Tag Archives: presidential election

The Colossal Polling Errors of 1948 and 2016

1948: Dewey Defeats Truman. 2016: Clinton Will Defeat Trump. Both headlines ate crow.

Pollsters incorporate multiple factors when painting a picture of public opinion. (Try not spit in my face when you say that to me in person.) They consider race, gender, geographic location, religious affiliation, community setting, etc. They also need to consider which voters are more likely to show up. The most common method is by phone. Pollsters will hire people to call a bunch of numbers hoping that people will answer. At least a few hundred will. A lot of people don’t answer. I’ve been called by polling agencies a few times. I’ve answered and responded to questions twice.

What is the point of all this? Some of it is intended to feel the pulse of the nation — to see what Americans really want. Of course, a lot of it is to fuel the horse race that is an election. The media cites polls left and right. Some of it ends up influencing people’s votes. People are biased toward winners. FiveThirtyEight rose to prominence as being a polling agency. In 2008, they said Indiana and North Carolina would go for McCain, if I remember correctly. They went for Obama instead. In 2012, their presidential forecast was spot on. A lot of this is that they adjusted their model. They realized that the polls didn’t tell the whole story. There are other factors like the economy and the fact that pollsters can’t reach certain people by phone. They’ve had difficulty reaching Latino voters and people who may not have a phone at all.

In 2016, the polls could not have been much more wrong. FiveThirtyEight had a projection of about a 71.4% chance of Hillary Clinton winning, one of the more conservative estimates. People were betting money on PredictIt.com that Hillary would win, giving her better odds. The LA Times had one of the more accurate predictions. To have the final outcome be off by 3% or even 4% is not uncommon. That’s the margin of error for a lot of these polls. The polls showed Hillary Clinton leading by 4%. She is currently winning the popular vote by only 2%. However, even that lead doesn’t win the presidency. The “how do I explain this to a five-year-old child” system of the Electoral College chooses the victor. FiveThirtyEight was predicting a comfortable win in the electoral vote, maybe even a landslide. They predicted that Clinton would win all the Obama 2008 states except for Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio – 322 electoral votes in total.

Not only were the polls wrong in some of these states, they also had no idea that Donald Trump would steal states from the Democrats. Results in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania showed that Hillary Clinton didn’t just have an Iowa and Ohio problem, she had a Rust Belt problem. The last time a presidential candidate only won two states in the Midwest and won the presidency was 1884. How could the polls be so wrong in states that hadn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since the 1980s? One theory is the “shy Trump” voter avoided expressing support for Trump for fear of judgment by the pollster, but this is crap because this wasn’t a factor in the primaries. What is more likely is that Trump supporters were less likely to answer the phone. Knowing Trump’s impatience, you can see why his supporters would be reluctant to talk to some stranger on the phone for 10-15 minutes. Another issue is that pollsters vastly underestimated the number of working-class whites turning out to vote. Trump ended up winning with 306 electoral votes.

Let’s compare that to 1948. All the polls were saying that the suave Governor Thomas Dewey of New York would defeat the fiery incumbent president Harry Truman. Truman’s own staff members left for other jobs because they didn’t even think he could win. Gallup had Dewey winning the popular vote by 5%. He ended up losing it by 4.5%. In terms of the popular vote, that is clearly a greater upset than the 2016 election. I don’t have much to compare the electoral vote results of 1948 and 2016 as state polling for 1948 is hard to find.

A similarity between both elections is that a swing of 1.25% in three states were all that were needed to change the results. In 1948, those states were Ohio, Illinois, and California.  In 2016, those states were Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania (alternate being Florida). Both elections would result in one party controlling the presidency and Congress. Additionally, polls in both elections showed a tightening race. In 1948, Dewey lost a double-digit lead, but experts still wouldn’t hedge their bets on Dewey. In 2016, FiveThirtyEight showed Hillary dropping from a 7% advantage to a 3.6% advantage.

FiveThirtyEight appeared to hedge its bets more than other predictions did and much more than most firms did in 1948. That still doesn’t excuse the fact that the polls did not capture the whole picture of what was going on the Rust Belt. The site even argued that 2016 probably wouldn’t be a repeat of 1948, and that Trump shouldn’t “bank on a massive polling error.” Earlier this year, polls showed Hillary Clinton winning Michigan’s primary over Bernie Sanders. Bernie ended up taking the state. So, a polling error in the Michigan is not without precedent. It’s almost as if we were supposed to see this coming, but we didn’t. Life goes on. We live and learn.

