- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2016

The pollsters and pundits overwhelmingly thought the British people were going to vote to “Remain” in the European Union, much like the political establishment class is now calling the U.S. presidential race for Hillary Clinton.

They were proved wrong in Britain, and could be proved wrong again with Donald Trump.

“The state of the Clinton-Trump Race: Is it over?” The New York Times wrote on Monday, noting Mr. Trump’s polling deficit has climbed to 8 points behind Mrs. Clinton, and “no modern candidate who has trailed by this much a few weeks after the conventions has gone on to win the presidency.”

Yet, this is unlike any other presidential race in history.

So where do Mr. Trump’s hope for victory and the Brexit vote align?

First, in disaffected, “unpolled” voters.

The Brexit vote had a historic turnout, with 2.8 million new voters who hadn’t cast a ballot since the 1980s — or ever — overwhelmingly turning out to vote “Leave.” No one anticipated these “new voters,” or their behavior, in the polling models.

“Many models, like ours, were based on the assumption that turnout was likely to be similar to last year’s general election and on the fact that past increases in turnout … were relatively evenly split in terms of how the additional voters cast their ballots,” wrote Matt Singh, a pollster for Bloomberg, on why the Brexit polls were wrong. “This time, however, turnout increased with an unprecedented skew … This suggests that Brexiters won by mobilizing millions of supporters who never normally vote, whereas the ‘remain’ side got almost no net benefit.”

Mr. Trump is betting on these same disaffected, apolitical, voters to turnout for him — and that the current polls are underestimating them.

Mr. Trump needs to mobilize and register the 43 percent of American voters who sat out last cycle. His team has hired the data targeting firm, Cambridge Analytica, who got the Brexit message to the millions.

The pundits in Britain also overestimated undecided voters — believing they were more likely to choose the status quo than its radical alternative. That was not the case. Mr. Trump continually beats Mrs. Clinton in the polls as a change agent.

The political elite were also cocky in their position — calling leave voters “bigots” “xenophobes,” and “racists,” much like Mr. Trump’s supporters are called today.

Donald Trump’s supporters know exactly what he stands for: hatred of immigrants, racial superiority, a sneering disregard of the basic civility that binds a society,” a New York Times columnist wrote.

So it’s no wonder why Mr. Trump is doing better in online polls — where voters can show anonymity — than in telephoned surveys. The same proved true in Brexit.

Mrs. Clinton leads Mr. Trump by only five points in the latest Ipsos/Reuters Poll, which is taken online, and has a three point margin of error. Last week, the poll had them within the margin of error.

“We think there’s a big hidden Trump vote in this country,” said Kellyanne Conway, a longtime Republican pollster and now Trump campaign manager said this month, adding Mr. Trump’s internal polls project “tighter” results in battleground states.

Mr. Trump’s messaging is also similar to Brexit — fighting against the political establishment and for the interests of blue-collar workers who have been hurt economically by global trade and immigration policies.

Even though Mr. Trump’s sinking nationally in the polls, his ability to connect with what most voters are feeling, still holds.

A Bloomberg News poll released last week found that 56 percent of respondents felt Mr. Trump’s message — one of “the U.S. is in a dark and dangerous place, with threats from overseas and within our borders,” beat Mrs. Clinton’s more positive tone by 16 percentage points.

Critics will argue the British population is overwhelmingly white compared to the more diverse American populace, therefore a comparison between the Brexit vote and Mr. Trump’s shot at victory can’t be compared. They are correct about the demographics, but wrong about Mr. Trump’s chances. His path to victory has never been winning the Hispanic or black vote by wide margins — it’s through the Rust Belt.

If he can get enough of these white, middle-class voters turned out — along with the white, educated vote — he has a shot.

Which leads me to the temperament issue.

The one difference between Brexit and the Mr. Trump analogy is those in Briton weren’t voting for a person, but a referendum. Mr. Trump has the added hurdle of convincing the populace he’s a serious contender, a plausible commander-in-chief, who can be trusted with the nation’s nuclear codes.

That’s his challenge in the next 80 days.

• Kelly Riddell is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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