WASHINGTON — Donald Trump, billing himself as “Mr. Brexit,” is predicting an electoral upset come Election Day that he boasts will amount to “Brexit times 10.”
The Republican presidential nominee is banking on a populist surge similar to the one that approved Britain's departure from the European Union in June, causing worldwide upheaval.
But even though polls have tightened in the final week of the campaign, Trump — to realize his Brexit dreams — still needs to win states that have voted Democrat in recent elections to overcome Hillary Clinton’s advantage in the Electoral College math.
So the billionaire businessman this week has campaigned in New Mexico, Michigan, and Wisconsin in addition to the usual swing states. Trump is also making a play for the strongly blue-leaning states of Colorado and Pennsylvania as part of a $25 million ad buy.
“There are lots of working-class voters in those states who respond positively to Donald Trump’s message,” said John McLaughlin, a GOP pollster working for Trump. “He’s motivating people. The Clinton campaign often tells people they have a machine. OK, they have a machine, but we got a mob.”
Clinton’s lead has narrowed from an average of more than 5 points just a week ago to less than 2, reflecting the volatility in polling all year. Even so, nonpartisan pollsters and economists dismiss Trump’s hopes of a Brexit-like wave and say his claims of a “silent majority” not being captured in the polls are overblown.
“It’s wishful thinking. It’s storytelling,” said Justin Wolfers, an economist and public policy professor at the University of Michigan. “He needs more than Brexit. If all that happened was a populist surprise seen with the Brexit vote, Donald Trump would still lose the election” because of his Electoral College deficit.
David Rothschild, an economist at Microsoft Research who analyzes polling and prediction markets, said never in the last four presidential election cycles has a candidate down by more than 5 points in any swing state polls come back to win that state. Not to mention the fact that Clinton is dramatically outspending Trump on voter mobilization, a disparity Rothschild said has never existed before.
Trump’s comparisons to
Brexit are correct in only one aspect, Rothschild said: “If he gets elected, there would be a massive economic catastrophe.”
Still, one can see why Trump would visit Michigan as part of his Brexit surprise strategy. Michigan pollster Steve Mitchell said Trump has reason to believe that he could capture some of the state’s older Bernie Sanders supporters who are concerned about trade.
Sanders beat Clinton in Michigan’s primary 50-to-48 in an upset that no polls predicted, winning on his message of “disastrous” trade deals.
The latest Fox 2 Detroit/Mitchell Poll released Wednesday showed Clinton’s edge closing from 7 points to 3 points.
To find out whether a silent Trump base is being missed by pollsters, Mitchell plans to ask poll respondents for the first time Thursday whether voters are afraid to say they support Trump.
“It can be socially unacceptable in some circles to be for Trump because others perceive you to be misogynistic and xenophobic,” Mitchell said. “Trump does better on automated or online polling because they don’t want to tell a live person they are voting for Trump.”
Brexit’s strongest analogy to this country’s presidential campaign is a political one, pollsters say. Voters have been yearning for change, suspicious of globalization, and angry about immigration and declining economic opportunities.
Britain’s referendum resulted in an enormous voter turnout of 72 percent, a figure not seen in a US presidential election since 1900. Turnout in recent decades has hovered in the 50s, with a high of 58 percent of the voting age population in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected, according to The American Presidency Project at UC Santa Barbara..
Nigel Farage, a member of the European Parliament and Brexit champion who reportedly helped coach Trump for the second presidential debate, wrote in the Washington Post that Trump, like Brexit, will mobilize a large number of nonvoters to the polls.
Mitchell said people who don’t usually vote could account for 3 or 4 percent of the electorate in Michigan, and would heavily support Trump.
This week in Michigan, which has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, Trump pronounced the American people “victims of a corrupt system.”
“Trying to flip the upper Midwest with lots of white blue-collar voters doesn’t seem like the worst thing he could do, even if it’s a long shot, because everything else is a longer shot,” said Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll in Wisconsin, where Clinton leads by almost 6 points.
Trump, who was in Scotland touring one of his golf courses during the Brexit vote, has long painted similarities between disgruntled British voters longing to leave the European Union and his campaign’s US supporters.
“I see a big parallel,” Trump said following the vote. “People want to take their country back . . . . They want to take their borders back.
“They want to take a lot of things back,” he said. “So, I think you’re going have this happen more and more. I really believe that, and I think it’s happening in the United States.”
He even raised money off the vote, sending an e-mail appeal to donors praising voters in the United Kingdom for choosing to leave “the flawed and failing European Union and reassert control over their borders, politics and economy, taking a brave stand for freedom and independence.”