Shy voters and angry ones

Supporters of President Trump, like these cheering at a rally Thursday in Jacksonville, Fla., aren't known for being shy
Supporters of President Trump, like these cheering at a rally Thursday in Jacksonville, Fla., aren’t known for being shy. Nevertheless, the “shy voter” theory remains widely believed.
(Stan Badz / Associated Press)

Joe Biden’s supporters in California are far more likely than President Trump’s to say they would be “angry” if the other side wins the presidential election, a new survey from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies finds.

That’s consistent with other research from around the country that finds Democrats having a deep antipathy toward Trump and Republicans harboring less dramatic feelings about Biden. That’s a sharp contrast with 2016, when many Republicans expressed a deep loathing for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee. And, since negative emotions have a powerful impact on voter turnout, that potential anger could be a significant boost for the Democratic ticket.

Meanwhile, another new study sheds light on a belief that many voters in both parties hold — that a significant pool of Trump voters exist who simply won’t admit to pollsters that they plan to vote for the president.


The study suggests that such “shy Trump” voters are rare, at best, and could be offset by a similar number of closet Biden backers.

Do shy Trump voters exist?

Around the country this week, the polling news has generally been good for Biden. The former vice president has maintained a consistent lead of about seven percentage points in averages of national polls and has also continued to lead in key swing states.

But in the aftermath of Trump’s upset victory in 2016, many voters on both sides just don’t believe it. A widespread belief holds that a significant number of pro-Trump voters aren’t admitting to pollsters how they plan to vote.

A Monmouth University poll in July, for example, found that in Pennsylvania, a key swing state, 57% of voters believe that secret Trump voters exist who aren’t telling anyone about their true intentions.

Morning Consult, the market research firm, set out to test that idea. They did so by conducting two parallel polls, one by phone, the other online, that surveyed 2,642 registered voters.

If voters are reluctant to admit something, the researchers reasoned, they likely will be more reluctant to tell a live interviewer on the phone than to fill out an anonymous form on a computer.

And, indeed, when the firm asked questions about whether race and ethnic discrimination exist or about people’s personal finances, they found clear evidence of what pollsters call “social desirability bias.”

On the phone, for example, people were more likely to say they believe Black Americans, gays and lesbians, Jews and Latinos face discrimination. Those filling out a form in the privacy of their home computers were less likely to give that socially approved answer.

On the phone, 82% of voters said Black Americans face discrimination. Among those polled online, the share fell to 73%. An even larger gap showed up on the question of whether Jews face discrimination in the U.S.: Of those polled by phone, 83% said yes, falling to 64% online.

People were also more willing to admit online that they sometimes feel jealous or resentful. Asked about jealous feelings, 47% of those polled online admitted to sometimes having them, just 28% admitted that on the phone.


Those polled were similarly more willing to admit online that they sometimes have trouble paying their bills.

But when the questions turned to the presidential race, no such gap existed: Biden led Trump by about 10 percentage points in both the online and telephone surveys.

The findings add to a large body of research that indicates the shy Trump voter idea doesn’t hold up as a significant problem for the accuracy of polls.

Polls may have other problems — in 2016, for example, some surveys undercounted voters who don’t have a college education, a group that went heavily for Trump. Others simply stopped polling too early to catch movement toward Trump in the final week of the campaign. But the “hidden vote” theory seems dubious.

That doesn’t mean no such voters exist: The U.S. is a big country, after all, and no doubt some people plan to vote for Trump and don’t want to admit it. But in conservative parts of the country, the opposite is likely true — there are Biden supporters who don’t want to publicly declare their plan to vote for the Democrat.

The big gender gap, for example, almost surely means that in many households, pro-Biden women live with pro-Trump men. Some of them are likely to have kept those views to themselves. As the Morning Consult study and other research suggest, in the end, those hidden voters on both sides appear to cancel each other out.

One-sided California

Biden holds a massive lead over Trump in California, the new Berkeley poll finds — 67%-29% among likely voters. That’s essentially unchanged from previous Berkeley polls going back to last year.

If the margin holds, it would set a record for the poorest showing by a Republican presidential nominee in the state since the Civil War, besting the margin set four years ago when Clinton beat Trump in California by 30 points.

Unlike more conservative parts of the country, where Trump is ahead among white voters, in California, he’s losing in that group by 2 to 1. Among Latino voters, he trails 73%-21%, among Black voters 85%-11%, and among Asian American and Pacific Islander voters 68%-27%. The only major demographic group that backs Trump in this heavily Democratic state are evangelical Christians, who support him 55%-40%.


The poll underscores that, on both sides, the election is predominantly about the incumbent: More than half of Biden’s backers, 52%, say the main reason for their vote is that they oppose Trump. Almost two-thirds of Trump’s backers, 63%, say their main motivation is that they like the president.

And because the election centers so much on Trump, feelings about him drive voters’ emotions.

Asked to choose among four emotions to describe how they would respond to different outcomes of the election, two-thirds of Biden’s supporters in the state said they would be “angry” if Trump won, while one-third said they would be “disappointed,” the poll found.

Among Trump’s supporters, the reactions to a potential Biden victory were nearly a mirror image of that reaction: 38% said they would be angry, while 61% said they would be disappointed.

On both sides, a majority chose “relieved” to describe how they would feel if their preferred candidate won, but on Trump’s side, “excited” came in a close second, reflecting the fervor Trump inspires in his strong supporters.

