back to article US election pollsters weren't (very) wrong – statistically speaking

The media have spoken and they are unimpressed: the polls – this time the US presidential polls – got it woefully wrong, and therefore burn the witch! Or in the absence of witches, let's set fire to Nate Silver, who until around 2am (GMT) on November 9 was the doyen of US polling and go-to person for all US forecasts. At which …

  1. James 51 Silver badge

    The Democrats have four years to get someone ready to run against Trump (assuming that all the news reports about him leaning on foreign diplomats to favour his businesses inside and outside the US aren't true or the Republican party has the nerve to impeach him). It will be interesting to see what lessons they draw from this.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Given the current antics of the democratic party in the US and media in general I would assume zero lessons will be learnt.

      Also the reason for the electoral college is so that the large states can't bully the small states, given that the US is a federation of states.

      1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        The election results mean that when the next census runs, the Republicans will probably get the chance to re-draw the voting boundaries even more to their favor than at present, so it's unlikely that the next Democrat choice will matter - the gerrymandering will ensure that the Republicans stay in power.

        1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

          The next census will run in 2020, the same time as the next presidential election. Fear not, both sides take part in the gerrymandering as a look at Cali's districts will show.

          1. RLyons

            Living in California, I will correct both your errors:

            1) California has been using a Non-Partisan Committee to determine districts since 2010 per our local Proposition process, voted on by the people of California. Between the Committee and court rulings, there has been little gerrymandering in California. Does gerrymandering happen on both side, yes, but by using the committee in California and the use of open primaries, we've attempted to minimize partisanship.

            2) California has a significantly higher proportion of urban districts than rural districts, so naturally, the state tends towards Democrats and liberal point of view. To take that even further, I live in Orange County, which is an urban district that has consistently voted Republican/conservative/libertarian, and the Democrats won the majority of the county districts this year for the presidential election.

            1. BillG

              If you want to take a look at gerrymandering, take a look at Massachusetts:


              You have republican-leaning population around rural Tauton, next to Rhode Island. To minimize them, the 4th congressional district adds them all the way up to heavily democratic urban Boston. The redistricting in 2000 was so bad the federal courts told them to redraw the districts.

              The worst gerrymandering district might be Maryland's 3rd congressional district.

            2. Eddy Ito Silver badge

              Just because the committee calls itself "non-partisan" doesn't make it so. Since you're only in the next county from me you should be well aware of our tortured district borders. Have a look and tell me that these aren't g'mandered just a bit (all pdfs), districts 31, 33, 44, 47, 52, 53 and perhaps you understand the mangled appendage on 51 but I'd wager few others do although it nearly matches Senate 40 but then Senate 39 has that nice sea horse head. Assembly 63 borders seven other districts and Assembly 32 and 34 are practically a pair of mating snakes.

              I'll grant that they are better than they were but there's still a lot of excess border on those squiggly lines.

              1. DougS Silver badge

                @Eddy Ito - gerrymanding

                I think the best way to fix it would be to have computers draw the boundaries. It would be fairly easy to write a program to create the most compact districts possible, using existing political boundaries wherever possible (county/city borders)

                In fact, I know it is easy because the way they draw their crazy districts now is via computer programs that are designed to concentrate the opponents in as few districts as possible, and create 60-40ish "safe districts" for the party in power. States that have the ability for citizens to put propositions on the ballot have no excuse for not having this. It is in the interest of congressmen keeping their seats forever, and no one else, to have gerrymandered districts. It isn't in the interest of the people living there, since there votes are almost meaningless, whether they are voting as part of the majority or party of the minority.

                1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

                  Re: @Eddy Ito - gerrymanding

                  Sure, there are several algorithms currently available like Brian Olson's and splitlines to name a few. It wouldn't be hard to tweak them to keep existing things like town or county boundaries stay reasonably intact.

                  I also didn't notice until just now RLyons comment about open primaries like we have in Cali as an attempt to minimize partisanship so I'll address it now. It's probably the worst system out there since the two top vote getters move forward to the general election as it doesn't take into account the numbers of people running and their parties. In short you could theoretically have the two least wanted candidates in the general election because the votes of the others get split. For instance, party A has 6 candidates and party B has 2 candidates. Consider what happens if each A party member gets 12% while the two B candidates get 14%. The resulting general election is between the two B party candidates even though they only amassed 28% of the vote in the primary and the other party got 72%. Hardly what one would call a non-partisan system as it would behoove party A candidates to come to an agreement outside of the electoral process about who runs which artificially limits voter choice albeit in a different manner than the current Cali system does now.

                  1. ricegf
                    Thumb Up

                    Re: @Eddy Ito - gerrymanding

                    Exactly that. For states with a voter initiative process, they should vote to replace the current "first post the post" system with "instant runoff". This voids the "throwing away your vote" argument that effectively blocks third parties from participating in the electoral process, and makes California's "only Democrats in November" laws unnecessary. Instead, voters can more accurately specify their preferences, e.g., "Sanders first, then Stein, then if all else fails" (holds nose) "Her".

      2. BillG

        Modern Polls

        I think the proliferation of cell phones over landlines have presented a problem for modern pollsters. Many cell phone users are reluctant to answer the phone if caller ID shows it to be an unfamiliar number. But most people won't think twice about answering their landline, regardless of caller ID. This must be a factor, somehow.

        There is also the polling questions. Pollsters decide to count a poll by determining if this is a likely voter, usually by asking "Did you vote in the last election" and "Are you planning on voting in this election"? A likely voter will respond Yes to both questions. But in this election, you had people answering No and Yes, respectively, to those questions.

        In my own case, I did get an automated call to my landline "We'd like your views on the Presidential election". But after two minutes of asking me questions on issues, I became impatient and hung up, never being asked the Trump vs. Clinton question.

