Who won the election? Were the polls accurate? What lessons learned?

Summary: The results of the election are in! The Republic lost, with a new President who got second place in the public vote. Then came a barrage of lies about the simple facts of the election, propaganda which our institutions seem unable to fight. Can we reform the Electoral College before 2020? That will show if the Republic remains vital or has become decrepit. The clock is running.

Election 2016

Contents

  1. Who won?
  2. How accurate were the polls?
  3. Our necessary response.
  4. For More Information.

(1)  Who won?

The right-wing lie machine is gearing up to deceive Americans about the 2016 vote. The lies start at the top. We must draw a line in the sand beyond which we become a reality-based community. Let’s start now.

Trump won the Electoral College (EC) 57% to 43%, with (tentatively) 306 votes to Clinton’s 232. See this sortable table of historical EC results. Trump’s EC margin is the 46th largest among the 58 presidential elections. The lies about this continue, despite being obviously false. On Nov 27 Trump tweeted “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide…” An unsigned statement from Trump’s transition team on Dec 9 said “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history.” On Nov 28 by Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said…

What about the popular vote? Most of the ballots have been counted. The current totals show Clinton with over 2.8 million more votes than Trump, winning by 2.1%. See this sortable table of election results. Trump has the third largest losing margin among the five presidents that lost the popular vote. But on Nov 27 Trump tweeted “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”  Like sheep, conservatives quickly adopted that as scripture, despite the near-total lack of evidence for Trump’s claim.

Tribal Truth

Trump never produced evidence to back his words. Conservatives eventually found an October 2014 WaPo article by two professors speculating — on the basis of a small sample — that there might be large-scale voting by illegal immigrants. As shown in the WaPo update to the article, it was extensively rebutted by other experts — including a peer-reviewed paper. Following Trump’s claims, experts gave extensive rebuttal evidence (here, here, and here) — ignored by conservatives.

How could Trump get 46% of the popular vote (a 2% loss) create a 57% win in the Electoral College? The winner-take-all voting in EC (used by all states except Maine and Nebraska) tends to magnify wins. Still this was an unusual election, with the largest gap between the popular and EC votes in 150 years. The LAT explains why: “Clinton won as many votes as Obama in 2012 — just not in the states where she needed them most“. Nate Silver shows how a 2% shift in the popular vote can create a landslide for either candidate.

Trump won, because the Electoral College chooses the President.

Facts

(2)  How accurate were the polls?

The last average of 4-way polls tracked by RealClearPolitics gave Clinton a 3.2% lead. The national polls have margins of error of +/- 3.0% to 3.5% at the 95% confidence level. This is sampling error. They seldom attempt to quantify other kinds of errors: Coverage Error, Measurement Error, and Non-Response Error. For details see this Cornell page about polling error. So the actual margin by Clinton of 2.1% was well within the polls’ margin of error. Costas Panagopoulos (prof of political science, Fordham) analyzed the accuracy of the polls, using the early (too small) 1.9% estimate of Clinton’s win.

“Overall, the average poll overestimated support for Clinton, although not significantly. One poll, conducted by the Los Angeles Times/USC appears to have had a statistically-significant partisan (pro-Trump) bias, and only the poll conducted by NBC News/SurveyMonkey had a significant pro-Clinton bias.”

All those headlines about the polls being wildly off — were premature. The state polls proved to be less accurate, but had higher margins of error — often from 4% to 6%. See Drew Linzer‘s (statistician) analysis (especially the graphs).

The most obviously wrong forecasts from the pollsters were their probability estimates. Nate Silver’s 538 boasts that their final forecast gave Trump a 29% chance of winning the Electoral College.

Reform button

(3)  Our necessary response.

“It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again’.”
A tweet by Donald Trump.

Trump is absolutely right. The odd Electoral College (EC) was a tolerable kludge while it produced the same outcome as the popular vote. Which it did, misfiring only twice in 176 years (1876 and 1888 during 1824-2000). But it has misfired twice in the past 5 elections: in 2000 and 2016. That’s clear evidence that the EC is broken. We have four years to fix it.

The EC fit the needs of the Founders. Giving votes to the States made sense in the early Republic, when peoples’ allegiance was often more to their State than to the United States — boosting the power of the slave states (who got EC votes for their non-voting slaves). But for centuries the core principle of Britain and the USA has been one person, one vote. That extended the franchise from property owners to all white men, then to Black men, and then to women.

