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Election numbers

November 22, 2016

On both the left and right, many people are looking either for some bogeyman in the closet (e.g., the rebellion against the elites) or some trite lesson to wrongly trumpet (e.g., Clinton was a horrible candidate) as explanation for the surprising result of the election. Most are overlooking this basic fact: Clinton won the popular vote by 1.7 million. That would have been healthy margin of victory in most presidential elections.

More, that popular vote margin is close to what polling models such as 538 predicted. It’s true that 538 gave Trump a smaller chance of winning (30%) than Clinton, and only a 10% chance of doing so by splitting the popular and electoral vote. That doesn’t make the modelers wrong; they would be wrong if the events they gave a 10% probability never happened! I lost a large hand last week to four jacks. Low probability events happen. Regularly.

Trump says he would have won a popular election had he been campaigning for that. I see no more reason to think that than that Sanders would have won were he the Democratic nominee.

The exit polls diverged from the eve of election polls regarding the share of Asian and Hispanic vote that Trump received. Which is more likely closer to fact? There is a reason the exit polls may be off:

National exit polls sample precincts and polling locations … to accurately predict the election outcome, and not to accurately predict how particular segments of the electorate vote. Warren Mitofsky, arguably the godfather of exit polling, acknowledged in a 2005 self-assessment that exit polls are “not designed to yield very reliable estimates of the characteristics of small, geographically clustered demographic groups.” Groups like Asian Americans and Latinos, that is.

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