        Lastly there is privacy. "Your views will be held in confidence" is Zukerberg-laughable when they already have your phone number.

      3. bussdriver

        1 person 1 vote - is not true

        To be a real democracy every vote has to be equal but because people in different places have a different culture and economy it is thought to be unfair to their needs to treat them equally. So then we give LOCATION a weight on people's vote making them unequal. Location is a crude way to identify culture/societies.

        You don't have large (population) states bullying other states-- because they are not people; they are locations and if everybody has the same equal vote/input in the system then if everybody lives in 1 place it SHOULD have more input; only MORE in the sense of location; it's EQUAL in terms humans.

        Electoral College gives empty states like IOWA and swing states the power to bully all the rest the states. It also means you can GAME the system by targeting only weak spots. Targeted cheating instead of larger cheating. The EU is a federation of rich cultures. The US is completely random; often their borders drawn along geographic formations like rivers with no cultural, economic differences within regions.

        1. tom dial Silver badge

          Re: 1 person 1 vote - is not true

          "Empty" states like Iowa (and Utah) have 6 electoral votes. The median states by electoral vote (Louisiana and Kentucky) have 8. Of the 24 states above median electoral vote (and population) Trump won in 14 (223 electoral votes) and Clinton won in 10 (183 electoral votes). In the states (and District of Columbia) at or below median in electoral votes, Trump won in 16 (83 electoral votes) and Clinton won in 11 (49 electoral votes).

          While one person, one vote does not apply, it is fairly clear that Trump's support was both substantial and geographically widespread. This is even clearer if one examines the results by county, which show that Clinton's support was quite strongly coastal with a few spots in between.

          1. bep

            Re: 1 person 1 vote - is not true

            Given that the US Senate provides for two senators per state regardless of the state's population, and given the powers of the senate to approve things like treaties and judges, it seems like overkill to me not to have the President elected by a straight popular vote. The tyranny of the many has been replaced by the tyranny of the few. Senators used to appointed by their state legislatures, but now they are popularly elected. When that changed, the electoral college should have been abolished at the same time in my view.

        2. Barbarian At the Gates

          Iowa is "empty"?

          Looking it up, Iowa is 30th out of 50 in terms of population. So, it's actually middle of the pack in terms of population.

          Someone else mentioned Utah as being like Iowa. Which is quite true in terms of population, as Utah is 31st in population in the United States. Even if it isn't much like Iowa in any other way.

          So, sorry if you have a beef against the state of Iowa. I don't know what that would be, but being among the most lightly populated states in the USA...shouldn't be one of them.

          1. Mark 85 Silver badge

            Re: Iowa is "empty"?

            So, sorry if you have a beef against the state of Iowa.

            One of the big beefs about Iowa is that being the first primary/caucus/etc. it's sets the tone for the for the other states. Some candidates drop out after they've done their thing. It would probably be a better system if all states held their primaries on the same day. Make the candidates speak for the country instead of pandering to the first few primaries.

            1. DougS Silver badge

              Holding all primaries on the same day is a terrible idea

              Then only the well funded candidates have a chance. The reason having a couple small states going first works well is because it allows relative unknowns like a Jimmy Carter to have a shot. They just have to make it past the initial filter.

              One could argue that switching around which small states are first is better than it always being Iowa and New Hampshire, but both states being relative swing states helps too. Having a state like Utah or Kansas first would lead to much more conservative republican candidates, and who knows what it do with the democrats. Now maybe you think more conservative republican candidates are a good thing - both conservative republicans and democrats (because extremists on either side are less likely to win a general election) would probably like that outcome. But mainstream republicans and independents, not so much.

              Given that a state both has to be small (to lower the cost bar for candidates) and relatively middle of the road politically, the number of choices is actually pretty small.

    2. Uffish

      President elect Trump

      If Trump succeeds and, (speaking as a non-American), doesn't indulge in huge abuses of American power as GWB did - what is to worry about. So far his electioneering seems to have been unconventional but reasonably honest, if a bit brutal.

      If he truly is an incompetent, he will be assigned a team of minders and the political establishment will set like rock around him - so we should survive the one term he will be allowed.

    3. DougS Silver badge

      Democrat party "lessons learned"

      Consider in 2012 the republicans did a postmortem of Romney's loss and decided they needed to be more welcoming of minorities and hispanics in particular. Instead they ended up doubling down on their anti-minority policy by nominating Trump. Of course that wasn't the party's decision but the voters, and it ended up working out for them despite that, but it just goes to show that what a party decides and what the individuals who vote in its primaries decide may not agree.

      If the democrats learn the lessons they should, the number one lesson they would learn is that the DNC shouldn't favor one candidate over another. Sanders probably beats Trump because he did not have all of Hillary's baggage that made her an easy target, he spoke to the same working class anger Trump did, and he inspired young people. But against ANY other republican a democrat who used to be a socialist may lose due to that alone - so the party might have thought they were saving themselves from a Mondale like landslide loss.

      Another thing that parties never seem to learn is that the candidate with the most charisma almost always wins. Trump may not have much charisma, but compared to Hillary he's a fucking star. You don't need charisma to beat someone who is as stiff as Hillary - look at Bush I beating Dukakis, the ultimate stiff. And Bush II beating Gore and Kerry, two more stiffs, though Bush II had some good ol boy charm that played well down south.

      Unless they nominate another stiff in 2020, the democrats should win the election easily. Trump's massive negatives aren't going to go away, if anything they will only get worse with four years of daily exposure. To the extent he isn't able to keep his promises to the blue collar workers who got him elected their enthusiasm for him will dim, as will that of some conservatives who may find he doesn't govern as conservatively as they would like. Meanwhile democrats will come out in force to dump Trump, and can run on a "change" platform that was obviously not possible after eight years in the White House, and if they choose the right person as an "outsider" that Hillary could not.