Giving different people in America different votes (by weight) is an intolerable glitch in the system. Why should some voters have more weight than those of other citizens? New York, Florida, and California each have around 500,000 people for each electoral vote; Wyoming has 143,000 people for each electoral votes — 3.5 times the weight (as of 2012). Citizens in these big states have 29% the voting weight of small states. Even slaves were weighted at 60%.

Each time the EC elects a president who lost the popular vote, we get a president with low legitimacy.  Each time it happens, the resulting public cynicism will grow worse. Confidence in the Republic’s institutions is already perilously low. Conservatives in rapture at the over-weighting of rural voters — which gives them power — ignore these effects.

Like most problems affecting core aspects of systems, it will grow worse with time — probably going critical at an inopportune time. A political regime undergoing senescence (aging) loses its ability to adapt and reform. Our ability to fix the EC will show if the Republic still has vitality, or if we are in its last days.

(4)  For More Information.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about ways to reform America, about Campaign 2016, and especially these about the results of Campaign 2016…

  1. Breaking the myths about Campaign 2016, so we can prepare for 2020.
  2. Clinton lost because fear failed, and her SJW’s terrified voters.
  3. Clinton’s ads show her weak strategy: purely tribal, no content.
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31 thoughts on “Who won the election? Were the polls accurate? What lessons learned?

  1. I cannot agree or disagree, although I spend a great deal of time trying to remain well-informed, this is one more item that I have not had time to study.

    I wonder though; Wasn’t the EC set up as representative of the States, and to be representative of the States as entities within the system? I believe the Senate was also set up for this purpose, yet no longer operates in that manner.

    If the EC WAS in fact designed for that purpose, isn’t that one more facet keeping us as a Republic vs. a Democracy?

    I do not care what people in NY, CA, and Chicago choose as their values, but they seem to want to tell me what I can and cannot value here in my home, and I do not want to be ruled by the tyranny of democracy.

    Like

    1. Steve,

      “isn’t that one more facet keeping us as a Republic vs. a Democracy?”

      No. In a Republic people vote for representatives. In a democracy people directly vote on issues. Ancient Athens and town meetings in early New England were democracies.

      “Wasn’t the EC set up as representative of the States, and to be representative of the States as entities within the system?”

      Yes, because in early people’s primary loyalty was to their State, not the United States. That has not been true for over a century. The Civil War was the inflection point in that evolution.

      “but they seem to want to tell me what I can and cannot value here in my home”

      They don’t want to be ruled by you, either. The point of majority voting is it provides a fair way to reconcile these. Giving super-votes to some groups erodes the legitimacy of the system. That a group you like gets, in effect, more votes is a glitch — no matter how much you enjoy “your group’s” extra power.

      “I do not want to be ruled by the tyranny of democracy.”

      First, to say “tyranny of democracy” shows a near-total lack of respect for elected governments. Which is yet more evidence current trends are eroding away the legitimacy of the system. I doubt you will be pleased with whatever replace it.

      Like

  2. My two cents as an outsider.
    With Trump the world may well have dodged a bullet as the US policy in Syria and elsewhere was about to bring a major confrontation with Russia. The last thing anybody neeeded was WW3 to save the skin of moderate Syrian jihadists.
    In the medium term Trump putative Iran policy might produce the same results but there is much more room for maneuver in the meantime.

    I would hesitate calling the EC a kludge. It forces politicians to keep middle America in some consideration, at least symbolically.
    Otherwise you would have a complete validation of the model expoused by democratic activists: “screw rural whites, let’s bring in more immigrants” . At which point tensions might well escalate to God only knows what.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. marcelloi,

      Wild guessing about what each candidate would do in office is a weak basis to make decisions about structural features such as “one man, one vote.” That’s the kind of thinking that has given Italy one government per year since WWII.

      Also, you — as do American conservatives — the deleterious effect of giving extra voting power to a shrinking minority. Of course, they love it. The majority doesn’t. It’s yet another factor eroding away the legitimacy of the current regime.

      Like

  3. Well presented here. The EC problem, that is. It’s obvious that the citizens of the most populous States would find it least tolerable. In those places this article and the Links to this discussion should be prominent. Are they, I cannot say, as I do not reside in any of them but I’d be surprised if the EC is a topic of rational discussion in these States. Yes, of course, the entire Country should be quite concerned; we know generally how these types of concerns are shorted and buried by inattention.

    “Like most problems affecting core aspects of systems, it will grow worse with time — probably going critical at an inopportune time. A political regime undergoing senescence (aging) loses its ability to adapt and reform. Our ability to fix the EC will show if the Republic still has vitality, or if we are in its last days.”