(Seriously, 2016 though. If I could go back in time, I would put money on DiCaprio, the Cavs, the Cubs, and Trump. How else could I become a millionaire?)

On Trump Winning

First of all, I would like to congratulate Mr. Trump on his victory. It was a tough, brutal campaign, and I am glad that process has come to an end. I am faithful in the legitimacy of the votes, and I am thankful that we will be having a peaceful transition of power.

For months on end, we have viewed Hillary Clinton and/or Donald Trump as a tough pill to swallow. I supported Bernie Sanders in the primary and tepidly supported Hillary Clinton in the general election. I was still absolutely shocked to see that Trump was winning in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

However, this was a huge wake-up call to the Democratic Party. I will admit that my party deserved to lose because we did not do right by the people of these states. We have spent so much time trying to win the votes of wealthy, educated suburbanites that we have taken the working-class citizens of our great country for granted. We have abandoned our progressive roots by supporting unbalanced trade deals and cozying up to big corporations.

My hope is that Trump will adopt a positive and cooperative tone. I hope he will resolve the issues caused by ObamaCare (about which people on both sides of the aisle have complained). I hope he will reform federal education law regarding Common Core and allow schools to do what they do best.

I hope he bridges the deep divides in our country. I have never defriended anyone for being a Trump supporter. If you are a good person who cares about others, that is good enough for me. I hope he cracks down on sexual assault to show that he is serious about his self-professed respect for women. He could also do much of what his daughter Ivanka said he would do at the RNC this summer.

All I have left to say is good luck, Mr. Trump. You are our president-elect now. The world is watching.

Our Real Problem? The Moderate Always Loses

By PATRICK WOOD

In 2010, one midterm election was enough to unseat half of the so called “Blue Dog Democrats” (more moderate/conservative Democrats) from Congress. This statistic is pretty amazing for a few reasons. One, as an advantage of incumbency, members of Congress have extremely high reelection rates. They are reelected roughly 90% of the time. Second, this happened when there wasn’t even a presidential election occurring. People generally don’t give a damn about these elections, voter participation is lower than it is during presidential election years, and one would think this would boost the incumbency advantage for members of Congress.

But 2010 saw blue dog after blue dog fall.

In 2012, the Republican Party flirted with more extreme conservative candidates before nominating Mitt Romney, who struck many as a much more vanilla, centrist choice. Romney was initially perceived as a wise pick, as it was thought he had the greatest chance of appealing to voters who identified as anything other than “very conservative.” Romney ended up losing his bid to Barack Obama, and in truth, the contest wasn’t that close.

This was reminiscent of 2004 when the Democrats did the exact same thing with John Kerry, who mounted an unsuccessful bid to defeat George Bush. “Boring,” “lackluster,” “flip-flopping,” “calculating,” centrist Kerry lost both the popular vote and the electoral vote to a vulnerable incumbent president.

So, who does win elections? Extremists, populists, hard party-liners, and those who appeal to the party’s base. People like Donald Trump. Why? They’re exciting. They bring out their supporters on election day.

For moderates, like Kerry and Clinton, this is much harder to do. Soaring ideals are simply more inspiring than calculating pragmatism.

While more people might align more closely with a moderate and not care for the more extreme candidate, these people need an additional reason to come out to the polls. Their emotions and passions are not stirred by vanilla establishment candidates.

Meanwhile the extreme, populist/demagogic, or hyper-partisan candidate enjoys the advantage of soaking up most of the media attention. We have to concede they’re exciting, and we’re hanging on every word.

So what does this mean? – It’s bad, bad news.

The level of partisanship in Washington is only going to get worse. To illustrate this, take this year’s senatorial elections. The Democrats managed to unseat two Republican senators. Maggie Hassan just barely eeked out a win over Kelly Ayotte, a somewhat moderate Republican from New Hampshire. The only blowout against an incumbent Republican was Tammy Duckworth’s victory over Illinois senator Mark Kirk, the most liberal Republican in the entire Senate.

The moderate always loses in the USA. Senator Kirk had a strong record on LGBT rights, reviled Donald Trump, and voted with the Democrats on numerous issues.

With Kirk gone, are any remaining Republicans going to compromise and work with the Democrats? It seems very unlikely. The Democrats have eliminated their only friend from across the aisle. Expect countless strict party-line votes once the new Congress begins.