      I think there's a decent chance the democrats could win in a landslide with 400+ electoral votes if they choose someone who is more like Obama or Bill Clinton in the charisma category, and not some establishment stiff. But the fact they haven't cleaned house in the DNC yet tells me it will have to be the primary voters who force it on them. The party machine may try to interfere again, thinking they know what's better than their own voters.

      Neither party gets that general election voters don't care about your policies - they want to hear that the economy will do well so they get raises if they have a job, or they'll get a job if they don't have one, and their bills won't go up too much. Most of them could care less about how you plan to deal with China, or Israel or Afghanistan if they economy is working for them. Sure there are single issue voters who will choose based on abortion or global warming or taxes but the parties are pretty set on those issues so those voters have only one choice anyway so there's no point trying to cater to them.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mandatory Voting

    Basically, a modern day democracy should insist that every eligible voter actually casts a vote. That might be "None of the above" or an active spoiling of the ballot paper, but turnout should be at or near 100%.

    1. Ole Juul

      Re: Mandatory Voting

      We don't need another law. There's too many already. What we need is more education so people can learn to be critical of everything they hear.

      Actually I think that the general populace gained an intelligence point during this election. Not only did many see that the polls are not as competent as had been thought, but people are starting to learn that much of the press cannot be trusted and are actually reprinting government propaganda. That's a step in the right direction and something which cannot be achieved with a law.

      1. Palpy

        Re: "People are starting to learn -- "

        "-- that much of the press cannot be trusted..."

        Yes, the guy that charged into a pizzeria and cut loose a few rounds from his assault rifle because he read online that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta were running a child abuse ring in the back room (link) -- that guy certainly learned that the mainstream press was not to be trusted, and "alternate news sources" are much more accurate.


    2. Joe Werner Silver badge

      Re: Mandatory Voting

      Thanks, but no thanks. I had family members (grandfather and his father, in those... interesting times) picked up to be driven to an election. Both did not want to vote, as they felt the outcome was rigged anyway (it was), so they did not see the point. No further trouble ensued, but it very well could have.

      When people complain about politics I usually ask them if they did vote. Unless they in fact did vote I tell them to shut up. We need to hammer this message home: Unhappy with the situation? Go and vote, make a difference, at least actively tell them you are unhappy. I know I often face the situation where I do not agree with enough of what the parties have in their program to really vote for any of them, but in the end I (try to) make a balanced decision (even if it is to spoil the ballot).

      You are right, of course, that turnout should be much higher.

      1. bussdriver

        No, you have it all wrong.

        People refusing to vote should be a crime like how not paying taxes is a crime against society (taxes are the price for civilization and voting is the price for democracy.)

        You still have ballot initiatives, amendments, and the pseudo 2 party joke can be skipped or vote 3rd party if you think it doesn't matter. What is NEEDED is a "None of the above" uniform protest option! No politician can even say MANDATE when around 50% vote "None of the above." Furthermore, why should the Olympics have the only scientific voting system? look into instant runoff.

      2. cd

        Re: Mandatory Voting

        I rarely vote. I live where my vote won't count because of the electoral college. A drop of water in the ocean would desalinate more than my vote would count. The upshot of the EC is that lots of logical people don't bother.

        The EC won't go away because every time a party wins by gaming it they aren't going to turn around and wreck it. If everyone elected in US at every level was one party, the EC would still be there next election. Thus the parties put themselves ahead of the country they purport to represent.

        The media and polls reinforce stereotypes on both sides, making this more entrenched.

        Then there's cynicism: There were two candidates who spoke from the heart, one of them galvanised young voters like no other. But he was yanked aside and replaced by a monotonous corporate drone. The dems need to learn the difference between a visionary and a functionary.

        So does Apple, for that matter.

    3. lglethal Silver badge

      Re: Mandatory Voting

      I totally agree. Mandatory Voting is absolutely necessary for a Democracy to function properly. The fact that the US election had a turnout of only 55,6% of eligible voters and yet it was accepted as a legitimate vote is something that I find absolutely incredible (crazy incredible!).

      I also cant believe that anyone considers the Electoral College System to be remotely demorcatic. How can a candidate winning 50,1% of the people's vote in a state, count as if the candidate had won 100% of the votes? That is completely the opposite of Democracy to me.

      1. Chris Miller

        Re: Mandatory Voting

        A popular vote system also has the property that 50.1% counts the same as 100%, unless you think Hillary should be President on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and Donald the rest of the week?

        The Electoral College system exists because the individual states fiercely protect their own rights and small states fear their opinion would count for less in a popular vote system. For the same reason, each state gets two senators irrespective of population. It's up to each state how they select their Electoral College representatives and, in fact, two states have a (sort of) proportional system. The EU has somewhat similar provisions - small states like Luxembourg are significantly over-represented compared to their larger brethren.

        Arguing that "Hillary won the popular vote" is irrelevant for at least two reasons: (1) campaigning for a popular vote election would have been completely different, far less time spent in 'swing states', much more time in California and Texas; and (2) voter turnout would have been different, there's far less incentive for a marginal Trump voter to turn out in California or a Clinton voter in Utah - where the opponent was always certain to win.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Mandatory Voting

          The Electoral College system exists because the individual states fiercely protect their own rights and small states fear their opinion would count for less in a popular vote system.

          And there's the issue than comes up every four years.

          I live in Texas (which has a large population), so my vote counts less than a vote from North Redneck.

          Worse, by assigning all electors to the winner of a state (apart from 2 states, I think it is?), I might as well have not bothered if I had been voting for Clinton.

          1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

            Re: Mandatory Voting

            I think this election is an excellent example of how the Electoral College was designed to work. Clinton won the plurality of the popular vote but that is due to a single state, California, where only about 57.5% of eligible voters (~74% of registered voters) bothered to vote.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Mandatory Voting

            Why thumbs down?

