That “Secret Trump” Vote? It Might Just Be #WithHer.
Donald Trump and his surrogates have a theory—that he will soar to victory Tuesday night on the wings of the “Silent Majority,” those secret Trump voters who have been too fearful of judgment to admit their Trump-love to anyone, including pollsters, but will vote for him in droves on Election Day.
At a Dallas rally in June, Trump talked about the “Bradley Effect,” a well-known phenomenon in political science named after L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley, who was leading in the polls for California governor going into Election Day in 1982, but ended up losing. Studies of that election revealed that people might have been embarrassed to tell pollsters they were voting against Bradley, who was African American, out of fear they would seem racist, but voted against him on Election Day anyway.
Trump told his June rally that the same thing is happening with his voters, but in reverse.
“When I poll, I do fine, but when I run I do much better,” Trump said. “In other words, people say, ‘I’m not going to say who I’m voting for’—don’t be embarrassed—‘I’m not going to say who I’m voting for,’ and then they get it and I do much better, it’s like an amazing effect.”
In North Carolina on the day before Election Day, Trump described his secret vote as “Brexit-plus-plus-plus,” meaning the results of his election will be as unexpected as British voters’ decision to bolt the European Union, “plus, plus, plus.”
But anyone who has covered the 2016 presidential campaign knows that Trump’s voters are not a shy bunch. They’re proud of supporting the brash billionaire. They’re going to tell you at Thanksgiving dinner that they were right all along and the whole thing was rigged.
The same cannot be said for many of Hillary Clinton’s voters. Going into the final weekend before the election, 43 percent of Clinton’s supporters said they were very enthusiastic about voting for her, while 53 percent of Trump’s voters said the same about him in the Washington Post/ ABC News tracking poll. The latest tracking poll showed that she had narrowed that gap and coalesced her core group of feminists, Clintonites, and loyal Democrats. But Clinton will also get the support of people who are voting for her and, for personal or professional reasons, won’t say publicly that they’re #WithHer.
Included in that group will be several who confessed their secret to me—a wealthy Republican financier, an elected GOP public official, a staffer at a conservative think tank, and a lawyer at a Republican law firm. A Republican executive in a red state will be #WithHer and so will a GOP Hill staffer. They all say their votes are less for Clinton as much as they’re against Trump. But on Election Day, they’ll all cast their votes, secretly, for the Democratic nominee for president.
“I don’t like confrontation,” one Tennessee woman and secret Hillary voter told me as she explained her choice to keep her ballot a secret, along with her decision to back Clinton over Trump.
“I’m not truly ‘with’ either of them—but I voted for her,” she said. The woman said she would have voted for a Republican she could take seriously, but with Trump as the GOP nominee, Clinton was the only choice left. That’s a decision she doesn’t want to have to defend to her conservative friends and family. “It’s a personal choice and I don’t care to be attacked for it or to listen to anyone trying to convince me that Trump is anything other than a narcissistic child.”
Another secret Hillary voter is a Republican who worked against Clinton’s Senate bid in New York, but will vote for Clinton to become president on Tuesday. She has told her two best friends from high school, but not the rest of her friends and family, who are mostly Republicans and uniformly against Clinton.
“I am not on the Hillary bandwagon,” the she told me. “My vote is about preventing a maniacal, misogynistic, violent, angry, isolationist demagogue from holding the most powerful position in the free world.”
Another secret Hillary voter in Texas described herself as a “conservative-leaning moderate,” who would have voted Republican, had the Republican nominee not been Trump.
“I voted for Clinton,” the Texan said. “I walked away from the voting booth feeling defeated.” She called her vote “the loudest protest vote I could’ve made in a Red State,” but added that she’s keeping her Clinton support a secret because she doesn’t want her vote to be seen as an endorsement of the former secretary of State. “There is no one in this election cycle that I want to promote,” she said.
Other secret voters I spoke with will also vote against Trump, but will write in their own candidate instead of going with Clinton. “I can’t vote for Trump or Clinton,” one red-state lawyer said. “I am going to write in a vote for Anthony Weiner for President and Carlos Danger for Vice President. The ‘Weiner Danger’ ticket.”
A former staffer in a conservative office is writing a name in, too, but not telling anyone.
“Any way I vote will piss off whoever I tell, and I’m not going to change how they feel, so why whack the hornet’s nest?” the lifelong Republican said. “I’m writing David Petraeus in.”
Another red-state conservative and lifelong Republican said he would have voted for the Democrat, had it not been Clinton, but he will secretly vote against the GOP nominee, too. “I’m not sure this party is the standard bearer of conservative principles anymore.”
Robert Jones, the head of PRRI, a Washington-based opinion research firm, said that “secret voters” are notoriously difficult to detect, but that no statistically significant number had shown up for either candidate in his firm’s polling in 2016. “That’s not to say they’re not there, but we have a way to test for it, and we saw no evidence of it on either side.”
Jones said that he’ll be looking for a different kind of secret voter on Tuesday, namely “people who have no history of voting who show up out of the woodwork.” Because Trump’s supporters have a high rate of past voting, Jones said the place where first-time voters are most likely to make a difference will be among Latinos, who are expected to vote predominantly for Hillary Clinton. “If Latinos show up at the rates comparable to the population itself, that would be a game changer.”
Either way, the secret voters’ secrets will be out on Election Day.