Pollster Who Got It Right in 2016: Michigan a Dead Heat
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Pollster Who Got It Right in 2016: Michigan a Dead Heat
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
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In 2016, Robert Cahaly was the only pollster to show Donald Trump winning the state of Michigan. His final survey in the Wolverine State projected the Republican nominee beating Hillary Clinton by two percentage points. The final margin was just 0.3% -- an outcome that almost no one except Cahaly saw coming. 

Cahaly’s polls in 2016 also showed Donald Trump winning Pennsylvania – again, he was nearly alone in projecting Trump’s narrow victory there – and thus taking the White House. Cahaly’s success continued in 2018, most conspicuously in Florida. He was one of the few pollsters whose data showed Ron DeSantis beating Andrew Gillum in the Florida gubernatorial race and Rick Scott besting incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson in the Senate race. Cahaly’s firm, the Trafalgar Group, has emerged from the last two political cycles as one of the most accurate polling operations in America. 

So it’s notable that Cahaly has just released his first poll of the 2020 cycle, a survey of likely voters in Michigan showing Trump trailing Joe Biden by a single point, 46%-45%.  

Last week Michigan-based pollster EPIC-MRA garnered national attention for its survey showing Biden leading by a whopping 16 points, while another survey by the firm TIPP (which has never polled the state before) showed Biden with a 13-point lead. Finally, a poll by the Democratic firm Change Research, published in conjunction with CNBC, showed Biden with just a two-point lead, 47%-45%.

Cahaly’s survey, using the same methodology he employed four years ago but with an enhanced system for targeting likely voters, shows the race in Michigan as extremely competitive. The pollster also continues to see signs of “shy” or “reluctant” Trump voters in the electorate. Known as “social desirability bias,” it refers to the effect of respondents not telling the truth about whom they will vote for because they think their choice will be viewed unfavorably by others, including those conducting the survey. In a phone interview today, Cahaly said the social desirability bias he is seeing is “worse than it was four years ago.” 

Cahaly also pointed out, social desirability notwithstanding, African American support for Trump in the survey registered 11.8%, which would represent a significant increase over four years ago. According to the 2016 exit polls, Trump won just 6% of African American voters in Michigan.

The Trafalgar Group survey was conducted June 16-18 with a sample of 1,100 likely voters and a margin of error of plus or minus 2.95 percentage points.

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and president of RealClearPolitics and the co-author of "Election 2012: A Time for Choosing." Email: tom@realclearpolitics.com, Twitter: @TomBevanRCP

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