            It really is fact that under the electoral college, each vote in a state with a smaller population counts more than a vote in a state with a larger population.

            Let's say that 10 people = 1 elector.

            In a state with 100 people, there are 10 + 2 = 12 electors (100/10 + 1 for each senator), so each vote = 12/100 = 0.12 electors.

            Now we have a state with 400 people. There are (400/10 + 2) 42 electors, so each vote counts (42/400) = 0.105 electors.

          3. tom dial Silver badge

            Re: Mandatory Voting

            The electoral college would be tough to change. If you are interested in seeing the electoral vote assigned somewhat proportionally, consider the methods of Nebraska and Maine, and take it up with your state legislature.

            Note that if everyone had used the Nebraska/Maine procedures, Trump almost certainly would have won, although quite a lot more narrowly. That would have been a good thing, as it would be much harder to argue that he has a "mandate."

          4. Fungus Bob Silver badge

            Re: Mandatory Voting

            "The Electoral College system exists because the individual states fiercely protect their own rights and small states fear their opinion would count for less in a popular vote system.

            And there's the issue than comes up every four years."

            The Electoral College does one other thing that no one has mentioned yet - it provides a clear, definite result and saves us from months of tedious recounts and legal challenges like we had in Minnesota when Norm Coleman and Al Franken each got 40% of the vote for the US Senate. After 4 months of recounts and legal crap proving both candidates were shit, the real winner was Norm Coleman who got to fade into obscurity while Al Franken got a job where 60% of the voting public did not like him.

      2. mathew42

        Re: Mandatory Voting

        The lower houses in the Westminster system work very much like this where a party can win the majority of seats and form government but loose the popular vote. There is a long history of malapoportionment typically favouring rural voters. Bjelkemander is an interesting example where the conservative government was able to take advantage of a system originally put in place by the Labor party to advantage themselves.

    4. FelixReg

      Re: Mandatory Voting

      Good idea. That way you make sure to count the votes of those who don't care. Say, giving them two votes is even better! They are, after all, less likely to be influenced by opinion news, and fake news, right?


      Instead, go for the highest quality voters rather than the lowest. Allow voters to save their votes. If you don't vote this election, next election you have two votes. And so on.

      1. lglethal Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Re: Mandatory Voting

        @ Felix reg:

        "Instead, go for the highest quality voters rather than the lowest."

        Should we go back to only land owning White males get the vote as well? Since they are obviously the highest quality voters, no?

        If you have mandatory voting, there is NO excuse for People to not care about voting. Because there vote DOES Count. And if they still dont care, they are free to spoil there ballot, or donkey vote, but that is a CHOICE they are making. To fob it off as saying "I dont think my vote matters, so I'm not going to vote" is pure laziness and those People deserve a fine. You have one primary responsibility in a Democracy, to cast your vote in elections, and direct that Democracy. If you're not willing to do that, then your failing in your duties, and you deserve the corprotocracy you're now living in...

        1. FelixReg

          Re: Mandatory Voting

          @Iglethal - Um. They are making their choice. They chose not to vote. You may not like their choice. I may not like their choice. But, hey, we can deal with a horse who won't drink.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mandatory Voting

      It would also be a big step forward if the voting rolls were purged of all the dead people and those voting had to show identification.

      1. HausWolf

        Re: Mandatory Voting

        As long as it is easy for ALL people to vote, and we don't have the dirty tricks like only being able to register during certain hours and having limited locations to register in areas where "those" people live.

    6. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Mandatory Voting

      but turnout should be at or near 100%.

      It should, but the fault that it isn't lies mostly with the people standing for election.

      People will only vote if they think the outcome will matter to them in a way that makes a difference. If they feel that "they're all the same" or "I lose whatever happens" they won't bother to vote. It's probably why Trump got a higher score than expected, at least amomg some people, because what he said (true or not, bullshit or not) clicked with them.

      The same thing happened in the Scottish independence and Brexit referendums. The issues actually mattered to people, so they turned out to vote.

      Too many politicians today have no genuine passion for their cause, they are like CEOs running a business. They read the "market", run their focus groups, and try and work out what they have to say to get (re)elected. That makes them followers, not leaders, and no-one votes to chose their followers.

      Don't blame the voters or the system for low turnouts, the blame lies squarely with the people we're being asked to vote for.

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: Mandatory Voting

        I used to think mandatory voting should help, but Tony Abbott persuaded me otherwise.

        As for education? Don't make me cry. People have been beating that drum continuously for the last 150 years, and it hasn't worked yet. What's your secret sauce to turn it around now? (Bear in mind:

        - Teachers

        - Teaching unions

        - Parents

        - Minorities

        - Churches, mosques, temples, synagogues

        - Politicians who will say literally anything to get votes

        - Taxpayers

        - Lawyers

        - Home schoolers

        ... because your plan needs to take all of these into account, any one of them could sink it without trace if they don't like it. There are probably other factions (e.g. old media, new media, law enforcement, big pharma, big sport) that may also need to be appeased, but to the best of my knowledge these don't have a proven track record of purposely screwing up education reforms.)

    7. sisk Silver badge

      Re: Mandatory Voting

      Oh hell no. "Every eligible voter" includes people who didn't finish the fourth grade, can't read, and wouldn't know Hillary Clinton from Sarah Palin and would only know either from Ben Carson by virtue of being able to spot feminine and masculine names. While such people have the right to vote and can do so if they choose to, I'm perfectly happy with the fact that they almost universally choose not to. It also include people who don't give a rip and would be inclined to choose their candidate via the inny-minny-miney-moe method. I think it's safe to say that none of us want those people voting. No, let uninterested and uninformed voters choose not to vote. It's better that way.