    ……. that seems to be accurate and an essential element. Adapt and reform. Constitutional Amendment? In 4 years? Not hopeful, not realistic, barely begun to recognize the Why of a problem. Has there been any leader even mentioning the need for a Reform on a national pulpit?
    “….last days” can be a long time. Yet 2020 could become the inopportune time.

    Breton

    Like

  4. As a non-American, the Electoral college system has always appeared a little odd, though I understand it’s usefulness with regards to historical context. Out of interest, what would Fabius Maximus prefer to see it replaced with? First-past-the-post, something based on the French model, or an entirely different system?

    Like

    1. Paradoxical,

      There are no ideal voting systems. Academics often believe that adding complexity produces benefits. I don’t. The US system is designed to force development of two coalitions, each potentially capable of governing. That is, citizens collectively choose the group compromises that produce a coalition.

      Academics prefer systems that create multiple parties, allowing political fragmentation — and building the coalition in the “smoke filled back rooms”. The political history of the UK and US vs. other systems suggests that is a bad choice.

      Our current system favors two parties — making third parties difficult, unless formed from reformation of the existing major parties (e.g., Republicans from the Whigs before the Civil War). That plus majority voting seems to work. I suggest one major change at a time, so the system evolves — rather than the continental system of occasional large constitutional changes.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. If you don’t mind me saying, a very interesting answer. I am, as an Old Worlder, used to the ‘continental’ academic arguments of supporting more-proportional systems. I admit that I am still more in favour of more-proportional representation, but your argument makes for compelling thinking. Thanks as always for producing content that is to be properly thought about, rather than just consumed!

      Like

    3. Paradoxical,

      On re-reading my comment, I’ll boil it down. America has usually and successfully made systemic changes incrementally. This fixing one problem at a time has worked well for us. I recommend fixing the EC first, and look at the voting system (e.g., proportionate systems) later.

      Like

    4. A fair comment – I agree that lots of radical changes happening quickly is not the best way to reliably change the system as a whole. Certainly, it appears from the outside that EC is the major problem to be tackled first – I would never advocate changing multiple elements of the political system all at the same time. Thanks for the clarification.

      Like

    5. I couldn’t agree more on the Euro, which was pushed through on political rather than economic grounds. I stand by the fact that one of the reasons Britain did not suffer as much as the rest of the EU after the financial crash was because of its rejection of the single currency. Countries such as Spain and Greece have, if you would excuse my French, been screwed over by their use of the Euro.

      Like

  5. You have not made a solid argument against the EC here, or one for the popular vote being the way to go for Presidential elections. To ask, “why should some voters have more weight than those of other citizens” is easy to answer – they eat more and exercise less. Seriously, do you think using the popular vote to elect a President would not do the same thing you seem to deplore? When you allege that “giving different people in America different votes (by weight) is an intolerable glitch in the system”, do you think that the popular vote is a real fix for said glitch? Have you seen the red-blue election map by county? If you don’t think that the major inner-city citizen voter is not “different people in America” than the citizen voter in fly-over country, then your holier-than-thou, look-down-your-nose leftist attitude is showing on this issue.

    I can’t imagine any civically informed person not understanding which system to be more fair between EC and popular vote. Most would, I think, understand that it’s about ensuring all of America’s views are considered and weighed and not just major population centers, predominantly on the coasts. Furthermore, if you consider the beatdown American voters have put on the Democratic Party across all levels of governance from US senators, congressman, state governors, state legislators to dog catchers (if there’s any jurisdictions that still elect this vital representative position), you can see where America’s hearts and minds are.

    As for your discussion of polls, you can study statistical polling error all day long (as many egghead, snowflake-protecting academics apparently do), but can any poll account for purposely deceptive replies? When you’re called a deplorable, sexist, racist, homophobic idiot day after day, year after year if you disagree with the “cool, sophisticated and wise” kids in the leftist media and their big city sycophants, tell them what you know they want.

    “Our ability to fix the EC will show if the Republic still has vitality, or if we are in its last days”. Which do you think will kill us first, the EC or Climate Change?

    Like

    1. Rio,

      “Seriously, do you think using the popular vote to elect a President would not do the same thing you seem to deplore?”

      Obviously not. It would give every vote the same weight.

      “Have you seen the red-blue election map by county?”

      There are always going to be patterns of voting — by geography, ethnicity, race, religion, income, etc. Who gets to decide which are the “special” people who get extra votes? And who gets less?

      “If you don’t think that the major inner-city citizen voter is not “different people in America” than the citizen voter in fly-over country”

      Perhaps you can explain that. The obvious interpretations are pretty ugly.

