Polls. All of them. They were wrong.
Many Americans were left aghast on Nov. 8 when Donald Trump claimed a historic upset in defeating Hillary Clinton to be the next president of the United States.
The day before Election Day, according to RealClearPolitics, only two polls out 21 were projecting a win for Trump.
But as we all saw the election results stream in, the polls completely missed what was actually going on in the country.
Nate Silver’s ‘FiveThirtyEight,’ which had accurately predicted the results of all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia in 2012, had given Clinton a 70 percent chance of winning on Election Day.
Two of the nation’s most trusted newspapers, The New York Times and the Washington Post, got it completely wrong as well.
Moody’s Analytics model, which had accurately predicted the winner of every U.S. presidential race since Ronald Reagan in 1980, had Clinton winning in an electoral landslide.
Sam Wang, the widely-lauded pollster behind the Princeton Election Consortium website, was so confident of a Clinton win that he tweeted:
It is totally over. If Trump wins more than 240 electoral votes, I will eat a bug. https://t.co/3eefhWzI3y— Sam Wang (@SamWangPhD) October 19, 2016
On Election Day, as the results in favor of Trump rolled in, Wang wrote that he was getting ready for “bug-cookery”, saying that, “the polls were off, massively."
The result underscores how badly modern polls serve us.
Polling is an enormous, lucrative, and influential industry. But Trump’s victory shows how unreliable polls can be at predicting our political futures.
Throughout the election campaign, Trump repeatedly dismissed polls when they showed him trailing Clinton.
"I do think a lot of polls are purposefully wrong," he said in an appearance on "Fox and Friends." "I think I can almost tell you by the people that do it. The media is very dishonest, extremely dishonest, and I think a lot of polls are phony.”
Surrogates for Trump repeatedly quoted online surveys that showed Trump more support than the mainstream polls suggested, saying that the polls did not take into account what they called “shy” Trump voters.
One unnamed Republican told Politico, “I personally know many Republicans that won't admit that they are voting for Trump. I don't like admitting it myself.”
Therein lies the rub.
Throughout his campaign, Trump was mired in controversies of his own making, from his proposed Muslim ban, and referring to Mexicans as rapists, to questioning a Mexican judge’s impartiality because of his heritage, and the Access Hollywood tape that showed him bragging about groping women.
The media focused on his racist and misogynistic remarks while largely ignoring how much his message on trade and the economy was resonating with the voters.
Trump’s toxic rhetoric troubled large swaths of the American electorate, but at the same time, his message about trade, of being an outsider and a challenger to the status quo, made sense to voters, especially in the Rust Belt.
Being a Trump supporter was equated to being a racist and misogynist. It didn’t help that Clinton, too, referred to his supporters as a “basket of deplorables” during a speech at a fundraiser. The taboo that was created around supporting Trump became the underlying reason for voters to hide which candidate they were actually considering voting for, which shows the Achilles heel of the polling industry.
The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Presidential Election Daybreak Poll, which debuted in July was one of only two polls that projected a Trump victory on the eve of the election.
Media observers largely dismissed the poll as an outlier as it differed form traditional political surveys.
The poll tracked a specific panel of voters and monitored their shift over time. The results, updated nightly, were based on a seven-day rolling average. The numbers showed Trump winning throughout the poll’s run.
Back in March, Amy Goodman of "Democracy Now" questioned the value of polls on an appearance with CNN’s Brian Stelter and suggested that the media do away with the polls altogether and focus on “weighing the records” of the candidates.
Goodman may have a point.
Without the polls being the main talking point of media discussions, perhaps the voters would get a clearer picture of what each candidate stands for rather than simply obsessing with the horse race.
Banner Photo: Reuters