Bashful base: Pollsters say Trump closer to Democrats than early 2020 surveys suggest

John T. Bennett, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- Professional pollsters say President Donald Trump and senior White House officials are rightly confident heading into his reelection bid because early 2020 surveys are likely flawed.

"We are going to keep on fighting, and we are going to keep on winning, winning, winning," Trump told supporters this week during a campaign rally in Rio Rancho, N. M.. "We're going to win like never before. ... I'll tell you what: We're going to win the state of New Mexico."

That would mean flipping a state he lost in 2016 to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But just about every national poll and many key statewide surveys give the leading Democratic presidential candidates healthy leads over the president in hypothetical general election matchups, surveys Trump and his team dismiss almost daily.

A recent Quinnipiac University survey painted the summer's bleakest reelection picture for Trump, giving former Vice President Joe Biden a 16-point national lead, with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders up by 14 points in a one-on-one race. The same poll also showed Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren leading him by 12 points and California Sen. Kamala Harris with an 11-point advantage.

"Polls are often wrong," Trump told reporters with a dismissive smirk Monday in the Oval Office. That came six days after he fired off a tweet calling surveys conducted by media outlets the "most powerful weapons" he believes they collectively use against him. The post included this confidence-oozing warning to his eventual Democratic foe: "Internal polling looks great, the best ever!"

"I think the president's support is undervalued," said Neil Newhouse, the leading pollster for Republican Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential bid. "If you separate things in a poll and ask someone if they disapprove overall with his job performance, there are a healthy number of voters who will then say despite that, 'I strongly agree with many of his policies.'


"That, to me, shows there are more gettable votes out for the president than most people believe right now," added Newhouse, now a partner at Public Opinion Strategies. "A month out last time, polls had him trailing Hillary Clinton by 11 points. But he won."

Polls tightened in the days leading up to that election and were largely in line with the national vote, which Clinton won by a more than 2 points, even though she lost the Electoral College count to Trump.

Professional pollsters say they often use the RealClearPolitics average of multiple polls as a barometer. The organization's popular calculations give Biden a 12-point lead over Trump; Sanders a 7-point lead; Warren a 5-point advantage; and Harris a 4-point lead.

But is Trump really that far behind -- especially considering his sky-high popularity among Republican voters? Almost certainly not, say pollsters and strategists who contend their colleagues and the media are already making some of the mistakes that caused them to miss Trump's 2016 win. And one of those is looking at polls as hard-and-fast gospel, as opposed to a snapshot of a given moment.


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