Among Biden’s supporters, voters who said they would be relieved by a victory outnumbered excited ones by 3 to 1.


The finding reflects “the emotional toll that the November election is having on Californians,” said Cristina Mora, co-director of the Berkeley institute. Especially among Democrats, anxiety about the outcome and worry about Trump’s potential impact on the country’s democratic institutions has made relief the main emotion voters can muster, she said.

The poll also found that California Democrats have given a thumbs up to Biden’s choice of their junior senator, Kamala Harris, as his running mate. Almost two-thirds of Democrats describe themselves as “enthusiastic” about the choice.

That response holds true across racial and ethnic groups in the state. The one group that voices notably less enthusiasm are voters younger than 30. Only a third of them say they are enthusiastic about Harris, while just over half say they are “satisfied, but not enthusiastic.” Another 16% call themselves “dissatisfied.”

The vast majority of California Democrats, about eight in 10, believe that having one of their own as vice president would benefit the state. Not surprisingly, a large majority of California Republicans disagree, with about seven in 10 saying the impact on the state would be negative. About one in six in both parties don’t foresee any real impact.

The Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, supervised by poll director Mark Di Camillo, surveyed 7,198 California registered voters online, Sept. 9-15, of whom 5,942 were considered likely to vote in November’s election. Detailed tabulations, full text of the questions and a description of the poll’s methodology are available on the institute’s website.

Preparing for the debate

Tuesday brings the first debate between Biden and Trump. We’ll be covering all the angles, so please come watch with us.

As we get ready, Noah Bierman and Eli Stokols took a look at how the two candidates are preparing: Biden is taking part in mock debates; Trump is watching TV and testing attack lines, campaign aides told them.


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The latest from the campaign trail

As the debate approaches, my colleagues have been getting out into some key swing states to see what’s on voters’ minds and how the campaigns are trying to mobilize them.

  • From Arizona, Melissa Gomez reports that door knocking and phone banking in the COVID era have morphed from “get out the vote” to “get people help.” That’s especially true, she found, for groups trying to mobilize the state’s large, but underrepresented Latino population. Many Latino voters have suffered serious economic losses from the pandemic. For them, thinking about the election takes a backseat to just coping with current emergencies.
  • In southwestern Pennsylvania, the Biden campaign has a significant hurdle, Seema Mehta and Evan Halper report: Voters fear a California-style energy plan. The region has benefited greatly from the use of fracking technology to boost production of natural gas. Trump has played up fears that Biden will ban fracking. Biden has said he won’t do that, but his clean-energy policies would curtail use of gas, as well as oil and coal. The politics of the issue are complex — most Pennsylvania voters want to see more reliance on renewable energy — and Biden has had to balance conflicting pressures.
  • In Florida, COVID-19 has put the state at risk for Trump, Michael Finnegan reports. Polls show that the perennially close state is close again, and a big factor is Biden’s strength among voters older than 65, many of whom oppose Trump’s handling of the pandemic. “It’s really kind of a serious issue for a lot of people,” Thomas Eldon, a Democratic pollster in Florida, told Finnegan. “They just want to live.”

The final weeks of the campaign will bring a raft of polls, and Brian Contreras will be reporting on them. In his first analysis, he reports on several surveys this week showing Biden strong in red states, as well as surveys showing Republican Sen. Susan Collins struggling for reelection in Maine.

The latest from Washington

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has dominated headlines all week. As David Savage reports, the likelihood of a Trump appointee replacing her sets up what could be the sharpest Supreme Court shift in three decades, since Justice Clarence Thomas replaced the late Justice Thurgood Marshall in 1991.

Republican presidents have appointed 10 of the last 14 justices confirmed to the Supreme Court, but despite that, conservatives have repeatedly been disappointed in their effort to get the court to overturn Roe vs. Wade, its 1973 decision legalizing abortion nationwide.

Now, as Jennifer Haberkorn reports, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) says he’ll refuse to vote for any nominee who doesn’t explicitly oppose Roe. Depending on whom Trump nominates, Hawley’s position could complicate the confirmation process. Until now, nominees have carefully avoided making such categorical statements in their confirmation hearings.

Trump, meanwhile, set off shockwaves on Wednesday by refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.

What might happen if he loses but won’t concede? Halper, Stokols and Savage looked at how a constitutional crisis could play out.

On Thursday, Trump went to North Carolina and signed an executive order that promised to protect Americans with preexisting medical conditions. Noam Levey took a look at the key question: Does his new order protect anyone?


Speaking of health, a new study by three experts on geriatric medicine found that while Biden is somewhat healthier, both presidential candidates may be considered “super-agers” who have a very good chance of surviving for the next four years and longer, Jim Rainey reported.

As white men with high incomes and access to the best doctors, the president and the former vice president have advantages over many other Americans, the study notes. Both also had one parent live into their 80s and the other into their 90s.

The latest from California

More on the Berkeley Institute for Governmental Studies poll, which covered a wide range of issues that my colleagues have written about this week:

Finally, on the topic of climate change, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a major new policy on Wednesday, calling for a phase-out of sales of all new gasoline-powered cars and trucks in the state by 2035. As Phil Willon and Tony Barboza reported, Newsom also said he would ask the Legislature to enact a statewide ban on fracking.

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