      “then your holier-than-thou, look-down-your-nose leftist attitude is showing on this issue.”

      You’re ranting unintelligibly. Also ignoring what I wrote about effects on the Republic’s legitimacy of underweighting the majority’s votes.

      “As for your discussion of polls …can any poll account for purposely deceptive replies?”

      What “replies”? The polls’ numbers show what they show.

      “When you’re called a deplorable, sexist, racist, homophobic idiot day after day, year after year if you disagree with the “cool, sophisticated and wise” kids in the leftist media… ”

      How is this relevant to this discussion? It sounds like you want to tilt America’s electoral system to put your views into effect. That’s a common opinion, one quite destructive to the principles of America.

      “Which do you think will kill us first, the EC or Climate Change?”

      You’re ranting in a quite bizarre fashion.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. What’s the evidence that the popular vote/electoral college mismatches are actually destabilizing? I mean, urban dwellers hold such overwhelming economic and cultural power; the occasional upset like this must be very annoying, but what possible reason would it give them to abandon the system? Indeed, all the concrete proposals I hear coming from progressives are basically some variation of “just double down and work extra hard, WITHIN the system, next time, it shouldn’t take more than a few minor changes to win over enough of these deplorables.” I think this kind of analysis makes a lot of sense.

    On the other hand, reform would be removing one more feeble defense from a weaker group that already feels itself under siege. THAT might actually give some people a reason to abandon the system.

    So on the one hand, we’ve got the “unprincipled” status quo that represents a minor irritant for an already dominant group, versus a “principled” reform that might have a decisively negative impact on a weaker group. Which should we expect to be more destabilizing?

    Like

    1. Mattd,

      “What’s the evidence that the popular vote/electoral college mismatches are actually destabilizing?”

      Because few regimes are so stupid as to allow such power imbalances to persist. Pressure arise and create reforms. The UK Reform Bill of 1832 (and subsequent bills) ended dominance of Parliament by rural areas (esp “rotton boroughs”). Around the world votes were given to women and racial minorities (including ending slavery) not out of altruism or ideology, but because accumulated pressure was becoming destabilizing.

      It’s happening today as almost all indicators of US gov’t legitimacy are declining. Perception that voting doesn’t work, that elections are unrepresentative, are one (of many) factors.

      You appear to prefer some non-democratic system where your favored group gets preference. Such people are common in history. Successful political regimes overcome them. Time will tell if America can do so.

      Like

    2. Editor,

      Giving the vote to women seems to be an entirely separate issue, as they have never formed a separate, or even a separable camp opposed to the rest of the country (men). As someone once said, “too much fraternization with the enemy.” The vote was given to blacks as a result of the bloodiest and costliest war in US history, in the course of the North asserting her total victory over an utterly devastated South–hardly a comparable situation either. This war came about because the South had always been the weaker party in the Union, felt that the tide of power was about to turn decisively against them, and decided to make a break for it. Every major national political decision up until that point and indeed the very design of our institutions was informed by a recognition that this was a likely outcome, and a desire to prevent it.

      It seems very unlikely that anything rural deplorables might do in response to EC reform or any similar slight would ever rise to the level of a Civil War, but at the same time, I don’t see any moral issue outstanding today with consequence and urgency comparable to that of slavery which would justify even 1/100th of the 1860’s-level disruption. In any case, it seems better that all the energy which was evident in the crowds at Trump rallies this year found an electoral, and not some other, outlet. As for California seceding from the Union, I call BS. California, along with her coastal cultural allies, own this country. They’re not going anywhere, they just need to work a little harder to convince Billy Bob next time around. And that’s exactly what they’re starting to work on now.

      Like

    3. Matt,

      “Giving the vote to women seems to be an entirely separate issue, as they have never formed a separate, or even a separable camp opposed to the rest of the country (men). As someone once said, “too much fraternization with the enemy.” The vote was given to blacks as a result of the bloodiest and costliest war in US history…”

      You are ignoring what I actually said. Let’s replay the tape:

      Around the world votes were given to women and racial minorities (including ending slavery) not out of altruism or ideology, but because accumulated pressure was becoming destabilizing.

      Slavery was ended in scores of nations without wars. The US is an extreme outlier in that respect. Also, the civil rights movement in effect ended the legal oppression of black Americans (including “Jim Crow” segregation and large-scale disenfranchisment) in 1955 – 1965 with little violence.

