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This Maverick Pollster Had Trump Ahead In 2016. Here’s Why He Has Him Ahead In 2020

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Anders Hagstrom White House Correspondent
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The Trafalgar Group was one of the only pollsters in the country to predict President Donald Trump’s 2016 wins in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Four years later, it is one of only two major polls in the country that has Trump up against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden nationally. Here’s why.


Trafalgar’s chief pollster, Robert Cahaly, told National Review (NRO) the group is focused on pinning down one variable that has hounded pollsters for as long as the profession has existed. Cahaly calls it social desirability bias, or “any answer that is designed to make the person asking the question be less judgmental of the person who answers it.” Applied to the current election cycle, many believe the bias has inflated Biden’s performance in national polls, with “shy Trump voters” not admitting to their support for the president. (RELATED: These Reports Are Essential Reading For Understanding The Hunter Biden Story)

Cahaly says Trafalgar’s questions are tailored around getting respondents to answer truthfully, and they make a number of changes to the traditional polling methods to achieve that.

“I’ve got to get past what you want to say in public and get to what you really feel,” Cahaly told NRO. “Because what’s in your heart is going to be what’s on that ballot.”

BRISTOL, PA - OCTOBER 24: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden stands with his wife Dr. Jill Biden before speaking at a drive-in campaign rally at Bucks County Community College on October 24, 2020 in Bristol, Pennsylvania. Biden is making two campaign stops in the battleground state of Pennsylvania on Saturday. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

BRISTOL, PA – OCT. 24: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden stands with his wife Dr. Jill Biden before speaking at a drive-in campaign rally at Bucks County Community College on Oct. 24, 2020 in Bristol, Pennsylvania. Biden is making two campaign stops in the battleground state of Pennsylvania on Saturday. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In addition to emphasizing anonymity in all of its polling methods, Cahaly says the group also diverts away from traditional pollsters’ exclusive reliance on cold calls. He told NRO phone calls are among the most personal ways to administer a questionnaire apart from an in-person conversation and tends to increase the social desirability bias.

The group also asks each respondent far fewer questions than traditional pollsters.

““I don’t believe in long questionnaires. I think when you’re calling up Mom or Dad on a school night, and they’re trying to get the kids dinner and get them to bed, and that phone rings at seven o’clock — and they’re supposed to stop what they’re doing and take a 25- to 30-question poll? No way,” he told NRO.

“You end up disproportionately representing the people who will like to talk about politics, which is going to skew toward the very, very conservative and the very, very liberal and the very, very bored. And the kind of people that win elections are the people in the middle. So I think they miss people in the middle when they do things that way,” he added. (RELATED: White House Expects ‘Positive Announcements’ On Medicare And Medicaid Covering COVID-19 Vaccine)

Trafalgar Group chief pollster Robert Cahaly talks to Fox News’ “Hannity” about the “hidden” vote for President Donald Trump that might see him reelected, Oct. 20 2020. Fox News screenshot

Trafalgar Group chief pollster Robert Cahaly talks to Fox News’ “Hannity” about the “hidden” vote for President Donald Trump that might see him reelected. The Trafalgar group correctly predicted Trump’s win in 2016 as well as him taking both Michigan and Pennsylvania. The group’s newest poll shows Trump with a slight lead over Biden, and Cahaly says he believes Trump will win reelection, Oct. 20 2020. (Screenshot/Fox News)

Nevertheless, Cahaly and Trafalgar are new to the polling business — very new. The 2016 presidential election was the group’s first attempt at polling a national election, and their success made a career out of what started as a whim.

“We ended up having an incredible year,” he told NRO. “I mean, we got Pennsylvania right. We got Michigan right. We had the best poll in five of the battleground states in 2016. And I actually predicted 306 to 232 on the electoral college. And we went from doing a little bit of polling on the side to that [being] our primary business in about 24 hours. And since then, that’s what we’ve been doing.” (RELATED: New Poll Shows Trump Down In Key Battleground States, Gaining In Pennsylvania)

Despite Trump’s slim lead in Trafalgar’s latest poll, however, Cahaly still has the president down in a number of key states, including Pennsylvania. And even as Cahaly has Trump gaining ground, NBC News polls are switching Texas from a “lean Republican” state to a “toss-up.” There is no path to the White House for a Republican without Texas.

Cahaly remains confident Trump will win, however.

“If it all happened right now my best guess would be an Electoral College victory in the high to 270s, low 280s,” he told NRO.