WASHINGTON, D.C. — Professional pollsters say President Donald Trump and senior White House officials are rightly confident heading into his reelection bid because early 2020 surveys are likely flawed.
“We are going to keep on fighting, and we are going to keep on winning, winning, winning,” Trump told supporters this week during a campaign rally in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. “We’re going to win like never before. ... I’ll tell you what: We’re going to win the state of New Mexico.”
That would mean flipping a state he lost in 2016 to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But just about every national poll and many key statewide surveys give the leading Democratic presidential candidates healthy leads over the president in hypothetical general election matchups, surveys Trump and his team dismiss almost daily.
A recent Quinnipiac University survey painted the summer’s bleakest reelection picture for Trump, giving former Vice President Joe Biden a 16-point national lead, with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders up by 14 points in a one-on-one race. The same poll also showed Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren leading him by 12 points and California Sen. Kamala Harris with an 11-point advantage.
“Polls are often wrong,” Trump told reporters with a dismissive smirk Monday in the Oval Office. That came six days after he fired off a tweet calling surveys conducted by media outlets the “most powerful weapons” he believes they collectively use against him. The post included this confidence-oozing warning to his eventual Democratic foe: “Internal polling looks great, the best ever!”
“I think the president’s support is undervalued,” said Neil Newhouse, the leading pollster for Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid. “If you separate things in a poll and ask someone if they disapprove overall with his job performance, there are a healthy number of voters who will then say despite that, ‘I strongly agree with many of his policies.’ ”
“That, to me, shows there are more gettable votes out for the president than most people believe right now,” added Newhouse.
Professional pollsters say they often use the RealClearPolitics average of multiple polls as a barometer. The organization’s popular calculations give Biden a 12-point lead over Trump; Sanders a 7-point lead; Warren a 5-point advantage; and Harris a 4-point lead.
But is Trump really that far behind — especially considering his sky-high popularity among Republican voters? Almost certainly not, say pollsters and strategists who contend their colleagues and the media are already making some of the mistakes that caused them to miss Trump’s 2016 win. And one of those is looking at polls as hard-and-fast gospel, as opposed to a snapshot of a given moment.
“Frankly, I think head-to-head polls can be misleading at this point for judging the relative strength of the Democratic field,” said Patrick Murray, polling director at Monmouth University. “First, the Democratic candidates are not equally well-known to voters. And secondly, voter opinion will shift once there is actually a general election campaign — we don’t know how any of these candidates will do in that scenario. Any measurement now is in a vacuum.”
But Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg contends all 2020 data he has reviewed shows voters’ mood and opposition to the president’s immigration policies “is pushing toward the blue-wave margin.”
In a research note published this week, he unveiled polling data that shows “a level of political engagement the country has never seen before.”
That is particularly true of Democratic voters, he found.
Democratic voters are “consolidated to support the Democratic nominee, whether it is (Biden or Warren),” Greenberg writes. “They are defeating Trump by 9 and 7 points, respectively, with the president stuck at 41% (approval).”
He added that data suggest the leading Democratic candidates are outperforming the party’s 2018 midterms gains, which he concludes would be “a shattering result” for the president if the trend holds.