Inside the Trump Bubble, Where the Polls Are All Wrong Again - OZY | A Modern Media Company
US President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Pickaway Agriculture and Event Center in Circleville, Ohio.
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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because Joe Biden appears to be on a path to the presidency, even if Donald Trump's supporters can't see it.

By Nick Fouriezos

  • With less than a week to go, OZY’s predictive election model gives Joe Biden an 86 percent chance of winning the presidency, pegging him to earn 317 electoral votes.
  • While polls, history, economic data and other factors point the other way, Donald Trump’s supporters don’t buy the numbers — insisting it’s 2016 all over again.

Interstate 70 was a sea of the new patriotism: red, white and Trump. Pickups, big rigs, motorcycles, dump trucks, cement mixers and cars honking and hooting with fluttering American flags next to Trump campaign flags. They drove from swing state Ohio to swing state Pennsylvania, with a brief pass through West Virginia, the heart of Appalachia, home of the voters who vaulted Trump to the presidency four years ago. For loyal Trump fans, it was another sign — like actual yard signs — that those stuffy Beltway elites ignore when measuring Trump’s support across America.

Riding the Trump train is a thrilling, if terrifying, experience, and this week was about rediscovering that high from four years ago. As his supporters stormed the interstate Saturday, Trump was careening himself — voting near Mar-a-Lago in Florida, crashing the Buckeye football opener in Ohio, rallying in North Carolina, barnstorming Wisconsin, all in a day’s work. The bubble of the media and political elites in Washington and New York is real, but so too is the Trump fanatic bubble — wherein Trump’s victory is inevitable and crowded in-person rallies, which have been linked to surges in local coronavirus cases, are not risky at all.

The poll numbers are a lie. It’s insane how many lies are flying around and nobody can see it.

Laurelaii Nowicki, Trump supporter in Pennsylvania

There is no starker sign of the hole Trump is in than the new contours of the electoral battlefield. According to OZY’s exclusive prediction model, in partnership with the Republican data firm 0ptimus, the current presidential toss-up states are Arizona, Georgia, Iowa and Ohio — all states that Trump had no problem winning in 2016. If the president has any hope of righting his path toward a second term, he will have to sweep those states plus several more considered to be leaning or even likely Democratic: Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Our forecast, which analyzes polls, spending, historical trends and other factors when assessing the race, now gives Biden an 86 percent chance of victory, with a target of 317 electoral votes — and the possibility of much more if he picks up the toss-ups.

Those numbers have been incredibly steady for months now, and Biden is surfing that advantage as Americans vote early in droves: More than 70 million ballots have been cast as of Tuesday night, more than half of the total 2016 vote with a week to go. “At this point, Trump’s reelection hinges on very high Election Day turnout among his core supporters and a large systematic error in the polls — not the sorts of factors any candidate truly wants to rely on,” says Scott Tranter, founder and CEO of 0ptimus.

Donald Trump Holds A Campaign Rally In Central Ohio

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a campaign event in Circleville, Ohio.

Trump supporters argue that this is exactly where they were in 2016 — discounted, left for dead, only to experience the thrill of Trump’s last-minute ascension. There are still a number of routes to a Trump victory: upsets in those swing states due to a rise of so-called “shy” Trump voters who the polls never reached, or perhaps the mass disqualifying of mail ballots in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, with thin margins and a lot of first-time mail voters due to the pandemic. “The chances of Trump supporters talking to a pollster is very small,” argues former congressman Bruce Poliquin, a Trump supporter, who told me to drive through rural Maine and count signs for Trump and Biden and see who wins, to see the truth.

Signs, like rally attendance, like voter registration, like tea leaves, like Twitter likes, are imperfect as scientific measures of support — although one recent study did find that lawn signs could increase vote share by 1.7 percentage points. However, the problem isn’t just that Trump lags Biden by 9 points nationally this time (far beyond what Hillary Clinton enjoyed). The issue is that Trump doesn’t even clearly lead the signs battle anymore. Recently driving through the Maine wilderness, as Poliquin suggested, down through fiercely independent New Hampshire, to divided Pennsylvania and famously split-ticketed Ohio, there was more Biden-Harris paraphernalia in rural areas than one might expect, even if they were still outnumbered by Trump-Pence signs.

And in the suburbs, like Mount Lebanon outside Pittsburgh? The signs supporting Democrats seemed at times as plentiful as the fall leaves. For every Trump train rally there is a Black Lives Matter protest — thousands of people, like the Trump supporters in 2016, demanding change. The enthusiasm is no longer one-sided. “That exposes an extraordinarily serious challenge for the Republicans, because the suburbs are very populous,” says Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Pennsylvania’s Franklin & Marshall College.

Gone from the president’s rallies are the Trump-curious, who showed up to see what the outsider candidate was like and at the ballot box took a flier on his anti-establishment promise. Unlike when Trump was facing Clinton, there are very few undecided voters this time, with Biden frequently topping 50 percent of the vote in polls in critical Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. But the die-hards remain, and they are seeing 2016 all over again, rather than the mounting evidence that this is not a rerun.

“The poll numbers are a lie. It’s insane how many lies are flying around and nobody can see it. The left is crazy. Every single person here will agree, there are thousands of people here,” says Laurelai Nowicki, noting the turnout at a Trump rally in Erie, Pennsylvania. “It is insane to me that there are so many people falling for the crap.”

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