Election Polls Underestimated Donald Trump Across Most of the Country

Well, the tallies from the 2016 Presidential Election are now finalized and the results certified. So, it’s official. Despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by approximately 2.9 million votes, Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States after securing 304 votes in the Electoral College.

I don’t think this outcome was ever seriously in doubt since the election on November 8th. So, let’s move on to the other reason why it matters that all the votes have now been counted up and certified.

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The Problem isn’t that Polling is Unscientific. It’s that Democracy Itself is Unscientific

In the wake of Donald Trump’s surprising victory in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, there’s been a lot of discussion in the news about what might have gone wrong this year with public opinion polling, which clearly did not foresee this outcome.

Most polls showed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton holding onto a slim but steady lead for most of the election cycle. During the week prior to the election, the Real Clear Politics polling average showed Clinton with roughly a 3 point lead in the national polls. Furthermore, on the morning of the election, most major forecasting sites pegged Clinton’s chances of winning at 85% or higher (My forecast and that of FiveThirtyEight were two exceptions. We each gave Trump slightly better chances, at around 25-30%).

But a Clinton victory was not to be. For whatever reason (and we will likely not have a definitive and satisfying answer to this for months), polls underestimated Trump’s support in several key regions of the country. Specifically, Clinton lost in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, despite the fact that polling averages showed her up in these states by 1.9 points, 3.4 points, and 6.5 points, respectively. Clinton does seem poised to win the popular vote, if that’s any consolation to her supporters. But she’ll become the 5th presidential candidate in history to lose the Electoral College despite winning the popular vote.

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How Did the Polls and Forecasters Get it all so Wrong?

Well, I guess I picked the wrong year to get interested in forecasting presidential elections.

As we all know by now, Republican nominee Donald Trump has been elected the 45th President of the United States, with 279 electoral votes and roughly 47% of the popular vote.

However, my statistical model, which was based on national and state-level polls, suggested Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would be the likely winner. Going into election day, I estimated she had about a 75% chance of coming out on top.

forecast_11-8-16

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