A Short History of Candidates Relying on 'Hidden' Voters

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tags: election 2016, Trump



It is a wish with a long pedigree. The most famous example is the one where it really was true: Harry S Truman’s surprise victory of Thomas Dewey in 1948, memorialized with that headline. Gallup’s polling had shown Dewey leading by at least 5 points and sometimes as much as 11 since the start of August. The polling was wrong, and the president was reelected. Ever since, politicians who are in a hole have hoped the polls are simply bad. But Truman’s victory forced pollsters to reassess their methods, ironing out some of the problems that led to a misreading of the 1948 election, making it less likely that history would repeat itself.

In 1969, Richard Nixon warned that there was a “Silent Majority” that was opposed to the bra burners, anti-war protestors, and rioters in the streets. Trump has appropriated the phrase, repeatedly claiming that there’s a silent majority that supports him, too. But Nixon’s phrase wasn’t really a reference to elections—it was just about public discourse that he felt was dominated by a few noisy voices. And while they may have been silent, they weren’t invisible: Polls showed Nixon trouncing George McGovern ahead of the 1972 election, as he did. That didn’t stop McGovern from claiming hidden groups of voters would propel him to an upset victory. “We may see a thorough discrediting of the public-opinion polls in this campaign just as Harry Truman discredited them in 1948,” he said on the eve of an election in which he won just 17 electoral votes.




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