But Trump’s pollsters picked up on hints that it could be there. Instead of reading minds, they asked questions that tried to achieve a similar end. While the public polling that folks like me were consuming focused on one number — the “topline” or “horserace” question — private polling by Trump’s team saw hints of where voters might go based on answers to other questions that got at the heart of Trump’s appeal, according to Trump pollster Adam Geller.
Different questions might elicit more illuminating answers that might get around some of the dreaded “social desirability bias” that makes studying controversial topics so hard. And with nearly 60 percent of Clinton voters saying they’d find it hard to ever respect someone who voted for Trump, you can see why someone might just keep quiet. (One notable trend I saw in the exit polls: College educated white women, a group thought to be ripe for Clinton’s coalition, only broke for her by six points, despite pre-election polling suggesting she had them by historic margins. It’s not hard to imagine these voters being more reluctant to weigh in for Trump.)
This suggests to me that pollsters need to think long and hard about the full suite of questions they are asking, and what questions in addition to the horse race can give a full picture. Polling is an art as well as a science, and the art of crafting good questions is still vital.