Don’t count Trump out: Pollster who got 2016 right says 2020 is too close to call | Mulshine

Posted Jun 18, 2020

A couple of weeks before the 2016 presidential election, I wrote a column on a guy from Bergen County who has a well-deserved reputation as the most accurate predictor of presidential elections in this century.

At the time, Raghavan Mayur disagreed with his fellow pollsters who saw a Hillary Clinton victory in the offing. He told me that his polls said things were looking up for Donald Trump.

"You've got to keep in mind the intensity of Democrats is not as high as what Trump has," he said at the time. "Clinton is not able to excite the base as much as Obama was able to."

That’s Barack Obama, of course. In 2012, it was the Republicans who were overconfident about Mitt Romney’s chances of beating him.

Mayur’s Ramsey-based TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence Poll called that one correctly as well.

That was why he exuded confidence when I spoke to him in 2016 - even though other top pollsters had The Donald down by 8 points or more.

"Typically what happens is that I lead the polls," he said just before that 2016 election. "They follow me."

When I filed that column, my fellow deep thinkers at The Star-Ledger asked me if I really wanted to run it. They warned me I’d look like a fool when the inevitable Clinton coronation occurred.

I said I’d take my chances. And when the numbers came in on Nov. 8, Trump shocked pretty much every expert except Mayur.

When I called Mayur the other day, he told me things are shaping up in a similar pattern for Trump’s race against former vice president Joe Biden.

Once again most polls have The Donald down by eight or more percentage points. (This Politico piece argues the polls may be biased against Trump.)

Mayur has him down by a mere three points. Once again the reason is voter enthusiasm.

“I see the intensity of support for Trump is much higher than the intensity of support for Biden,” said Mayur. “That tells me it’s not a done deal.”

Mayur said that, regardless of who wins, he expects the margin of victory to be “razor-thin.”

It’s true that Trump had a comfortable lead in the Electoral College last time around, but he won some key states by margins of 50,000 or less.

Any chance Trump had of a runaway victory disappeared in the last few months, said the India-born graduate of NJIT and Rutgers.

Back in February, he recalled, Trump was in great shape. The economy was booming and unemployment was reaching record lows.

Then two disasters struck: The coronavirus pandemic and the reaction to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop.

“The Floyd-related racial tensions are not helping Trump,” he said. “He tried to emphasize law and order but he came across as being too tough.”

Meanwhile the economy is in the dumps thanks to coronavirus and Biden is benefiting from that.

“The wind is against Trump right now and Biden is not being tested at all,” he said.

But Biden has his own problems, he said - a potential enthusiasm gap, particularly among the younger voters who became so prominent in the recent protests as well as the campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

“Since Biden comes from entirely a different generation he tends to use vocabulary from a different generation, like ‘malarkey,’” he said. “Then there was that weird remark in New Hampshire about a ‘lying, dog-faced pony soldier.’”

Biden later explained that the expression he used on a 21-year-old college student who had asked a simple question came from a John Wayne movie. It didn’t. But even if it did, it would be weird.

Meanwhile Trump can say – or Tweet – the most outrageous things and it actually helps him with his base. That base makes up about 44 percent of the voting public, Mayur said.

That’s where enthusiasm comes in, said Mayur.

“Trump’s approval rating of 42 to 44 percent is very stable,” he said. “When the election comes it will still be around 44 percent.”

Of course Trump has to get over 50 percent in the key swing states that decide presidential elections these days. But if his base shows show up to vote and the Democrats don’t, that could put The Donald over the top, Mayur said.

And the Democrats have another big problem: The Electoral College. In the last cycle Clinton had a victory margin totaling more than 5 million votes in New York and California. But you only have to win by one vote to get all of a state’s electoral votes.

The rest make for good poll results but not necessarily an Electoral College victory.

“The Democrats have been disappointed with this ever since Al Gore lost in 2000,” he said. “But those are the rules of the game.”

They are indeed. And this year it promises to be a very good one.

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