  3. mathew42

    Preferential Voting

    Preferential voting (e.g. Instant-runoff voting is the most sensible reform.

    * Voters can issue a protest vote against the major parties without wasting their votes

    * Candidates with similar supporter bases don't canibalise each other's votes

    Compulsory voting tends to push parties towards the centre because voters in the centre are less likely to vote when it is optional and can be swayed against candidates which hold extreme positions.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Preferential Voting

      All good as long as you make polling day a national holiday.

      1. mathew42

        Re: Preferential Voting

        Australia doesn't have a national holiday. Voting is on a Saturday and you can submit an absentee vote several weeks in advance. You can also vote in any polling booth within your electorate and if a significant distance from your electorate submit an absentee vote on the day. Typically voting takes less than 30 minutes.

    2. Old Handle

      Re: Preferential Voting

      I kind of like approval voting better. It's so impressively simple.

  4. Mikel

    They lied

    People in swing states lied to the pollsters. Deliberately. That is what went wrong. And that is the end of the utility of polling.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: They lied

      And they lied or didn't tell the truth (most likely saying they wont be voting but instead voting a different way on the day) because the atmosphere makes them scared to admit what they really think.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: They lied

      No, it's just a lot of Trump voters were not intelligent enough to complete a poll, so weren't counted.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: They lied

        I like that you prove my point so eloquently.

      2. Jeff Cook

        Re: They lied

        Low education <> stupid or ignorant. They will have, in general, at least a high school education.

        1. ecofeco Silver badge

          Re: They lied

          They will have, in general, at least a high school education.

          I wouldn't be too sure about that nor put much stock in a U.S. high school education.

    3. DougS Silver badge

      Where's your evidence of that?

      They were within the margin of error in the swing states. What incentive did Trump voters have to lie but Clinton voters to tell the truth? The "shy voter" theory was such bullshit - people who voted for Trump sure weren't shy about crowing victory on Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else. Sure, maybe Trump voters would be shy if they lived in San Francisco, but Hillary voters would be equally shy if they lived in Houston.

      The 'art' in polling is trying to determine how many people who call themselves "likely voters" will actually turn up to vote. Hillary had an enthusiasm problem - if the same percentage of "likely voters" who said they were going to vote for Hillary as those who said they were going to vote for Trump turned up on election day, she would have won all those swing states and taken the election.

      Trump's likely voters were more enthusiast and more of them showed up. It is as simple as that. And that's hardly a surprise, this is usually what loses the election for a party that has been in power for a while - that's why Bush I lost to Clinton and why Gore lost to Bush II.

      The real problem was the media paying way too much attention to the national polling that showed Hillary with a consistent lead, and mostly ignoring the per state races. The average of polls taken the last few days before the election had her leading 3.5%, and it looks like she'll win by 2.5%, so they were right on the market. Unfortunately state polling is harder to do and due to the smaller samples tends to have wider swings so it is harder to know where things really stand.

  5. SeymourHolz


    The only time people show any enthusiasm for voting reform is when the candidate they supported lost under the extant rules.

    If the situation were flipped, Trump supporters would be talking about voting reform, and the Hillary supporters would be insisting the current system is fine.

    Let's dispel the myth that anyone cares about 'fairness' in elections, no one gives a hoot about 'fairness'.

    1. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: lol

      I disagree. I was all for the electrical reform the Lib Dems put forward in the UK. Just a pity the electorate here rejected democratising the system rather than hoping to take advantage of the inequalities in the current system (or just believed what reason they were told that new is bad).

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: lol

        But how would lib dems have felt if the reformed voting system had given UKIP 14% of the seats?

        I suspect they wouldn't have been applauding it as a wonderful sign of democracy

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: lol

          They might not have been happy. But democracy does need to provide representation for all. I don't like UKIP for all sorts of reasons, but they do have a constituency and if there is a case for other parties (such as the Green having minority representation then they should too. It might even improve political debate in the UK? It is not exactly stellar at the moment and none of the mainstream parties are interested in anything other than 'swing' consituencies

    2. cray74

      Re: lol

      If the situation were flipped, Trump supporters would be talking about voting reform, and the Hillary supporters would be insisting the current system is fine.

      Not necessarily. There are a lot of states where Republicans hold legislative majorities due to gerrymandering, which allows them to marginalize Democratic majorities in the population. Florida's an example: despite a Democrat majority of 400,000 (or about 4% of registered voters), Republicans have a 79-41 advantage in the Florida House.

      This has led to the Democrats desiring an anti-gerrymandering amendment to reform the current system. Had they won the election, this is a voting reform the Democrats would've liked.

    3. jamesb2147

      Re: lol

      Not exactly true, but good as a general rule; winners are rarely concerned with making sure the rules *change* unless certain it is to their benefit.

      Shockingly, California has had substantial and thus far, effective, electoral reforms. They have marginalized the Republicans in the state and probably poisoned Republicans nationally against the practice, but it is demonstrably effective. Further, the Californian people adopted a carefully worded measure that *continued* those policies, even though voting "No" meant ending the reforms. It was sleazy as hell and enough people saw through that to screw the effort. The reforms there seem permanent for the foreseeable future.

  6. Jonathan Richards 1

    What is polling *for*?

    When the media are in a feeding frenzy for poll results, it seems to me that the motivation is just wanting to know the news before it happens. Even for the campaigns themselves, it doesn't seem to have a real democratic (lower case) benefit. Swinging the vote your way particularly in places where it will get you a parliamentary-seat-benefit, or an electoral-college-vote benefit, is not democratic, or at least not as democratic as making your case clearly, stating your policies lucidly, and communicating with all the voters in all the constituencies. I agree with an earlier poster: the days of polls being able to produce convincing results is over, and I shall not be sorry to see and hear fewer of them in future (supposing that to be likely).

