Trump May Have More Support Than Polls Indicate

The truth is often unspoken.

Posted Oct 07, 2020

Elements Digital 5/Pexeles
Source: Elements Digital 5/Pexeles

The truth is often camouflaged by social pressure and political correctness, especially in the 2020 presidential electoral environment. The polls suggest that Biden has a significant advantage over Trump, but is really the case? In the wake of social unrest and wokeness, people are reluctant to identify themselves as Trump supporters. Political pollsters often have a hard time getting people to reveal their true political preferences, notably people who support Trump. In the current cancel culture, people are reluctant to reveal how they will really vote in the presidential election because they are afraid of social reprisals if they publicly support the wrong candidate. To complicate things further, polls are often conducted over the telephone. People are reluctant to reveal their true feelings because they do not know who they are talking to, how the information they provide will be used, and, more important, whether the information they provide be used against them. Consequently, the results of polls are often distorted.

Survey responses to potentially sensitive questions are subjected to social desirability bias. Consequently, people may deliberately lie to pollsters if they believe their true opinion runs counter to recognized societal norms. The extremely negative messages from the mainstream media and myriad social, cultural, and political platforms that disparage Trump puts psychological pressure on survey respondents to conceal their true preferences because they are afraid of social sanctions or, in the worst-case scenario, lose their livelihood. Additionally, the presence of social desirability bias may be particularly influential because people do not want to be seen as being on the wrong side of history, at least from a public perspective. If social desirability bias exists in the present presidential preference polling, then the poll results may not reflect the true opinions of the respondents.  

To compensate for the social desirability bias, pollsters use an elicitation technique referred to as the third-party perspective. Elicitation is the art of getting people to reveal how they truly feel without alerting them to the fact that they are revealing information they would not normally reveal through direct questioning. One elicitation technique that can be used to find out what people really think or feel about a topic or idea is to approach the topic or idea from a third-party perspective.

The third-party perspective is an elicitation tool used to discover what people really think about sensitive topics—thoughts they normally wouldn’t reveal or would lie about if asked in a more direct manner. It is the technique of framing information and facts in the third person. For example, if a husband wants to purchase a new fishing boat, he could frame the contemplated purchase from a third-party perspective—“A friend of mine just bought a new fishing boat"—to see how his wife might feel about his own purchase of a new fishing boat. This technique exploits people’s natural tendency to talk about other people. People tend to express their true feelings when talking about other people as opposed to themselves. When people are asked direct questions about sensitive topics such as “Will you vote for Trump in this year’s presidential election?” they usually defer to social norms to frame their answer. Social norms are the standards of society that define acceptable and unacceptable beliefs and behaviors. People are expected to adhere to these standards or risk being seen as deviant. They will turn to social norms for their answer even if it’s not what they really think.

Several weeks ago, Fox News conducted a poll. The pollsters asked registered voters who they would vote for in the upcoming presidential election, Biden or Trump. When asked a direct question about their presidential preference, 34 percent of the respondents indicated that they would vote for Trump. Given today’s socially and politically charged environment, the respondents’ answers may have been subjected to social desirability bias. In an attempt to encourage respondents to reveal their true presidential preference, the poll asked the question from a third-party perspective, “Who do you think your neighbors are supporting for president?” The results were insightful: 39 percent of the respondents said their neighbors would vote for Trump. Since the question elicited the respondents’ voting preference from a third-party perspective, their answers are more likely to reflect the respondents’ true presidential preference. The Fox News poll revealed that more people may be supporting Trump than the majority of the polls that solicit direct answers to direct questions. 

Elicitation is a powerful technique to reveal the truth. For more information about elicitation and additional elicitation techniques, refer to The Truth Detector: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide for Getting People to Reveal the Truth.