Will Trump's poll-shy fans surprise elites?

Libertarian VP candidate: Trump could actually win
Libertarian VP candidate: Trump could actually win

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Libertarian VP candidate: Trump could actually win 01:42

Story highlights

  • Sean Kennedy: Trump flagging in polls, but Brexit and Colombia upsets may show people don't tell pollsters truth
  • He says PC cultural elites have cowed respondents so they're reluctant to say they support Trump
  • Kennedy: Election Day will likely suprise the elites

Sean Kennedy is a visiting fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a conservative think tank. He has worked as a U.S. Senate aide to Ron Johnson (R-Wy) and as a television producer. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)The past week has been a terrible, no-good week in Trump Tower. Debate flubs, tax revelations and now a major polling slump are all weighing down The Donald's chances of making it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But Trump may well have a secret weapon that very few are talking about: an army of "closeted" Trump backers.
    How could this be?
    Sean Kennedy
    Consider: Back in 1982 in California, pollsters called homes across the state and asked the residents of their voting intentions in November. Consistently, the data showed that the black mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley, a Democrat, would defeat white Republican George Deukmejian in the race for governor. The day of the election, the exit polls showed Bradley winning, too, as voters told news organizations how they supposedly voted.
    But the polls and projections were wrong and Deukmejian won.
    Pundits and political scientists have dubbed this polling whiff the "Bradley effect," surmising that some voters deceived pollsters about their intentions, and some have suggested racism was behind the defeat.
    Much the same thing happened in Britain in June.
    Polls showed the referendum on whether the United Kingdom should stay in the European Union as too close to call, but in the end over a million more Brits voted for Brexit, and against elite consensus to remain.
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    In Britain, some have laid the gap between public polling and actual voting outcomes to so-called "Shy Tories" or conservative-minded voters who keep their true opinions to themselves.
    It appears to have happened again in Colombia over the weekend, when voters rejected a "peace" deal with the Marxist Narco-trafficking guerilla army called FARC. Despite polls showing the referendum, which granted fighters accused of war crimes immunity and the right to serve in the government, passing easily, actual voters opposed the deal in the privacy of the ballot box.
    But what do old and overseas election results have to do with what I believe is Donald Trump's likely victory? Everything.
    Trump's appeal is real and visceral to many Americans who feel left out of the modern economy and the cultural changes zooming past them.
    His rough and sometimes nasty demeanor worries the hand-wringers in the elite media and other institutions, but it is no more coarse in the minds of many everyday Americans than the sex-saturated, expletive-laden, and violence-edifying content foisted on America by the same cultural elites that tell them Trump is a cretin.
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    Indeed, Trump's brief rise in the polls sent the highfalutin, nominally right-of-center editorial boards of major regional newspapers into a panic, as the Detroit News, Dallas Morning News, Arizona Republic, Chicago Tribune and USA Today all denounced Trump as Gollum with better hair.
    But they don't need to worry because no one was asking the media for its opinion anyway. Trust in "newspapers" is at record lows, with only 20% of Americans expressing "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence. Big business, television news, labor, and banks hover in the 20s as well. Only Capitol Hill's inhabitants fair worse, according to Gallup.
    In fact, who knows if even those figures hold any water, because polling has been terrible and inaccurate in recent years. It has earned its black eye -- missing by wide margins what the public actually wants because some people hate the media pollsters just as much. They may even be lying to the survey-takers out of spite and fear.
    The spite makes sense to me, but why fear? I suggest it's because the elite institutions the public hates are collecting reams of data about individual Americans and then using their power to publicly chastise those who don't conform to the politically or socially fashionable opinion on the topic du jour.
    This effect is called "social desirability bias": poll respondents and voters express what they believe to be the "correct" opinion that is either popular (voting for the perceived winner) or acceptable (backing same-sex marriage to avoid social backlash).
    Trump is the greatest litmus test of this phenomenon. What happens when out of the blue, your phone rings or in-box pings and there's someone calling who knows your name, knows how to reach you and wants to confirm every demographic detail about you, and then presses you to take a side on the latest hot-button issue, from policing and race to transgender issues and global warming?
    You can bet some aren't totally forthright with the disembodied voice that wants to know too much. Many more don't even bother to share their opinions at all.
    Since it is so clearly socially undesirable to support Donald Trump for president, it is no wonder that many of those who will support him are unwilling to go public about it.
    And just like the Bradley-Deukmejian race and Brexit, many in the elite corners of the media, in the political and corporate establishment, hold strongly to the polite opinion that Trump is a threat.
    They tell us: He's a threat to stability, to growth, to our culture, to political discourse. But really, he's a threat -- to them. To their way of life, grafting off the public, imposing their cultural attitudes and snootily agreeing that flyover America is "deplorable."
    So next time you read the latest horse race news that Trump is behind, remember -- somebody is probably lying and the pollsters' data may well be garbage.
    Trump's closeted army is likely worth at least a few points as respectable, commonsense but average Americans choose the reality show they know and grimace at over the corrupt, calculating Clinton they resent and despise.
    November 9 will be a perplexing day for holier-than-thou class that cannot wrap its heads around Trump's appeal. But for flyover country, it will be just another morning in America.