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: What is polling *for*?

      For the same purpose as approximately 93% of the other "news" you see from day to day: it's to attract your attention for a few minutes

      That's the only purpose it serves, and frankly the only one it needs.

  7. Ugotta B. Kiddingme Silver badge

    The OTHER key factor pollsters failed to account for was

    pure and simply, voter fatigue.

    In the final stretch run up to the election, I stopped answering the phone after having received no less than FIVE separate opinion poll robocalls in a single hour. During the last one, as with those prior, the first question was "how likely are you to vote?" After I answered positively, an actual person clicked into the call and conducted the rest of the poll. Having had my dinner interrupted once too often I tersely voiced my displeasure, hung up the phone, and steadfastly refused to answer another such call.

    After a very exhausting year+ of non-stop advertising, debating, name-calling, mud-slinging, muck-raking, and endless polling I and many others decided we'd had enough. Tired of being called stupid (by both sides) because our opinion didn't match [insert group here], I and apparently many others decided to just be quiet and express our opinion in the voting booth.

    For the record, I supported neither Trump nor Clinton.

    1. Captain DaFt

      Re: The OTHER key factor pollsters failed to account for was

      The other, other factor was the polls were concerned with Democrat vs. Republican candidate.

      This election was viewed by voters as insider vs outsider.

      It boiled down to the perception that Hillary=more years of same old shit vs. Trump=brick through the window to show they're pissed.

      Both Republican and Democratic parties should take this election as a shot across the bow.

      1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme Silver badge

        Re: The OTHER key factor pollsters failed to account for was

        "Both Republican and Democratic parties should take this election as a shot across the bow."

        Or a right cross to the jaw...

  8. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Polling gets it wrong when ...

    ... the voting machines vote against a candidate. A significant proportion of voting in the US is by electronic touch screen - you make your selections and then press "vote" - and the machine records your choices ... well actually I don't know what it does, I just hope it records them.

    Essentially we have to trust the company that makes the machine and the people who program it for each election - and then the people and methods used to transfer each machines vote counts to the server so that they can be totals at the end of the day.

    What's been interesting in the last few election cycles is that they appears to be a small difference in the precincts that vote electronically and the precincts that vote on paper. Precincts with electronic voting appear to show a slight preference for Republicans - give that the electoral balance between Democrats and Republicans is pretty much 50/50 nationally, if you could shift two percent of the votes from one candidate to another then you could win the election.

    Is this happening? I don't know but the statistics is interesting and it's fun watching the pundits trying to explaining the difference between exit polls and the actual votes - this usually comes done to, "Republican voters are embarrassed to admit that they voted for Trump" - LOL, like I believe that!

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: Polling gets it wrong when ...

      No. What you call "pundits trying to explain the difference" is what I call "people making a serious effort to do some analysis, rather than just sitting back and throwing snide comments".

      And Nate Silver and his team have done a reasonably comprehensive job on this particular anomaly.

  9. viscount

    Nate Silver was not wrong

    Firstly, Silver is not a pollster, he is a forecaster and he uses polls as input. Blaming him for bad polling is pointless.

    Secondly, I followed 538 (Nate Silver) during the election and it was very clear that he and his organization gave Trump a substantial chance of winning (about 30% on election day) and with articles that reinforced that it was an outcome that could easily occur. A 30% chance is a substantial probability, so all those who were "shocked" at the result cannot possibly blame 538.

    The media who were taken by surprise have only themselves to blame, not polls or forecasters.

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: Nate Silver was not wrong

      Upvoted for accuracy.

      Moreover: 538 attached a "probability" to its forecasts for each state, reflecting how close the race was state by state. A day before the election, I noted all those figures, and saw to my alarm that, out of 8 states where the certainty of outcome was less than 75%, 6 were in the Clinton column. Meaning that, if three of these states flipped - as should be expected, in that probability bracket - there was a good chance they'd all flip from Clinton to Trump.

      As it happened, FL, NC and PA did just that.

      In the 75%-90% probability bracket, there were 10 states, so we'd expect to see two flips. Those were MI and WI.

      Of course, if we were just rolling dice, we'd expect to see even chances of states flipping in both directions. But Nate blogged about that too, and pointed out - before the election - that the elections in each state are not independent, the same factors that swing it in WI will also very likely matter in MI. So the chances of a nationwide swing (or error) being consistently in the same direction were high.

      There were 33 more states where the probability was over 90%. Statistically, we should have expected one or two of these to flip too, but they didn't. So maybe the upper end of Nate's scale should be recalibrated, but for the close races? - he did a terrific job.

  10. Eddy Ito Silver badge

    Despite Trump claims of anti-Republican "rigging", this system is significantly pro-Republican in its bias, with true-red states such as Wyoming providing three electors for 250,000 votes cast – while California returns 55 delegates (for the Democrats) for 13.7 million votes. Go figure!

    Go figure what exactly? Each state gets two electors for the state and the others are apportioned by population. 13.7 million votes divided by 53 populous electors is one elector for every 258,490 votes. That compares rather well with Wyoming's single populous elector and 255,849 votes. It's not exactly rocket surgery.

    1. admiraljkb

      Elector allocations

      its done that way to make sure that the large pop states (TX, NY, CA, FL, etc) can't run roughshod over the rest of the country. Even so, it could be argued that with 55 votes, CA in particular may already have too much influence in a Presidential election, particularly with the statewide winner taking all the State's electoral votes.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Elector allocations

        particularly with the statewide winner taking all the State's electoral votes.

        And perhaps that's where the reform needs to be. The two state-wide vote on who won the state. The rest vote based on who won their district. Not sure if this would make a difference though but it might encourage voters that their district has a say in the election.

        1. Bucky 2

          Re: Elector allocations

          The two state-wide vote on who won the state. The rest vote based on who won their district.

