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Why FiveThirtyEight Gave Trump A Better Chance Than Almost Anyone Else

Stashed in: Awesome, Nate Silver, Trump!, Data is beautiful., 2016

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Polls tend to replicate one another’s mistakes:

 If a particular type of demographic subgroup is hard to reach on the phone, for instance, the polls may try different workarounds but they’re all likely to have problems of some kind or another. The cacophony of headlines about how “CLINTON LEADS IN POLL” neglected the fact that these leads were often quite small and that if one poll missed, the others potentially would also. As I pointed out on Wednesday, if Clinton had done only 2 percentage points better across the board, she would have received 307 electoral votes and the polls would have “called” 49 of 50 states correctly.


Clinton was ahead by 3 to 4 percentage points in the final national polls. She already leads in the popular vote, and that lead will expand as mail ballots are counted from California and Washington, probably until she leads in the popular vote by 1 to 2 percentage points overall.


But what about the state polls? They were all over the place. Clinton actually overperformed FiveThirtyEight’s adjusted polling average in 11 states and the District of Columbia. The problem is that these states were California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington. Since all of these states except for Nevada and perhaps New Mexico were already solidly blue, that only helped Clinton to run up the popular vote margin in states whose electoral votes she was already assured of. That’s especially true of Calfornia, where Clinton both beat her polls by more than 5 percentage points and substantially improved on Barack Obama’s performance from 2012.

Hillary ended up winning the popular vote by more than 2 million people:

She received the second most votes of any candidate in history. Obama is #1.

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