Is Trump sitting on secret support?

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Donald Trump speaks during the CNN presidential debate at The Venetian Las Vegas on Dec. 15, 2015.

A CURRENT THEORY regarding Donald Trump suggests he actually has more support than is reflected in polls that show him leading the Republican race for president.

The theory says that some - maybe many - voters won't tell pollsters they'd vote for a candidate often labeled liar, bigot or fascist and compared to Mussolini and Hitler.

But, for whatever reason - disgust with traditional pols, anti-immigrant anger, growing fear of homeland terrorism, belief that, "Hey, we tried everything else" - maybe many are indeed willing to vote for the Donald.

Could be anecdotal, could be nonsense. But something's benefiting Trump.

A Monmouth University poll this week has him leading the GOP field with 41 percent of Republican voters. His closest rival is Ted Cruz, at 14 percent.

Six months ago, in the same poll, Trump was at 2 percent, "undecided" led with 20 percent, Scott Walker was at 10 percent and Jeb Bush was at 9 percent.

Now "undecided" is just 6 percent, Walker's gone and Bush is at 3 percent.

Yeah, national polls need to be viewed in the context of time and the fact that there are no national primaries. But they still offer a sense of the moment.

And there's no denying that the moment is Trump's.

Even if Trump's slipping in Iowa while Cruz gains there, just remember that Iowa is an electoral nonentity, pimped and pumped up by too many in media.

Know how many Republicans won contested Iowa caucuses over the last 40 years and then went on to win the White House?

One. In 10 election cycles. George W. Bush, 2000.

But back to the question: Are some Trump supporters hiding out?

I ran it by Neil Newhouse, co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies, a prominent national GOP polling firm that worked for Mitt Romney in 2012.

"Ha," he says, "I'm not sure that fits with the folks supporting Trump . . . seems like most wear their support with pride!"

No argument, but could something else going on?

Newhouse concedes there might be an "under-represented" Trump vote due to conventional polling schemes.

Most good pollsters use patterns and voters in past GOP primaries to build their samples. But, says Newhouse, "I think it's entirely possible" Trump is attracting voters who never participated in primaries.

I ask Tim Malloy, a director of Quinnipiac University polling, about Trump's stealth voters. He tells me: "You may be right. You may be crazy."

He actually thinks Trump could have less support than polling shows.

A Q-poll earlier this month, which also had Trump well ahead, asked the question: "Is your mind made up?" Trump's support softened: 46 percent of his backers said their minds are made up, but 53 percent said they "might change."

So there's that.

A piece in the Atlantic last week said Trump is on track to do much better than his detractors think.

A main reason: His lead in "live" (telephone or face-to-face) polls is often in single digits, while his lead in Internet/automated polls is in double digits.

In other words, as one political consultant put it, "People don't lie to machines."

If so, Trump might benefit from a reverse "Wilder effect."

Doug Wilder, you may recall, was running for governor of Virginia in 1989 with a double-digit lead; on Election Day, a Mason-Dixon poll had him up 10 points.

But Wilder, who is black, won by less than 1 percentage point, the discrepancy largely attributed to voters being reluctant to tell pollsters they wouldn't vote for an African-American.

(Originally this was the "Bradley effect." L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley, also black, led in polls in the 1982 race for California governor, but lost.)

So are some voters not telling pollsters that they would vote for Trump?

In an election cycle like nobody's seen, all things seem plausible.

Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

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