          That would be the way things would be if the "tyranny of the majority" issue (the thing about populous states bullying smaller states) was a genuine concern. Indeed, all it really does is create a "tyranny of the minority" in its place. It's self-evidently a non-solution. The founding fathers weren't obvious idiots, so we have to look elsewhere for the explanation.

          A better guess is that it is a gambit to make sure that a hand-selected group of "cooler heads" (or perhaps "wealthier heads" would be more accurate) would ultimately be in control of large elections.

          1. tom dial Silver badge

            Re: Elector allocations

            "Cooler heads" is pretty much what Hamilton argued in Federalist No. 68 in favor of indirect choice of the president using electors. Those wishing to describe the electors as "wealthier heads" are not far wrong, since the correlation of wealth and education was high then, just as it is now. That is slightly related to the imbalance between high and low population states in electoral college strength, but probably only weakly and perhaps coincidentally.

        2. catprog

          Re: Elector allocations

          You mean the districts that are subject to gerrymander?

  11. sisk Silver badge

    Margin of error

    Granted I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to the polls - in fact I actively avoid the places most likely to publish polls for reasons mostly unrelated to polling - but all the polls I saw were within the margin of error. The statisticians were saying "Too close to call" while the media was yelling "Clinton's gonna win" on the basis of the same polls. To my mind that's a media failure, not a polling failure.

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: Margin of error

      I did pay a lot of attention to the polls, and you're completely correct.

      Which explains why the media is now scapegoat hunting.

      1. ricegf

        Re: Margin of error

        In 2000, the media called Florida for Gore while the polls were still open, potentially discouraging many voters from voting after work. This may have flipped the state, or reduced the margin of victory, depending on which voters you believe were affected.

        In 2016, the media called the national election for Clinton before election day, potentially discouraging many voters from voting at all. Given several very close states, this may have affected this election as well.

        The media shouldn't call ANY election until ALL polls are firmly closed, including those still waiting in line.

        1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme Silver badge

          Re: Margin of error

          "The media shouldn't call ANY election until ALL polls are firmly closed, including those still waiting in line."

          It is not possible for me to agree MORE than I already do so have an upvote instead. This is one aspect of news media that has always annoyed me endlessly. "Never mind if we get it right or not, we have to be FIRST! If we happen to also be right, spiffy!"

  12. admiraljkb

    Well, before the election, I knew very few people (in a heavily "red" state) that would fess up to wanting Trump. Based on that observation, I suspected they were probably too ashamed to admit that to an anonymous pollster and possibly to themselves. I figured *if* Trump was within 10-15% of Hillary poll-wise, he'd probably win, and he was within 10% at the final day... Not a terribly scientific observation, but it turned out a good guesstimate. Somehow have to factor in the psychology of people who vote not FOR a candidate, but AGAINST a candidate. (which seems to be most of the votes submitted this cycle were either AGAINST Hillary OR Trump, but not actually FOR either and might not admit to voting for either) . Maybe they need to change the question - like "which candidate(s) would you NOT vote for?", and not even worry about the "who are you voting for?" questions.

    1. Tikimon Silver badge

      You illustrate this perfectly!

      "I knew very few people (in a heavily "red" state) that would fess up to wanting Trump. Based on that observation, I suspected they were probably too ashamed to admit that to an anonymous pollster and possibly to themselves."

      Too ashamed to admit to themselves? You arrogantly assume that anyone voting for Trump SHOULD be ashamed! This smug demonizing of people with views you don't like is exactly why the Trump voters kept quiet. The Left in America seem to feel they can spout anything they like, and demean anyone they like with impunity. Those who disagree with them are obviously stupid redneck Nazis and their opinion doesn't count. Which is utter bigotry, but only white males can be bigots yanno. Bah.

      This tactic has left many Americans rightly annoyed at being insulted and marginalized. In my opinion, Hillary voters have at least as much reason to feel ashamed. In truth, neither were acceptable candidates, which points up the failure of the Big Two parties.

      1. admiraljkb

        Re: You illustrate this perfectly!

        @Tikimon - dude, I really wasn't trying to single out anyone. Yes, I called out Trump first since a) pollsters said he'd lose b) I could make the "red state" observation, and c) I don't live in a Blue state to make a direct observation on people who were reluctant to make their choice known. I could only observe those around me in a red state who were extremely reluctant to declare anything, and who had not been so reluctant in prior years.

        I suspect since pollsters said their numbers were underreported on Clinton as well in several areas, that many voters that selected Clinton were equally reluctant/ashamed to do so. Hence me postulating the theory of maybe pollsters just ask people who they will NOT vote for. :) Sorry if I had some clarity issues in previous post.

      2. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: You illustrate this perfectly!

        You arrogantly assume that anyone voting for Trump SHOULD be ashamed!

        They fucking should. This admin is going to make Reagan, and both Bushes look like a fucking church picnic. Not to mention the outright racism.

        Remember what a great job they did for the average person? Yeah, me neither because they didn't.

        1. ricegf

          Re: You illustrate this perfectly!

          Mr. Reagan inherited a dismal economy (even the incumbent openly admitted this) and worked with a congress held by Democrats for 20 solid years to turn things around. And turn them around he did, so much so that he won every single state except his opponent's home state in 1984 - and he only lost that by a slim margin. I think you are suffering from revisionist memory.

      3. CRConrad

        Re: You illustrate this perfectly!

        He didn't actually write "Too ashamed to admit to themselves", just _to pollsters._

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Funny thing, in the red state where I was during the election, most everyone I met said they would vote for Trump, yet the region went majority for Hillary.

      I'm still scratching my head over that one.

