On the morning of November 9, while studying abroad, I googled “election results” and fully expected to see Hillary Clinton’s victorious face. Instead, I was greeted by a man a few shades more orange. I was not alone in my surprise, given that nearly every news outlet and polling site predicted Clinton to win.
Nine out of 10 featured polls on Real Clear Politics, an aggregate polling and political information website, predicted a Clinton victory. According to statistical analysis website FiveThirtyEight, Clinton had a 71.4 percent chance of winning on election day. The divide wasn’t even along ideological lines, everyone from Fox News to The Huffington Post had virtually the same result. And yes, every poll has a margin of error, but in many polls Clinton’s margin of victory was greater than the margin of error.
So, the results of election night shocked democrats and republicans alike. Most shocked of all was the media that led us to believe that a Clinton win was virtually guaranteed. The immediate reaction was an outpouring of pieces analyzing Trump’s underdog win and how all of our predictions could be so incredibly wrong. These articles posit reasons like non-response bias, last minute deciders and not accounting for the electoral college for the upset, but truthfully, the general thesis of these pieces is something along the lines of “we have no freaking clue.” Even the pollsters are just speculating.
While surprising, these polling errors aren’t exactly unprecedented. In 1948, the media was so sure that Truman would lose the election that the Chicago Tribune mistakenly ran the front-page article “Dewey Defeats Truman” in the following day’s paper. More recently, Gallup’s final polling results for 2012 had Romney up by a point while in reality Obama had a four-point victory.
Perhaps the media in 2017 will be able to tell us exactly what went awry, but for now, why exactly the polls were so wrong remains a mystery.