New Research on ‘Shy Voters’ in 2020: Trump, Race, and More

Third Morning Consult Mode Study Reveals Whether Social Desirability Bias Is Affecting Polling in the 2020 General Election and Major Issues

Morning Consult

WASHINGTON — SEPTEMBER 21, 2020 — Morning Consult, the leader in global data intelligence, is releasing its third mode study to determine whether there are “shy Trump” voters this election cycle, as the president himself has suggested.

This year’s study builds on the company’s landmark report from the 2015 primaries and its follow up study ahead of the 2016 general election. To test whether polls are underestimating President Trump’s support, Morning Consult asked 2,400 likely voters to answer a set of demographic questions online and then each respondent was randomly assigned to answer an identical series of political, economic and societal questions either online interviews or by live telephone interview. By comparing these live telephone interviews with online responses, Morning Consult was able to identify whether respondents were less likely to share their true opinion on sensitive issues with a live telephone interviewer, an effect known as social desirability bias.

While the study found that there’s no evidence the the president’s support is underestimated because of “shy Trump voters,” there are “shy voters” when it comes to the big issues of 2020, including discrimination, protesters, and personal finances. On the phone, voters were significantly more likely to say there’s discrimination against a wide range of groups (including Black, Hispanic, Jewish and LGBTQ Americans) and less likely to say protesters of police shootings are violent or that they’re falling behind on their bills.

“Our findings suggest voters are much less likely to disclose potentially sensitive information about themselves, share controversial opinions or disclose socially undesirable views when they are speaking with someone on the phone than when they are answering anonymously online,” said Dr. Kyle Dropp, co-founder and chief research officer for Morning Consult. “As America has and continues to face a reckoning on race this year, it’s worth noting the consistency of differences in discrimination found across the board.” 

Key findings from this year’s study include:

  • Among all likely voters, former Vice President Joe Biden and President Trump receive a similar level of support online and via phone. Biden received 55 percent support to Trump’s 45 percent support among those who took the survey online and Biden received 56 percent support to Trump’s 44 percent among phone respondents.
    • While there’s a slight difference across income levels (42 percent of voters earning $75k+/yr support President Donald Trump via phone interview vs. 52 percent online), the differences don’t reach statistical significance, so there’s no evidence the president’s support is underestimated because of “shy voters.
  • Phone respondents were more likely to say there is more discrimination against Black Americans, gays and lesbians, Hispanics, Muslims and Jewish people. Christians were the only group with no statistically significant difference between phone and online responses.
  • Voters are more likely to say the protesters are peaceful on the phone and more likely to say they are violent when they answer online.
  • Across income brackets (and directionally, at higher levels among higher income brackets), respondents are more likely to admit to personal financial challenges through online surveys than they are to admit them on the phone. These results have significant implications for how economic data is interpreted amid what some economists are calling a “K-shaped economic recovery,” calling into question the ability for phone surveys to accurately capture the details of Americans’ financial situations.

In addition to Morning Consult’s continued research on the “shy voter” effect, the company also surveys more than 4,500 likely voters across the country every single day, including in key battleground states for its Morning Consult Political Intelligence platform, the largest unified dataset on elections, politicians, world leaders, and policy issues in the world.

About Morning Consult

Morning Consult is a global data intelligence company delivering insights on what people think in real time. By surveying tens of thousands across the globe every single day, Morning Consult is unmatched in scale and speed: It determines the true measure of what people think and how their decisions impact business, politics and the economy. Industry leaders rely on Morning Consult’s proprietary technology and analysis for real-time, intelligent data to transform information into a competitive advantage.


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