  13. Chris Evans

    Press reporting of Polls

    I saw no mention of how accurately (complete with caveats) the poll results were reported! I'm sure that has had a significant effect on the four recent unexpected results (General Election, EU Referendum, US Presidency and the vote in Italy this weekend).

    Voters don't seem to like to be told how to vote!

    I can't see any politician around the world calling an election unless they absolutely have to or have fixed the result in advance (Russia?)

  14. Curtis

    Not A Democracy

    One thing that keeps being missed is that the United States is not a Democracy. We are a constitutional "Representative Republic". In order to change this, would require a constitutional amendment, which just ain't gonna happen this way. Listening to some people, 4 major metropolises mean more than the other 85% (geographically) of the country because they're "more populous". Until (and unless) the voting rolls are cleaned up and some sort of verification of citizenship is put in place, the system will not change.

    1. HausWolf

      Re: Not A Democracy

      The right will never go for true verification of citizenship because then it become national ID and the wingnuts will go off about NWO, FEMA camps and Agenda 21

      1. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: Not A Democracy

        Not to mention they are the biggest employers of those "undocumented" immigrants.

  15. Brian Miller

    Electoral College, Population Ratios

    Despite Trump claims of anti-Republican "rigging", this system is significantly pro-Republican in its bias, with true-red states such as Wyoming providing three electors for 250,000 votes cast – while California returns 55 delegates (for the Democrats) for 13.7 million votes. Go figure!

    The reason for Wyoming having three electors is because that's the minimum number for a state. One for each senator, and one for each seat in the House of Representatives. Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont are in the same boat.

    The U.S. is capped at its number of representatives, so California is, of course, under-represented. That was decided at the federal level, and can be changed in the future. It's not some Republican conspiracy to short-change California.

  16. dalethorn

    What a huge load of bulls**t. This article reads like it was made for kindergartners. When is the Reg going to get some real writers?

  17. GrumpyKiwi

    Statistically close

    Yeah right.

    What we are seeing is the well known "Texas Sharpshooter" technique in which bull's-eyes are drawn around the six random shots at a barn - claiming credit for any results that were even vaguely in the vicinity of being right while ignoring anything that was massively and blatantly wrong.

    Also known as HARK-ing or Hypothesising After Results Known, a retrospective search for something, anything that can be grasped onto.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    3/5th measuring should go

    The basis for the Electoral College has less to do in general preventing big states from taking advantage of smaller states, than the politics needed to get the Southern states to join the Union and their fear of Northern states having power of slavery.

    Counting Blacks (slaves at the time) as 3/5th people allowed states to pump up their census numbers and the college votes without actually increasing the number of eligible voters. Voting was "rigged" from the start.

    One person one vote was never more than a slogan which was never really meant.

    Since not only non-whites, but women too now have the vote, moving to a process where each vote is weighted roughly the same would add legitimacy to our claims of democracy.

  19. MSmith

    no votes for Trump counted in 3 weeks

    Well, on election night, Trump led by 1.3 million votes. But California just keeps on counting votes for Hillary Clinton. By the time of the next presidential election, Hillary Clinton will have gotten 100 million more votes than Donald Trump. Last week, they reported that California still has to count the votes from 32 states.

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: no votes for Trump counted in 3 weeks

      Count the votes from 32 counties, perhaps?

      That said, there is reason for considerable suspicion if, in fact, a significant number of voting districts have not yet reported results three weeks after the election. Nearly all absentee ballots, which most states require be mailed no later than election day, and ballots from deployed military personnel, should be in hand by a week or ten days after the election, and taking longer than a few days to count them should raise suspicion about the counting procedures.

  20. tom dial Silver badge

    The electoral college was a derivative of the population crediting policy for the House of Representatives. The bias in the electoral college since then has been a result of the facts that every state is allocated two Senators and at least one Representative irrespective of its population.

    Censuses beginning with the first, in 1790, counted women on the same basis as men, although only New Jersey allowed them to vote (until disallowing it in 1807). It is likely that neither race nor sex has been a significant issue in apportioning Representatives since the census of 1870 or perhaps 1880, well over a century ago. Who is allowed to vote, however, has been and remains a contentious issue from time to time.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    An article on internet making judgment on why poll from internet source was wrong.

    ffs, step outside and drive out to the country side to see for yourself. The reason is extremely obvious especially when you can't even get a taxi or Uber delivery.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I really resent the ONLY "news" being reported in advance of an election is the artificial horserace of who is up, who is down. Not a peep about plans and platforms to evaluate. So, I took a page out of Mike Royko (legendary Chicago newspaper columnist) who advised everyone, when called by a pollster, to LIE. For every poll, I "flip" my support back and forth. I'm a fervent Jill Stein Republican, oh no, I'm a Trump supporter socialist, oh this time I'm a nonvoter who has no idea who is running....I have a great time, especially with real-person calls. Hope I contribute to the complete dismantling of the polling organizations.

  23. Frank Rysanek

    Binary choices promote extreme personalities up the media circus

    Most elections systems in action today apparently work like this: out of many political parties, two of them happen to collect the topmost vote percentages... And these two keep fighting it out in every elections, on and on, period after period. Maybe worse yet, this system tends to bring extreme personalities to the front, and turns the last rounds of the election into a cock-fighting exercise... which easily guides public attention away from issues that actually matter...

    Where I live, there's a guy who seems to evangelize a voting system where consensus is more valued than cockerel fighting. Actually a family of systems - the "algorithm" has tunable knobs, for a particular application / society / culture / whatever. The principle appears to be: more than one vote to each voter, and negative votes. Which allows consensual candidates to get votes from several parts of the political spectrum, and suppresses candidates who are "polarizing the spectrum". Interesting ideas, if academic. So far they've been testing the system informally ("shadowing" some actual votes) or on smaller-scale projects. The idea is called "Democracy 2.1" - apparently very different from something called "Democracy 2.0" :-)

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