fans, rather, they’re not fans of either candidate. Overall, a quarter of registered voters have an unfavorable opinion of both Trump and Clinton. Among undecided voters, that increases to 65 percent. Additionally, 38 percent of undecided voters voted in the primaries for a candidate other than Clinton or Trump and another 37 percent were not primary voters, leaving just a quarter of undecided voters who supported the two nominees in their respective primaries.
While undecided voters aren’t happy with either of the two main parties’ general election candidates, they lean slightly in favor of Clinton. Indeed, 58 percent of undecided voters say that there’s less than a 1-in-4 chance that they’ll end up voting for Trump, while 47 percent say the same of Clinton. Clearly, these aren’t rosy numbers for Clinton, but they don’t point to a “silent majority” eager to back Trump in the privacy of the voting booth.
Lastly, when it comes down to it, 27 percent of undecided voters are either ideologically in line with the Democratic Party or to the party’s left while a third of undecided voters are either in line ideologically with the Republican Party or further to its right. Both of these groups of voters are likely to come home to their respective parties on Election Day, even if they don’t have a favorable opinion of their party’s candidate, which means just 26 percent of undecided voters are in between the two parties ideologically, or 6 percent of registered voters overall.
While 6 percent can make or break an election, when you’re trailing by as much as Trump is, it isn’t enough and certainly doesn’t point to a reverse Bradley Effect.
During the Republican primary we did see pollsters using live-phone polls underestimate Trump’s level of support, while online polls tended to have Trump at higher levels of support. However, according to the HuffPost Pollster aggregate of polls, there is only a 0.4 percent difference between Trump’s current level of support in live-phone polls and his support in online polls, where some voters feel more willing to speak their mind since they aren’t directly telling another person.
Unfortunately for Trump, no matter how you slice the data there isn’t a secret group of voters planning on casting ballots for him. Clinton’s supporters are solid, and most undecided voters are simply unhappy with both of their options.
In November, the majority of undecided voters will vote for their respective party’s candidate, and even if Trump gets slightly more than half of these voters, it doesn’t add up to anything close to a majority.
Stefan Hankin is founder and president of Lincoln Park Strategies, a Washington D.C.-based public opinion firm. Follow him on Twitter at @LPStrategies.