Polls missed sup­port for Trump


US sur­vey com­pa­nies and me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions that col­lec­tively pre­saged a close Hil­lary Clin­ton vic­tory now face an au­topsy on how they got it so wrong af­ter a year suf­fused by polls, ag­gre­gates of polls and even real-time pro­jec­tions of the vote on Elec­tion Day.

While the pre­dic­tions gave some ob­servers a sooth­ing sense of cer­tainty, ac­tual vot­ers still pos­sessed the ca­pac­ity to shock. Don­ald Trump’s com­mand­ing per­for­mance de­fied the fi­nal sur­veys of the Amer­i­can elec­torate, which broadly pre­dicted a Clin­ton win of 2 to 4 per­cent­age points.

Fi­nal tal­lies by CBS News, FiveThir­tyEight, Fox News, Wall Street Jour­nal-NBC News and Wash­ing­ton PostABC News all pre­dicted a rel­a­tively safe 4-point win for Clin­ton.

Only slightly less wrong were polls by Bloomberg Pol­i­tics and New York Times’s Up­shot, which es­ti­mated a Clin­ton vic­tory by 3 points. Ras­mussen Re­ports called for a 2-point Clin­ton tri­umph.

A few got it right: The USC/ Los Angeles Times Day­break track­ing poll and The In­vestor’s Busi­ness Daily-Tech­noMet­rica Mar­ket In­tel­li­gence poll were among the rare out­fits to call the elec­tion for Trump, by 3 and 2 points, re­spec­tively.

The Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and the LA Times poll had given Trump a sig­nif­i­cant chance to win over the past four months. The news­pa­per noted that it ad­justed polling data to weight it in a “best case sce­nario” for Trump, un­like other news out­lets that may have un­der­es­ti­mated Trump sup­port­ers.

“It’s harder and harder to poll to­day, to get a sam­ple that looks like the elec­torate,” said Kar­lyn Bow­man, a pub­lic opin­ion an­a­lyst at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute in Wash­ing­ton. “We’ve seen epic fails.”

“The anger is stronger than any of us re­ally ex­pected,” said Me­gan Greene, chief econ­o­mist at Man­ulife As­set Man­age­ment in Bos­ton, which han­dles money for in­sti­tu­tional in­vestors such as pen­sions and foun­da­tions.

In the US, ques­tions linger about how to slice the elec­torate and how to weight un­der­rep­re­sented de­mo­graph­ics — whether by eth­nic­ity or lo­ca­tion or po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion — while Amer­i­cans in­creas­ingly with­draw from sur­vey par­tic­i­pa­tion and view poll­sters them­selves through a po­lit­i­cal lens.

Peter Wool­ley, a professor of com­par­a­tive pol­i­tics at Fair­leigh Dick­in­son Uni­ver­sity in Florham Park, New Jersey, said a key part of the dif­fer­ence be­tween ex­pec­ta­tions and the re­sults was that peo­ple sim­ply ex­pected sur­veys to be too pre­cise. Wool­ley is a past di­rec­tor of the PublicMind polling in­sti­tute at the uni­ver­sity.

“Polling is a sci­en­tific method to ar­rive at an es­ti­mate,” he said early Wed­nes­day. “We tend to over-re­port the ac­cu­racy of the poll, and tend to for­get very quickly that it’s an es­ti­mate within a range.”

J. Ann Selzer, an Iowa poll­ster who con­ducts sur­veys for Bloomberg Pol­i­tics, said her trade en­tered un­charted ter­ri­tory this year as it at­tempted to deal with the spread of wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion and a de­mo­graph­i­cally volatile elec­torate.

“There was a lot of ex­per­i­ment­ing this year with the types of ques­tions they were us­ing, the types of method­olo­gies they were us­ing,” she said in an in­ter­view at Bloomberg News head­quar­ters in New York. “There’s the con­tin­u­ing bar­rier of the lack of lan­d­lines, the ero­sion of lan­d­lines. In the old days, if we knew your land­line phone num­ber we knew where you lived and that was fan­tas­tic for poll­sters. Now it’s very dif­fi­cult.”

Turn­ing points in the race hap­pened at poorly timed mo­ments, she said.

“Day by day, things hap­pened that would break the poll that was cur­rently in the field,” she said. “Even since Sun­day, when most polls were done, things changed.”

Poll­sters have got­ten some rel­a­tively un­de­served crit­i­cism. The UK’s June vote to leave the Euro­pean Union, of­ten called a sur­prise re­sult, ac­tu­ally was largely deemed too close to call by opin­ion polls. While mar­kets priced in a vote for “Re­main”, tra­di­tional tal­lies were much closer to the end re­sult for a Brexit win.

Bow­man of the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute said ev­ery pre­cept must be re-ex­am­ined.

“I don’t think the busi­ness is par­tic­u­larly in­tro­spec­tive, but it needs to be go­ing for­ward,” she said. “This has been a busi­ness that’s told us so much about Amer­ica. ... To lose that go­ing for­ward would be a real prob­lem.”

Day by day, things hap­pened that would break the poll that was cur­rently in the field.” J. Ann Selzer, Iowa poll­ster

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