How Trump Made Most Pollsters Red-Faced With Embarrassment

In the most stunning presidential election in American history, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump swept into the White House Tuesday night. Much like the Ronald Reagan campaign of 1980, Trump appealed to the disconnected, the weary and angry electorate rejecting liberalism and the Washington elite of both parties.

Aside from the crowd gathered at Hillary Clinton’s headquarters in New York who watched the returns in a growing realization of defeat, the nation’s pollsters, for the most part, were dead wrong. They suffered an industry-shattering embarrassment at the hands of the most unlikely president-elect since Harry Truman defeated the overwhelming darling of the polls, Thomas Dewey in 1948.

Trump’s campaign was based on its distrust of the left-leaning media and the pollsters, referring to them as “crooked and rigged.” Those accusations were dismissed and mocked by the so-called experts. Jake Tapper of CNN said it best, “It’s going to put the polling industry out of business. It’s going to put the voter projection industry out of business.”

The vast majority of pollsters and election modelers forecasted the darling of the Washington establishment, Hillary Clinton, would win, sweeping the battleground states and win north of 300 electoral votes. It was a reflection of Ronald Reagan’s uphill fight against incumbent President Jimmy Carter. The polls in general missed the massive tide of discontent among the American electorate.

result embarasses pollsters.
Presidential race result embarrasses pollsters. Graphic: Google/AP

One such glaring example was the final University of Virginia Center for Politics model. It had Clinton winning 322 electoral votes to 216 for Trump, with Clinton winning Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. She lost all those states.

Naturally shocked liberals were searching for scapegoats and not the message they carried, which was essentially to go with the flow. Like Reagan’s populist message that resonated among what Spiro Agnew had called “the silent majority,” Trump’s rejection of the corruption in Washington and the failure of liberal policies was heard from the small towns of this country and disillusioned Americans seeking change in any form.

The stark fact about the pollsters was that the 11 national polls released in the final week of the race showed only three, a Los Angeles Times-USC survey, the Rasmussen poll and IBD/TIPP that Trump had the lead. All three polls were scoffed by the likes of the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC and The New York Times. Were they working on factual data or again providing their innate bias to the election process?

The liberal media criticized the L.A. Times poll as “experimental,” as did industry experts for polling the same pool of people and for the way it weighted black voters. Yet for the second consecutive presidential cycle, the L.A. Times, Rasmussen and IBD/TIPP surveys were among the most accurate, making them the gold standard going forward.

Meanwhile, the rest of the “credible” polls showed Clinton with leads of between 2 points and 6 points, boosting the Democrat to a 3.3 point national lead in the RealClearPolitics average.

Their battleground data was just as biased against Trump. Were they rigged, as Trump claimed? It is a dark day for most pollsters and their relationship with a growing majority of skeptical Americans who are viewing most of the establishment, including the polling industry with severe doubt and an unseen anger by the liberal elite.

Clinton held a 6.5 point lead in the Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina. Trump won all those states and Ohio too. Election modelers declined to flip any of those battleground states, even as the Clinton campaign rushed furiously to defend those states in the final days of the election.

In fact, the conventional wisdom among many pollsters was that the race would be somewhat close nationally; a two to three point range, with Clinton running the table. But state after state told the same story for Trump and Clinton. The crowd gathered at the Clinton national headquarters went from jubilant with the balloons and confetti awaiting their release, to a growing sense of panic and finally despair as the key states unfolded into Trump’s inside hand of strategic brilliance.

The pollsters disregarded, or never interviewed in depth, the utter disgust of white working class voters. They clearly underestimated that base entirely. Those voters swarmed to Trump on Election Day, and like Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan made fools of the left-leaning, highly inaccurate national polls.

Unlike Obama in 2008 and 2012, Clinton failed to bring the expected number of women voters, African-Americans and the Democrat coalition of minority voters. Trump’s message of renewed optimism for their plight resonated more than the liberal elite thought possible. Obama’s constituency of young voters disappeared through their anger of Bernie Sanders treatment by the Hillary campaign organization.

Pollster John Zogby believes that many in the industry weighted their polls too heavily in favor of Democrats, pointing to polls that had an 8 to 9 point advantage for the party, when it should have been in the 4 to 5 point range, he said. Was that intentional to produce the facade of Clinton’s “inevitable” victory to keep Trump supporters in the dark? That assumption will have to be reexamined.

An Associated Press analysis found Clinton bested Trump by 13 points among women. Meanwhile Trump got the support of 70 percent of white men without a college education, besting Mitt Romney’s showing by 10 points, the AP study found. The election came off as the white vote was a united minority group that decided the liberal policies of the Obama administration had to be stopped.

In fact, few models or polls predicted there would be enough white voters to turn out to counterbalance demographic trends that were believed to tilt heavily in Clinton’s favor. They were wrong. Furthermore, the polls failed to see the votes Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson pulled in key states. He took more that 3.5 percent support in Wisconsin and Michigan, enough to make up the difference between Trump and Clinton. He took 2.5 percent support in Pennsylvania, which was decided by about 1 point.

Pollsters will have to reassess after a dismal showing in 2016 that produced a result almost no one foresaw. President-elect Donald Trump now faces a daunting task of repairing the economy, America’s foreign policy, immigration, and most importantly the fact that the country is divided down the middle. The Republicans holding both the House and the Senate will provide Trump with a wide open honeymoon starting January 20, 2017. What an election.

It doesn’t hurt that Hillary Clinton gave a gracious speech of congratulations and support to the president-elect. She should be applauded for her campaign and utter diligence in the face of obvious health problems and political liabilities beginning with her personal server and the Clinton Foundation. She must know that those two issues alone cost her millions of votes that another Democratic candidate such as Joe Biden or even her running mate Tim Kaine would not have faced.

Dwight L. Schwab Jr.
Dwight L. Schwab Jr. is a moderate conservative who looks at all sides of a story, then speaks his mind. He has written more than 3500 national political and foreign affairs columns. His BS in journalism from the University of Oregon, with minors in political science and American history stands him in good stead for his writing.


Dwight has 30-years in the publishing industry, including ABC/Cap Cities and International Thomson. His first book, "Redistribution of Common Sense - Selective Commentaries on the Obama Administration 2009-2014," was published in July, 2014. "The Game Changer - America's Most Stunning Presidential Election in History," was published in April 2017.


Dwight is a native of Portland, Oregon, and now a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area.