The Corner


Trafalgar Adds to Bullish Expectations for Republicans Tonight

Then Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin gives a thumbs up to the crowd during a campaign event in Leesburg, Va., November 1, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

All signs in public polling are pointing to a strong night for Republicans in the headline races, though still possibly one full of agonizing disappointments. Trafalgar Group and its chief pollster, Robert Cahaly, have made their name in the 2016, 2018, and 2020 cycles by finding surges of Republican voters that other pollsters didn’t see, but who ended up turning out. As with any pollster in this uncertain business in this volatile era, Trafalgar has missed its share of shots, but it has earned credibility for a number of calls that others weren’t making. On the upside, Cahaly was nearly alone in seeing Donald Trump’s surge in Pennsylvania and other Midwestern states in 2016. In 2020, he projected a Trump victory in many of those same states, and was alone projecting John James to win in Michigan. But even if the final outcomes were off, Trafalgar nailed Florida, and came closer to the margins than many of the pollsters who had Joe Biden winning but by much bigger spreads. As Jim Geraghty summarized the day after the 2020 election:

The polling was largely wrong. Robert Cahaly of Trafalgar is now a superstar and deserves to be. The entire polling industry — to the extent the polling industry survives this — must now grapple with the ramifications of this comment from Cahaly in his interview with Rich:

One is the number of questions on its surveys. “I don’t believe in long questionnaires,” Cahaly says. “I think when you’re calling up Mom or Dad on a school night, and they’re trying to get the kids dinner and get them to bed, and that phone rings at seven o’clock — and they’re supposed to stop what they’re doing and take a 25- to 30-question poll? No way.”

Why does that matter? “You end up disproportionately representing the people who will like to talk about politics, which is going to skew toward the very, very conservative and the very, very liberal and the very, very bored, “Cahaly explains. “And the kind of people that win elections are the people in the middle. So I think they miss people in the middle when they do things that way.”

In late August, Trafalgar was ahead of the pack projecting a tightening race in Virginia, and whether or not Glenn Youngkin can close the deal, we definitely appear to have a much more competitive Republican ticket in Virginia than most political observers thought in August.

Trafalgar has the final poll in the RealClearPolitics average in both the Virginia and New Jersey races. In Virginia, the final Trafalgar poll showing Youngkin up by 2 points (49–47) is in line with the average (Youngkin +1.7). Three polls showing an essentially tied race were followed by three final polls that all had Youngkin winning — Fox News had Youngkin +8 (53–45), and FOX 5 DC/InsiderAdvantage had Youngkin +2 as well (47–45). In Virginia, at least, Trafalgar is not far out on a limb.

I previously detailed the alarming news for Democrats in the crosstabs of Virginia polls that show how different groups vote. A warning: Opinion polls seek to use a large enough sample to get an accurate picture of the electorate. How different groups within that sample are voting is a less reliable, more volatile matter, because the samples are smaller, so individual polls can more easily be wrong. For example, Trafalgar’s reported sample of 1,081 likely Virginia voters is 4.7 percent Hispanic, which is maybe 51 people. That said, the crosstabs from Trafalgar add to the startling picture seen in other polls. Trafalgar sees Youngkin up by 40 points with independents (69–29); Fox has Youngkin up 22 with independents (56–34). (Insider Advantage also has Youngkin with a significant lead with independents.) Like an earlier Emerson poll, Trafalgar shows Youngkin winning Hispanic voters, and not by a little, but by 30 points (65–35). Even allowing that the small size of that sample may be less reliable than the overall picture, it is a trend that has popped up in enough polls to be more than a fluke.

Perhaps just as interesting for poll and trend watchers, if frustrating for Republican partisans, Trafalgar’s final New Jersey poll sees Phil Murphy’s lead cut to 4 points (49–45) despite an electorate that it projects as 47 percent Democrats and 29 percent Republicans. I’ve noted previously the signs of tightening in that race, and Murphy — who won by 14 four years ago — leads by just under 8 points (51–43) in the final poll average. Only Trafalgar and Emerson project this as closer than an 8-point race. Nobody is projecting an upset win for Jack Ciattarelli, and New Jersey’s suburb-dominated electorate has fewer of the sorts of voters that Trafalgar has found that others missed in other states, but if the margins are closer to a 4–6 point race even in New Jersey, chalk that up as a win for Trafalgar and a sign of very bad things to come for Democrats.

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