While Kirk was defeated, a senator in Wisconsin managed to defy the expectations of forecasters and hold on to his seat in Congress. This man is Ron Johnson, who defeated progressive darling Russ Feingold in the purply/blue state of Wisconsin after suggesting that impeachment motions should be brought immediately if Clinton were to win the presidency.

The extremist wins, the moderate loses, and the country suffers.

Clintrump and You

Let’s face it. We’re looking at the worst presidential election match-up in history — cold, calculated, corrupt Hillary Clinton vs. brash, bombastic, bumbling Donald Trump. I admit it. I’ve thought about voting for a third-party candidate. Jill Stein shares most of my views, but she has some downright implausible ideas. She won’t win. Gary Johnson shares my views on social issues and even some economic issues. He’s positive and seemingly reasonable, but libertarianism is simply too inflexible to respond to changes in our world. My guy was Bernie Sanders but he simply won’t be the nominee. And maybe he would be too soft and get steamrolled by Republicans just like Obama had happen to him.

Now a lot of people are saying the lack of indictment for Hillary Clinton regarding the emails is politically motivated. FBI Director James Comey was a registered Republican but he later said he is no longer so. Perhaps Comey realizes there’s something more important in the greater scheme of things. Perhaps Comey has been so turned off by the idea of Donald Trump becoming president that he left the Republican Party. And maybe that is why he is letting Hillary off the hook. I’m sure Mr. Comey is aware that she is vulnerable to anything that would damage her reputation and such damage would give an edge to Trump.

What I find so perplexing is why so much time is wasted conducting witch-hunts on minor blunders and even victimless crimes. Sure, that is politically motivated. Republicans want to see Hillary fall apart. The death of four Americans at the embassy in Benghazi, Libya, sure doesn’t make Hillary look good. And I haven’t read the emails that the State Department and WikiLeaks released. And sure she shouldn’t have used a private email servers to send and receive classified information. Nevertheless, did storing her emails on a private server threaten national security or aid terrorist efforts? Has anyone died or suffered physically as a result of her using a private server as opposed to that of the State Department? I don’t know. This angle of the story doesn’t seem to reach many people when it should. There seems to be this obsession with the letter of the law when it comes to Hillary.

What I find more troubling about Mrs. Clinton is that she supported the overthrow of dictatorial regimes in Iraq and Libya. Trump recently said that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, despite being a “very bad guy,” was good at killing terrorists. Well, he killed a lot of people because there was no due process and he wanted firm control. Because he was Sunni, the minority Sunnis felt they were important too. With Hussein out of the picture and the majority Shi’ites in control, many Sunnis couldn’t join the military because of their connections to Hussein’s Ba’ath Party. What else were these disaffected Sunnis going to do other than join ISIS? You see, dictators are very bad, inhumane people. However, their rule by predictable terror squashes unpredictable acts of terror.

Libya is similar. Gaddafi was a pretty terrible guy. He wasn’t the kind of guy to take home to mom and dad. Trump even said the U.S. should topple Gaddafi and that it would be very easy. Then, Trump flip-flopped on this issue because he realized this overthrow destabilized Libya. Gaddafi’s demise resulted in a power vacuum, allowing ISIS to establish a colony on the central northern shores of Libya. “Accidentally strengthened terrorist organization” does not look good on a political resumé.

When voting, Americans should know that Clinton and Trump have both made horrible decisions regarding foreign policy. However, a President Trump’s careless, impulsive, and insensitive approach to diplomacy and military interventions would present a greater threat to American national security. He too thought toppling Gaddafi would be a good idea. It hasn’t been good in Libya since. He even said ISIS should be allowed to topple Assad’s regime in Syria. Seriously?! Assad (and the American-backed Kurds) are the only reasons ISIS hasn’t taken over the entire freaking country!

If ISIS were to take over all of Syria, that would strengthen their claim to country status and legitimize them as the new caliphate for Muslims. We can’t do that now when they are losing territory day by day. The Iraqi army is making ISIS fighters retreat like never before. And yet, we’re seeing ISIS commit more terrorist acts as they lose more and more territory. They can only win right now with the element of surprise and hiding in plain sight. We need a strategy that protects us from terrorism. We need to realize that military intervention is not the only option, that Sunnis and Shias are never going to get along in Iraq, that we need a nuanced and conscientious approach that protects the lives of Americans wherever they may be. That includes diplomacy, more responsible nation creation (e.g., a three-state solution dividing Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds), and not toppling dictators just because we can.