      Like

    4. Editor,

      Women got the vote because they gradually gained enough influence to push the reform–men gave them the vote in the end not because they feared women would secede or riot in the streets, but because they saw insufficient reason to continue denying them. Women getting the vote did not defuse any significant ongoing or impending “instability” (unless the protests were much, much worse than what I’ve read about). Similarly though in a very different situation, blacks not voting contributed absolutely nothing to the build-up of Civil War instability. The entire issue between the North and the South was blacks’ presence in the United States as slaves–for the most part, Northerners would have much preferred to send them “back” (they had been here for generations, I know, but this was the prevalent idea) to Africa rather than let them stay and vote. That they got the vote in the end was incidental to the resolution of the war.

      So I don’t think I misread you. I just think that those two examples are weak.

      Like

    5. Matt,

      Interesting, but historically false. Especially about the South. You again “refute” strawmen arguments, ignoring what I actually say. So for the 3rd time look at what I actually said:

      “Around the world votes were given to women and racial minorities (including ending slavery) not out of altruism or ideology, but because accumulated pressure was becoming destabilizing.”

      “because they feared women would secede or riot in the streets,”

      Too dumb to warrant a reply.

      “blacks not voting contributed absolutely nothing to the build-up of Civil War instability.”

      Again you give a bizarre misstating of what I said. Granting black Americans full civil rights was a solution to the increasing social tensions created by slavery.

      (a) Southerns were increasingly terrified of slave revolts, esp. if supported by northern abolitionists. For good reason; insurgencies with strong external support are difficult to suppress.

      (b) The increasing effectiveness of the “underground railroads” was increasing tensions with the north, further exacerbated by slave catchers operating in northern states.

      (c) Increasingly powerful opposition from northern abolitionists was increasing fears in the South, culminating with their extreme reaction to Lincoln’s election.

      That you ignore all this freshman level history is quite an accomplishment!

      Like

    6. Matt,

      I suggest that you reply to quotes. It is a simple, almost foolproof, way to show correspondence between your rebuttal and the target statement.

      When there is a lack of correspondence, I show both my original statement and your reply. It’s is quite a bit of work for a comment, but provides an easy means for you to show where my reply is either factually or analytically incorrect (e.g., misunderstanding what you said).

      Like

  7. Editor,
    Thank you for yet another thought provoking presentation.

    Not being a serious student of politics yet a participant and fanatic for years it’s bothered me that ‘candidates’ (appropriately) focus on such few states and not the entire country. In a nutshell I think you’ve explained a cause.

    Due to similar reasons I’d still prefer to see a single party which should require more policy orientations for voters, but that’s an independent discussion.

    My regards,

    Like

  8. I’m from Australia, so what the hell would I know.

    But saying “The Republic Lost” is disingenuous. If the rules had been for an election by popular vote, then the candidates would have campaigned differently, leading to different a different outcome. Trump would have allocated more resources to (say) California, Clinton would have allocated more resources to Texas, and so on. Since the result was so close, there is y’all can predict who would have won under a popular vote scenario.

    This seems so obvious that I’m baffled that no one else has pointed it out. Have I missed something?

    Like

  9. You’re really drawing out the Trolls today, FM. That suggests you are on the right track.

    I have supported abolishing the EC since the 2000 election. It has outmoded since women got the right to vote and became even more so after the civil rights victories of the 1960’s. Now it is becoming dangerous to the legitimacy of the country through the “Not my president” movement.

    Face it folks, Trump is your president unless you give up your US citizenship. Now you’ve got to decide what to do about it and milling about waving signs and chanting isn’t going to do you any good.

    Like

    1. Pluto,

      One of the most depressing aspects of the FM website project has been the comments. A small fraction have been excellent, providing valuable information or insights, or asking relevant questions. The vast majority have been by people indoctrinated like sheep, both on the Left and Right.

      Re-reading them 5-8 years later shows why we find it difficult to cope with vital public policy issues. The certainty that Ebola will kill thousands or millions, that we were winning in Iraq and Afghanistan, that climate change was becoming catastrophic (e.g., that a new era of more frequent and larger hurricanes began in 2005), etc.

      I thought comments would be debating values, priorities, different visions of the future. Instead they are mostly about facts and basic civics. I grow increasingly concerned that somehow the internet is making us dumber.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. The preliminary analyses I’ve seen are suggestive that there was, in fact, a social desirabliity bias AKA the “shy Trump” voter who doesn’t want to admit it to a pollster (as Rico Garvey alluded to). A couple of lines of evidence for this, but will have to wait for the full report.

    If it turns out to be the case for this election as well as the Brexit vote I’m going to want to see some better attempts to model it (e.g. leveraging differences in response to human vs. non-human questioners) in the 2020 forecasts.

    Like

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