My election polling coverage for Nature

Here’s a few stories I’ve been working on lately for Nature. If you’re interested in them, you can read the whole thing on Nature‘s website. (And if you quote or cite any of them, please give proper credit.) Special thanks go to my editors, Lauren Morello and Richard Monastersky. At the bottom of this, I’ve also posted a few other election-related articles from my colleagues.

 

Pollsters struggle to explain failures of US presidential forecasts

Most surveys did not predict Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton.

What went wrong? That’s the question that many political pollsters in the United States are asking themselves in the aftermath of the 8 November presidential election. Republican Donald Trump won in an electoral landslide, but for months most polls forecast a victory for his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Many types of polls, including randomized telephone polls and online polls that people opt into, tightened in the weeks leading up to the election — but still pointed to a Clinton win.

“The industry is definitely going to be spending a lot of time doing some soul-searching about what happened and where do we go from here,” says Chris Jackson, head of US public polling at Ipsos, a global market-research and polling firm based in Paris.

(Credit: Reuters/Danny Moloshok)

(Credit: Reuters/Danny Moloshok)

The most recent national polls — including those conducted by ABC/Washington Post, Ipsos, YouGov, and Fox News — all estimated a Clinton lead of 3 to 4% over Trump. Minor-party candidates, such as Gary Johnson of the Liberal Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party, were forecast to win single-digit support. Yet as this article went to press, as the last votes were being counted, Clinton leads the popular vote by a razor-thin margin: just 0.2%. The majority of states have tipped for Trump, awarding him their valuable electoral-college votes and ensuring his victory.

Poll aggregators such as FiveThirtyEight and New York Times nonetheless forecast Clinton’s chances of victory at 71% or higher, while the Huffington Post predicted a Clinton landslide. This dramatic polling failure could have been due to factors such as poorly assessed likely voters, people misreporting their voting intentions, or pollsters poorly surveying some segments of the population.

“It’s a big surprise that such a wide variety of polls using such a wide variety of methodologies have all the errors fall in the same direction,”says Claudia Deane, vice president of research at the Pew Research Center in Washington DC…

[For more, read the entire story in Nature, published on 9 November 2016.]

 

The polling crisis: How to tell what people really think

This year’s US presidential election is the toughest test yet for political polls as experts struggle to keep up with changing demographics and technology.

Hillary Clinton is heading for a landslide victory over Donald Trump. But wait. Trump is pulling ahead and could take the White House. No, Clinton has a clear lead and is gaining ground. Nearly every day, a new poll comes out touting a different result, leaving voters wondering what to believe.

The results of recent elections give even more reason for scepticism. In 2013, the Liberal Party of Canada confounded expectations when it won the provincial elections in British Columbia. The following year, polls overestimated support for Democrats in the US congressional elections. And this year, some pollsters underestimated Britons’ support for leaving the European Union in the Brexit referendum. These blunders have led some political commentators to say that polls are headed for the graveyard.

“It’s harder and harder to find people willing to pay for any polls, given their poor performance this year and last year. They’re heavily discredited in the UK,” says Stephen Fisher, a political sociologist at the University of Oxford.

As the US presidential election approaches, pollsters are scrambling to improve their methods and avoid another embarrassing mistake. Their job is getting harder. Until as recently as ten years ago, polling organizations were able to tap into public opinion simply by calling people at home. But large segments of the population in developed countries have given up their landlines for mobile phones. That is making them more difficult for pollsters to reach because people will often not answer calls from unfamiliar numbers.

So the pollsters are fighting back. They are fine-tuning their efforts in reaching mobile phones, using statistical tools to correct for biases and turning to online surveys. The increasing number of online polls has prompted the formation of polling aggregates, such as FiveThirtyEight, RealClearPolitics and Huffington Post, which combine and average the results to develop more nuanced forecasts.

“Polling’s going through a series of transitions. It’s more difficult to do now,” says Cliff Zukin, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “The paradigm we’ve used since the 1960s has broken down and we’re evolving a new one to replace it — but we’re not there yet.”

[For more, read the entire story in Nature, published on 19 October 2016.]

More election coverage from my colleagues at Nature:
Donald Trump’s US election win stuns scientists
How scientists reacted to the US election results
Beyond Trump vs Clinton: A scientist’s guide to the US election
The power of prediction markets

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