Stream: Why The Polls Stunk Up The Place


Today’s post is at the Stream: Why The Polls Stunk Up The Place.

Boy, were the pros’ polls and predictions lousy. And not just lousy, malodorous. And worse than malodorous, embarrassing. Let’s see.

The LA Times on the 6th put out a “final” election map giving Hillary 352 electoral votes. Ouch.

Famed pollster Frank Luntz as late as 6:43 PM EST yesterday tweeted, “In case I wasn’t clear enough from my previous tweets: Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States. #ElectionNight” Pretty clear, Frank, pretty clear.

A pollster with even more elite cred, Nate Silver, has been unequivocal all the way. Hillary would win, he said, with varying, precise numerical probabilities, always large. The most he would concede was that his last models showed “more uncertainty,” but that “Clinton will probably win anyway.”

The totals are still not final as of this writing, but it looks like Trump might win the popular vote, too. Yet most polls (on Monday) had Hillary up by at least 2 points, with some as many as 6. Only the IBD and LA Times tracking polls had Trump besting Hillary. You wonder if at the Times the tracking poll people were on speaking terms with electoral-college-prediction people.

The New York Times started the day yesterday giving Hillary more than an 80% chance of winning the election.

Some of the state polls make for high comedy. Poll averages had Hillary up by 2 in Pennsylvania, and she lost by 1, a significant swing. Hillary was supposed to win by 7 in Wisconsin. She lost by 3, an enormous turnaround.

We could go on, but there’s no reason. The performance of our elite media was a bust. Why?


All the rest is there.


  1. Rob

    Why is easy – people lie to pollsters if they think they will be vilified. The media spent the entire campaign vilifying not just Trump, but everyone who supported him.

    For some reason, polling organisations seem to have forgotten (if they ever knew) that people like to look good when someone else asks them a question. Every piece of survey research mentions this – so why do polling organisations miss it? It only takes 2-3% of the people being asked (with the stupidly small sample sizes that is just 30 people, before any weighting) not wanting the snotty look or stunned silence from the questioner and, bingo, the poll is complete rubbish. And that is before all of your other – well documented – statistical issues, Matt.

  2. Not to worry, scientistism still prevails.

    The conservative groups who said the pollsters were wrong (and now have shown to be wrong) are saying things like, “We need to analyze the exit polls to see how (say) Trump secured the evangelical vote.”

    Huh!?! The pollsters blew it and now you are relying on the exit polls they produced.

    Some things never change.

  3. Rich

    If I understood Nate Silver’s explanation then, because it would have taken only one percent of Trump supporters to have voted for Hillary for her to have one then their predictions weren’t far out at all.

    I may not have understood him of course.

  4. Rich

    “won” dammit! “won”.

  5. John B()

    I had a co-worker/friend and his wife over for a birthday celebration.
    We work in Computer/Software field.

    My wife remarked that she had to buy some statistics book for me.
    They said, “oh, have you read Nate Silver’s the Signal and the Noise.
    Nate predicts Hillary will win.”

    I smiled and said “my guy” doesn’t think much about Nate and mentioned how Nate had said the Cubbies had less of a chance than Trump.

    They said something about predicting sports is different from politics.
    I smiled.

  6. Ken

    Marcus Tullius Cicero lived to about 43 BC. His observations then about Rome seem like remarks people make today:

    I wonder that a soothsayer doesn’t laugh whenever he sees another soothsayer.

    Do not blame Caesar, blame the people of Rome who have so enthusiastically acclaimed and adored him and rejoiced in their loss of freedom and danced in his path and gave him triumphal processions. Blame the people who hail him when he speaks in the Forum of the ‘new, wonderful good society’ which shall now be Rome, interpreted to mean ‘more money, more ease, more security, more living fatly at the expense of the industrious.’

    The national budget must be balanced. The public debt must be reduced; the arrogance of the authorities must be moderated and controlled. Payments to foreign governments must be reduced. If the nation doesn’t want to go bankrupt, people must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.

    A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself.

    Six mistakes mankind keeps making century after century:
    Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others;
    Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected;
    Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it;
    Refusing to set aside trivial preferences;
    Neglecting development and refinement of the mind;
    Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.

  7. Anon

    Is Nate Silver going to fire himself?

  8. Nate

    Congrats on your successful prediction, Dr. Briggs. I must admit I had less faith in the American voter than you did.

  9. Milton Hathaway

    I have a simpler, albeit less useful, explanation: One of the worst ways to find out what people think is to ask them. Why? Because they have nothing invested in the answer they give you.

    Not a perfect analogy, but many a failed product started off with with a survey asking potential customers what they wanted. Once they had to invest in their answer (i.e., buy the product), their answer changed.

  10. The polls were off by 2% this time. They were off by 2% in the other direction last time. Nate Silver pointed out that such an error could elect Trump.

    Maybe this is simply a matter of pollsters trying to adjust data to compensate for the 2012 error and getting it wrong.

    BTW, a 65% probability estimate is not large.

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