The Undercover Vote for Trump

Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, recently speculated that Donald Trump is winning the election in spite of adverse poll numbers because many of Trump’s voters are ‘undercover voters.’

Trump does better in online polls

Donald Trump performs consistently better in online polling where a human being is not talking to another human being about what he or she may do in the election. It’s because it’s become socially desirable, if you’re a college educated person in the United States of America, to say that you’re against Donald Trump. — Kellyanne Conway, Trump campaign manager
Ms. Conway’s is right, at least up to a point. It is true that online polls did indeed show that Trump won the first debate. An online survey sponsored by Time had 1.6 million responses and showed Trump as the winner by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent for Clinton. A CNBC poll had over a million clicks, and Trump was selected the winner by a margin of 67 percent to just 33 percent for Clinton. However, online surveys are thought to be subject to manipulation and most of the traditional polling industry discounts their accuracy.
Every scientific poll we’ve encountered so far suggests that voters thought Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in Monday night’s debate. — Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight

Anecdotal evidence of undercover vote

However, there is some anecdotal evidence that may support Ms. Conway’s contention. Joe Klein, writing in Time Magazine of a recent visit he undertook to Ohio, noted that in a formal meeting set up to discuss the presidential election most of the people that showed up were for Clinton. However, as the meeting was drawing to a close someone whispered to Klein that there were some Trump supporters that wanted to meet with him informally. The informal group included the local sheriff, six of the seven members of the city council and various local business leaders. Klein reported:
Indeed, it seemed the Trump supporters were less obsessed with the daily run of campaign controversy. They didn’t seem to care much about Trump’s lies or exaggerations, nor did they mention immigrants or Muslims. I asked the Trump supporters why they hadn’t joined the larger group earlier in the evening. They smiled, knowingly. They knew who the Hillary folks were. They were neighbors, so why risk unpleasantness? In Ohio, routinely labeled a battleground state, some battles are too toxic to be fought in public. — Joe Klein, Time Magazine

People will deny voting for Trump

Peggy Noonan, writing in The Wall Street Journal told of asking a friend whom he was voting for in November, and he replied, “I know exactly. I will be one of the 40 million who will deny, the day after the election, that they voted for him. But I will.”
A high elected official, a Republican, got a faraway look when I asked what he thought was going to happen. “This is the unpollable election,” he said. People don’t want to tell you who they’re for. A lot aren’t sure. A lot don’t want to be pressed. — Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal

Polls may not be accurate

None of this means that Donald Trump is certain to win the election. Even with an ‘undercover’ vote, Trump may not be able to inspire the confidence that voters will need to put a check mark by his name on the November 8 ballot. However, it does suggest that polls leading up the election may not be telling an accurate story of Trump’s ‘undercover’ level of support.