Home 2020 Elections Deconstructing Today’s Roanoke Times Op-Ed, “Don’t Be Fooled Virginia, Trump Just Might...

Deconstructing Today’s Roanoke Times Op-Ed, “Don’t Be Fooled Virginia, Trump Just Might Pull Off the Unexpected Here”

In fact, the 2016 polling *nailed it* in Virginia. And the "shy Trump voters" claim seems...shaky.


We’ve previously written about the low quality of the Roanoke Times editorial page – see here, here, here and here, for example. Today, an op-ed by GMU Professor Mark Rozell provides another example of this page’s minimal standards for publication. Let’s deconstruct this hot mess.

  • Professor Rozell argues: “Joe Biden has a strong lead over President Trump in most national polls, and an even bigger lead in the few Virginia polls so far. Four years ago at this time, Hillary Clinton had a strong lead in the national polls, and an even bigger one in several Virginia polls.” – Right, and in the end Hillary Clinton won both the national popular vote *and* Virginia, by 5 points, which is right in the middle of Barack Obama’s 6-point and 4-point wins, in 2008 and 2012 respectively, of Virginia. So…not sure what Rozell’s point is here.
  • “Virginia was more competitive than most had projected.” Wuuuut? In fact, according to RealClear Politics, the final polling average for Virginia had Hillary Clinton up 5.3 points, and she won Virginia by…yep, 5.4 points. In other words, the polls NAILED IT in Virginia. So, no clue what on earth Rozell is talking about here.
  • “With all of that as context, five-percentage points looks like a race that would have been competitive, had the Trump campaign taken Virginia more seriously.” Except that in 2008 and 2012, Obama won Virginia by 6 and 4 points, or an average of…five points, exactly the same as Clinton in 2016. Rozell is really reaching here.
  • “…Virginia was not a contested state then. Trump fired his state campaign manager and then pulled most of his operations out of the state, effectively conceding it to Clinton.”  While it’s true that Virginia wasn’t heavily contested in 2016, it wasn’t by *either campaign*.  For instance,  see here for an article from August 22, 2016 about the Clinton campaign not planning to air ads in Virginia. So why only focus on the Trump campaign not contesting Virginia, when in fact neither campaign did? Weird.
  • “Democrats cannot take Virginia for granted, nor should Republicans easily concede it.” Alrighty then! The fact is, according to the FiveThirtyEight.com polling average of Virginia – which Rozell doesn’t mention – Biden’s up about 11 points over Trump in Virginia. And The Economist model has Biden with a 95% chance of winning Virginia. So sure, if the Trump campaign feels like throwing money away here, go for it!  LOL
  • “After three consecutive presidential wins for the Democrats, and an acceleration of the demographic shifts that turned Virginia Blue, why would anyone now take seriously that Donald Trump can turn Virginia back to Red? On the surface, it doesn’t seem credible.” Correct, it doesn’t seem credible. At all. So why did the Roanoke Times agree to publish this article? Just to be contrarian? Click bait? Any reason that makes any sense, other than “annoying the libs” or whatever?
  • “Trump often outperforms the results of public opinion polls, and sometimes the difference has been substantial.” That “often outperforms” assertion is based on…what exactly? I mean, Trump has competed in a one general election in his life, in 2016. In that election, the polls had Clinton up 3.2 points heading into election day, and she ended up winning the national popular vote by 2.1 points – so one could argue that Trump “overperformed” in that case by 1 point. But that’s just one election – one data point – which statisticians of course know is not a statistically significant sample size. Maybe Rozell’s referring to states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin? But still, that’s the same 2016 presidential election – in which Comey, the Russians, etc. played a major role – so…this claim seems pretty shaky.
  • “Could there be something like what we might call the ‘reverse Wilder effect’ at play, giving Trump a credible chance of winning Virginia, despite what the polls are reporting?…The so-called ‘shy Trump voter’ may be in part what makes Trump more competitive in places where he is expected to lose. It’s a controversial view and impossible to prove, but I suspect there remain many voters secretly supporting Trump while telling friends, relatives, pollsters, whoever directly asks, that they will not vote for him.” This claim seems to be based on a new study, which “finds that Republicans and independents are twice as likely as Democrats to say they would not give their true opinion in a telephone poll question about their preference for president in the 2020 election. That raises the possibility that polls understate support for President Donald Trump.” So it’s theoretically possible. But others have taken issue with this thesis. For instance, see There’s Still No Evidence Trump Voters Are Particularly ‘Shy’ (which calls the theory ” agitprop of those who want to dismiss Biden’s lead, such as Republican pollster Robert Cahaly of the Trafalgar Group”); this by Harry Enten of CNN, which says that “shy Trump voters are likely a myth”; and Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com, who tweeted yesterday,  “While one should always be alert to the possibility of systematic polling errors in either direction, this (alleging that polls are biased by 5-6 points against Trump because of shy Trump voters) is completely insane.” So…probably not?
  • “A lot of very well-informed observers have taken Virginia off the electoral map. Don’t be fooled, Virginia. Trump just might have a fighting chance here.” Not based on anything we’ve seen so far.

Bottom line: the Roanoke Times editorial page’s standards for publication have been questionable for a long time now, and this contrarian op-ed certainly is no exception. It’s embarrassing all around, really…



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