U.S. Election: Why Did the Polls and Pundits Get It So Wrong?

This week, I had been scheduled to write a post about whether the polls got the U.S. election results right. But I never expected the discrepancy to be this large. No one did.

Just last week, I wrote a post about how Hillary Clinton’s best secret weapon is big data. And I was so wrong. Data analysis was heralded as the next big thing in campaign management, but it wasn’t enough to help her win the Presidency.


What was missing from Clinton’s campaign? 

Authenticity. Story-telling. Human-to-human impact.

While watching the election coverage on Tuesday night, I heard time and time again the Trump supporters giving the same reasons for voting for him:

“He tells it like it is.”

“With Hillary you can’t know what’s real.”

People simply didn’t believe Clinton. Instead, they believed Trump, who unapologetically spoke his mind.

Despite how outrageous the statements he made were, Trump’s candidness made people believe that if they voted for him, he would keep his promises. They believed that he would truly work to change the American economy and to improve national security.

Clinton did not have a coherent message of change – instead she preached a promise to keep the status quo in terms of policies, and most Democrats assumed this was enough to win over the general public.


Source: Marc Hatot via Pixabay


So what did all the pollsters and political journalists miss?

How disconnected so many liberals are from the average American. Everyone realized there were differences between the urban areas and rural areas in the U.S, but few in the liberal, urban classes realized that tensions were so high that people were willing to take a risk with Trump – that they were looking to roll-the-dice on the off chance that there would be positive change in the country under President Trump.

Pollsters and political pundits thought everyone was on the same page – that everyone believed Clinton’s promise to maintain the status quo was enough to sway voters away from Trump’s bigoted statements.

Most political commentators completely misjudged just how big this culture war in America is right now. They failed to see just how willing voters were to ignore the scandals surrounding Trump in order to show their frustration with the political establishment.


How should we be looking at exit polls?

Before jumping to conclusions about all the statistics coming out after the election, we must recognize that exit polls are just that – polls. Here’s the Merriam-Webster definition of an exit poll:

“A poll taken (by news media) of voters leaving the voting place”

We all now know how flawed the pre-election polls were, so we must look at the following data with caution. There seems to have been a huge silent majority of people who were scared of being criticized for their Trump vote and did not participate in many polls. In fact, one polling firm called Susquehanna Polling & Research Inc. said Trump performed better when voters were talking to a automated voice instead of a live one.

This skewed the results of many pre-election polls, and probably also skewed the results of exit polls.

Nevertheless, here are some exit poll stats. Again, take these with a grain of salt – many of these are broad conclusions based on only a fraction of voters.


Infographic created by author (Jessica Drozd). Data Source: New York Times Exit Poll


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