Ground Game vs Bradley Effect

To understand just how much Trumpmania has upset political prognostication, we now have two media outlets predicting the opposite phenomena: one suggests that Trump’s support is over-estimated and the other that it is under-estimated.

Trip Gabriel at the NYT basically says that the Trump campaign has no ground game, so there is a question about whether or not his supporters will actually show up to vote.

A successful ground game is crucial in Iowa because of the state’s complicated method of caucus voting, but the Trump campaign has lagged in reaching some of its own benchmarks.

Mr. Trump’s Iowa director predicted that he would recruit a leader for each of the state’s 1,681 Republican precincts by Thanksgiving. Instead, the first major training session for precinct leaders, heavily promoted in emails and conference calls, drew only about 80 people to West Des Moines last weekend, with about 50 participating online.

Gabriel has a lot more examples. But the idea being proposed by some of Trump’s people that his campaign is anything like Barack Obama’s 2008 effort with its heavy focus on a ground game is completely laughable.

On the other hand comes the notion recently floated by polling firm Morning Consult and described by Sahil Kapur at Bloomberg Politics that there is a “Bradley effect” at work when it comes to Trump supporters.

Polls may be underestimating Donald Trump’s support, according to intriguing new research that says the Republican front-runner benefits from a “social desirability bias”—some people who plan to vote for him are too embarrassed to admit it.

The study, published Monday by Morning Consult, found that Trump fares about six percentage points better among likely Republican voters in online polls than when a pollster is speaking by phone to a live human being. Moreover, the report indicated, the higher an individual’s educational attainment, the greater the likelihood that the respondent wouldn’t admit on the telephone to supporting Trump…

The study raises “social desirability bias” as a reason for this discrepancy. Under this theory, private online polls are more indicative of what likely voters will do in the privacy of the voting booth. There have been instances of this in past elections, most famously the “Bradley effect.”

On the merits, its pretty easy for me to figure out which one is the better argument. It just so happens that Morning Consult is one of those firms that does their polling online. Lately some people – like Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight – have been questioning whether they actually capture “likely voters’ because they consistently show Donald Trump doing better than those that do “live interview” polling over the telephone. So this study by Morning Consult uses the Bradley effect to explain the difference as a way to suggest that their own polling is more accurate. The argument is loaded with a little too much self-interest for me.

I suspect that the lack of a ground game will have a greater impact and that The Donald’s celebrity status combined with all the free media he has been getting won’t dramatically alter that.

But…and this is a big qualifier…Trump’s lead over the other candidates in this race – as demonstrated by all different kinds of polling right now – is so yuuuge that all of that might not matter in the long run.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.