The Exit Polls: what was spot-on, what was way off, and why they missed Trump’s victory

By Dave Andrusko

exitpolls94What follows is the second of two posts, examining what the exit polls told us about the composition of the electorate last Tuesday and how (and why) various groups voted. Some of the results are news (at least to the news media but not to people who live outside the media bubble), some are just new, and some are very different from what pre-election polls suggested.

Let me quote directly (8-9) from Chris Cillizza’s “The 13 most amazing findings in the 2016 exit poll.”  The underlines are mine.

8. This was a change election. And Trump was the change candidate.

To me, this is the single most important number in the exit poll in understanding what voters were thinking when they chose Trump. Provided with four candidate qualities and asked which mattered most to their vote, almost 4 in 10 (39 percent) said a candidate who “can bring needed change.” (A candidate who “has the right experience” was the second most important character trait.) Among those change voters, Trump took 83 percent of the vote to just 14 percent for Clinton.

The desire for change appears to be at the root of the choice lots and lots of voters made. And Trump was change while Clinton was more of the same.

9. Obamacare was a wind beneath Trump’s wings

The late October announcement that the average premium for people in the federal insurance exchange of the Affordable Care Act would rise by an average of 25 percent landed like a lead balloon on a not-insignificant portion of the electorate.

Almost half of the electorate (47 percent) said they thought Obamacare “went too far.” Trump beat Clinton 83 percent to 13 percent among that group.

So, what about the basic question, how did pollsters miss the election results? There are many reasons, here’s one.

As Jeff Stein wrote today, the “Likely Voter Screen” was way off. Pollsters refused to believe what Trump said he would do: bring many new voters into the political process for the first time. He did.

More interesting is how incredibly off state polls were in Michigan and Pennsylvania, both of which Trump carried. (Other state polls were off as well, according to Stein.) The worse may have been a poll from Matt Grossman, a political scientist at Michigan State, who a week before the election had Clinton winning by 19 points!

In an interview, Grossmann pointed to two big things that his team appears to have missed: 1) They badly underestimated the number of white voters without a college education who would turn out at the polls on Election Day, and 2) Republicans dubious about Trump rallied to support their party’s nominee in far greater numbers than projected.

“So it was a very different electorate than we expected,” Grossmann says. “And Republican-leaning women and conservatives who hadn’t made up their minds almost all ended up voting for Trump.”

Additionally, late-breaking voters — those who didn’t make up their minds until late in the campaign — appear to have backed Trump and would have been missed in earlier polling, according to Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University.

So, underestimating the number of new voters; underestimating the percentage of people who would vote for Trump after some hesitation; and underestimating the percentage of late-deciders all contributed .

Two other points very much worth noting. As Cillizza wrote, there was no surge of female or Hispanic voters, which the commentariat and the Clinton campaign were convinced would happen.

As we’ve noted on many occasions, the African American community overwhelmingly votes Democratic which unless you take that into account, skews how the “female” vote is understood.

So while Clinton beat Trump by 12 points among all women, Trump won 53% of white women. If you break it down further, what Clinton would probably call “deplorables”–white women who were not college graduates– voted for Trump 62% to 34%.

Trump carried men (53% to 41% for Clinton) and White men in particular (63% to 31%). Moreover among White men without a college degree, Trump’s advantage was almost 3-1: 72% to 23%

One surprising outcome–based on the narrative going in– Trump also carried white college-educated men by 15 points , 54% to 39%.

Please also read “White Evangelicals, Catholics, and Mormons backed Donald Trump.”