- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 1, 2020

President Trump’s rallies, pandemic or no pandemic, continue to attract boisterous, energetic crowds — supporters who represent just the tip of an ignored majority that the president says will deliver a second term this week.

Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden, meanwhile, draws smaller and quieter crowds, often to drive-in rallies where supporters are socially distanced and voice their approval with car horns.

He says crowd size doesn’t matter because there is a quarantined majority of Americans who are eager to oust Mr. Trump and are more likely to heed the advice of health officials about wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings to protect against COVID-19.

Polling suggests Mr. Biden is correct.

Most national surveys show Mr. Biden running away with the election, though a few suggest a closer race, similar to the one in 2016 when Mr. Trump lost the popular vote but won the White House after maximizing support in key Rust Belt states.

Now, with some of Mr. Trump’s crowds topping 10,000 — even as COVID-19 resurges — analysts are pondering whether Trump lightning might strike twice.

The president certainly thinks so.

He insisted at a recent rally that crowd size was a good barometer for voter turnout, and that’s bad news for Mr. Biden.

“They say the fact that he has nobody at all show up is because of COVID,” Mr. Trump said. “No, it’s because nobody shows up. And I think that’s the ultimate poll.”

Brian Klein, who has been selling Trump flags, hats and shirts at the Hillside Flea Market in Shepherd, Michigan, told The Washington Times in September that some Trump backers are still reluctant to air their preference.

“I have people who will buy stuff from me, but they will not buy a sign because they said, ‘I don’t want to put it in my yard and have my neighbors harass me,’ and I’ve had some people say they wouldn’t buy a hat because of that,” Mr. Klein said. “But I still sell a lot of hats.”

Still, Trump fans are more vocal than they were in 2016.

“They are becoming more and more bold … and I think you are going to see conservatives coming out in record numbers this year,” he said, dismissing polls showing Mr. Biden as the front-runner.

“They said the same thing last time,” he said. “Clinton had it in the bag, they said. What happened to that? I have a hard time believing there are that many people excited about Biden.”

One of the more vocal Trump backers is Doug Miller, whose wife bought him a Trump flag that he started flying from the bed of his truck this summer — not far from a “TRUMP 2020 [expletive] YOUR FEELINGS” sticker on his back driver’s side window.

“The older I get, the less I care about people’s feelings,” Mr. Miller, a welder, said in a mall parking lot in Mount Pleasant. “Before, I was always tiptoeing around stuff. Now I give a [expletive] less. You don’t like my flag, walk away.”

Mr. Miller chuckled over a social media post he saw gauging support based on yard signs in central and northern Michigan.

Trump signs were the most popular, Mr. Miller said. “Yard sale signs were next. Then it was corn for sale. Then firewood signs and then Biden signs.

“So, you know yard sales, corn and firewood for sale up here in the north are ahead of Biden,” he said with a smile.

Robert Cahaly, a pollster and political consultant who is the founder of the Trafalgar Group, is helping fuel questions with a series of polls showing Mr. Trump running stronger in battleground states than conventional wisdom suggests.

“These polls are predominantly missing the hidden Trump vote — what is referred to as the shy Trump voters,” Mr. Cahaly said recently on Fox News.

“I definitely think it is going to be a surprise,” he told The Washington Times last week. “I think people just lie to pollsters.”

In that sense, it’s a repeat of 2016, when most pollsters missed some Trump voters and predicted a Hillary Clinton win. Trafalgar was one of the few to spot the Trump trend.

But John Couvillon, founder of JMC Analytics and Polling, doubts the notion of masses of uncounted Trump voters ready to surprise again. He described hidden 2016 Trump supporters as apolitical voters who came off the sidelines to back the Republican.

Those who backed Mr. Trump last time are unlikely to be silent now, he said, and he doubts there will be another wave.

“If you were not enthusiastic to vote for Trump the first time, how could one logically say they will show up this time?” he said.

That is exactly what Biden backers see.

“My experience is the Trump voter will not only tell you he is for Trump, but he will also tell you why, and he will insult you if you are not for Trump,” said Thomas Rath, a veteran Republican operative in New Hampshire who has already voted for Mr. Biden. “They are not shy. There is an in-your-face quality of it.”

That was apparent over the weekend.

Trumpers in Minnesota tried to drown out Mr. Biden’s message by blowing whistles and horns and ringing cowbells. In Texas, vehicles flying Trump flags harassed a bus on a highway carrying supporters campaigning on behalf of Mr. Biden to the point that the Democratic campaign canceled the event where they were headed.

Crowd size may be a way of gauging intensity, but Kevin Madden, a Republican Party consultant who worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, said it isn’t a good yardstick for voter turnout and support, particularly against the backdrop of COVID-19, which has changed attitudes about attending big campaign events.

“Armchair activism is their default,” Mr. Madden said of Biden backers. “Send in a bit of money to help Biden and prioritize their mail-in ballot. That’s how they’re currently rallying, and you see it in Biden’s fundraising totals and early vote metrics.”

• Alex Swoyer contributed to this report.

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