I’m far too dumb to be able to shed any light on polls, but I do know something about celebrity and I think I can guarantee this: If President Trump wins re-election, Robert Cahaly is going to become very famous very quickly.
Who is Robert Cahaly? The chief pollster for the Trafalgar Group, the only major polling organization that publishes its results and correctly predicted Donald Trump’s 2016 victories in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Cahaly predicts Trump is again going to win Michigan, along with Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona and Texas. He calculates that Trump will be reelected with roughly 280 electoral votes.
You can, and should, listen to Cahaly make these bold predictions on a special edition of The Editors podcast in which Rich Lowry interviews Cahaly for an hour (he writes about it here). I’ve been bobbing along with the conventional wisdom that says Trump is headed for a blowout defeat in the popular vote and the Electoral College, but Cahaly has a completely different take. It’s wild.
The pollster says that he employs different methods from his competitors and warns that the others are badly underestimating how social-desirability bias is artificially inflating Joe Biden’s numbers. People who hate Trump are willing, indeed eager, to give up their time to talk about how much they hate Trump, according to this view. And some polls take a long time, offering a slate of 20 or 25 questions to go through. You have to really want your opinion to be counted if you’re willing to give away that much of your time for nothing.
On the other side of the aisle, voters who like Trump not only don’t want to be bothered with talking to pollsters, especially pollsters who demand a large chunk of their time, many of them further believe that revealing pro-Trump sympathies could cost them their job or result in other kinds of social sanctions. (Nobody, apparently, believes that expressing support for Biden will cost them anything.) So a lot of Trump voters are falsely saying they plan to vote for someone else, or falsely saying they are undecided. Cahaly believes that at least 98.5 percent of voters have already made up their minds and that consequently the daily sturm und drang of the news cycle that consumes political reporters is essentially meaningless. People know who they are going to vote for, and are raring to go.
Possibly the most startling assertion Cahaly makes is that, by a ratio of as much as five to one, Trump-favoring voters are harder to nail down. The Biden voter is five times as likely to talk to a pollster as the Trump voter. All pollsters are aware of this factor, but Cahaly thinks it has grown in just the last few weeks, when the ratio was more like four to one. Cahaly thinks other pollsters are underestimating this factor.
A colorful metaphor: Cahaly says there is a large bloc of voters to whom the Trump economy, as he calls it, is “like chocolate” — but the temporary Covid-slanted economy has been, for these voters, like being told they can’t have chocolate anymore. They love chocolate. They can’t wait to get back to stuffing their faces with it. They are eager to go to the polls and make the chocolate flow again.
Another oddity Cahaly thinks is important is that infrequent right-leaning voters are leaning Trump. He says that among the millions of Americans who voted only once between 1992 and 2016, 58 percent are prepared to vote for Trump. But since these people admit they don’t vote very often, who knows whether to believe them?
Cahaly scoffs at anyone who thinks Trump might lose Georgia or Texas — “Not gonna happen” — and recommends such people check themselves into rehab immediately. He thinks Trump has a small but durable lead in Arizona, and though GOP Senate incumbent Martha McSally is trailing her Democratic challenger Mark Kelly, she is within five points and still has a decent shot of winning. As for Michigan, the Republican challenger John James is in a strong position to pull off an upset of Democratic incumbent Gary Peters and is bringing voters to the polls who will vote for Trump. Cahaly says Trump is stronger among blacks and Latinos in Michigan than any Republican presidential candidate in a very long time, and James, who is black, is aiding Trump’s prospects there.
Cahaly is going way, way out on a limb here. (You can follow his company’s Twitter feed for more data here.) Nobody else is saying that any of this stuff is going to swing things in Trump’s direction enough for him to pull out the win. Pretty much nobody else even thinks the election is going to be close. If Cahaly is right, he’s the new king of pollsters. If he’s wrong, he’s going to be a laughingstock.