In 2016, the polls were rarely in Donald Trump’s favor. According to most sources, the election was almost certainly going to be won by Hillary Clinton. It did not turn out that way, though, and has led to a theory that there is a silent majority of Trump voters that the polls did not and still do not account for.
If you compare national election polls from the week before the 2016 election to the outcome of the election, one would think that the concept of a silent majority is false. RealClearPolitics’ general election average showed Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote by 3.2 percentage points and in the actual election she won by a similar margin of 2.1 percentage points.
A win is not determined by the popular vote, though. It is determined by the winner of the electoral college, who in 2016 was Donald Trump. So we must look at the states Trump won but Hillary was predicted to win in order to know if the silent majority is real.
Understanding what happened in the key midwest states of Wisconsin (WI), Michigan (MI), and Pennsylvania (PA) is essential to determining the validity of the silent majority. According to FiveThirtyEight, Hillary Clinton had an 83.5 percent chance of winning WI, a 78.9 percent chance of winning MI, and a 77 percent chance of winning PA in 2016. She was also polling +6 in WI, +3 in MI, and +2 in PA. All of these numbers were not true on Election Day, though, when Trump barely carried these 3 battleground states.
Because the polls were not exactly spot on does not mean that there was a silent majority of Trump voters who came out on Election Day in these states. Looking at MI and PA polls, it is clear that Trump’s victory in these two states was conceivable. The margin of error in most polls leading up to Election Day left room for a Trump win. Wisconsin is the only state in this group where the idea of a silent majority is even a bit plausible, given that Trump’s victory wasn’t within the margin of error for most polls.
Another presidential election being less than a month away has brought the concept of the silent majority back into the conversation. Joe Biden is ahead of where Clinton was at this point in most polls, so his chances seem to be significantly stronger than Clinton’s were in 2016. Yes, the polls could fail us and Trump could win again, but his odds aren’t looking too good.
All of this being said, the chance that there is a silent majority of Trump voters across the United States is really slim. They did not come out in 2016 and are even less likely to appear in 2020. We won’t know for sure, though, until all is said and done on November 3rd.