Polls For President: How Pollsters Got It So Wrong

With the election over, and the surprising results in, the time for reviewing how polls for president got it so wrong has arrived.

A simple Google search will reveal dozens of reputable news sources and polling organizations pointing to a sizable Clinton victory on election day. Many of these polls for president took place within a few days of the election. The New York Times was giving Trump a 7 percent chance of victory. The Washington Post was reporting that Trump’s chances of winning were “approaching zero.” And just two weeks before the election, the highly-respected Monmouth University Poll was projecting Clinton as the winner by more than 10 percent.


Everyone knows polls for president aren’t perfect. They are based on people, and it’s no secret that people aren’t perfect. However, when dozens of well-known and unbiased polls point to Clinton as the next president, it is time to fix how polls are conducted. The hard part is finding out exactly where the polls messed up.

There are already dozens of theories coming out as to why the polls and the supposed experts got it so wrong.

Fence Sitters

The prevailing theory is that a lot of traditionally Republican-leaning voters were on the fence until the last minute. Due to Trump’s scandalous remarks about women, a fair amount of conservative Republicans felt that they could no longer support their party’s candidate. Many pledged to vote for the Libertarian ticket, or in the case of Utah, an independent ticket. When these voters responded to polls, they likely did not select Trump as their candidate of choice.

However, when push came to shove, and the time came to vote, these disenfranchised voters decided to stick with their party. This can be shown especially in the state of Utah, where many polls for president showed Even McMullin, an independent candidate with very little name recognition, winning Utah’s electoral votes. McMullin ended up losing not only to Trump but to Clinton as well, barely scraping 20 percent.

Closet Voters

Another prevailing opinion of some pollsters is that of the closet Trump voter. At least half the country had extremely negative feelings about Trump as president. Many prominent members of society, including celebrities and politicians, were accusing him of being a racist and a sexist. Many voters have expressed the idea that they voted for him for president despite disagreeing with his sentiment. In essence, they put other issues at the forefront of their voting decision.

AS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 12: Anti-Donald Trump protesters hold signs as they gather at The Linq Promenade before marching on the Las Vegas Strip on November 12, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The election of Trump as president has sparked protests in cities across the country. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

It would be logical to assume that many people who voted Trump for president, but disagreed with some of his harsher rhetoric, would not be willing to tell people, or even pollsters, their plans to vote for Trump. This would have pushed the polls towards Hillary, and it helps explain why some polls leading up to the election showed up to 12 percent of the voters still undecided about their choice for president. Based on the election results, you can bet that a lot of people that told the polls that they were undecided ended up voting for Trump for president.

Likely Voters

The last decent reason that polls for president were so wrong is that of likely voters. When pollsters put together their models and organize their data, they attempt to account for how many people that they spoke with are actually going to get out and vote. A candidate can have 75 percent of the country’s support and still lose the election if their supporters aren’t likely voters. While polls make many attempts to understand and identify these voters, it is clear that enough is not being done.

President-elect Trump has claimed for a long time that he would rally millions of people that traditionally chose not to vote. Most of his supporters were disenfranchised by the current state of politics in America. Let’s face it, who isn’t. These supporters would have been projected not to vote in most polls, making these polls wrong when that changed.

hillary clinton concession speech
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 09: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, accompanied by her husband former President Bill Clinton (L) and running mate Tim Kaine, concedes the presidential election at the New Yorker Hotel on November 9, 2016 in New York City. Republican candidate Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election in the early hours of the morning in a widely unforeseen upset. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The truth is that no one knows the real reason that the polls for president were so wrong. What is probably the most likely explanation is that there is truth to all three arguments, and the combination was able to elect Trump as president.

Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll in Milwaukee, doesn’t think we will have an answer anytime soon.

“The ‘why’ is going to take a lot of time to seriously answer,” he recently told BuzzFeed News.

Whatever the reason, pollsters will surely spend the next four years tweaking their polling models and hopefully be prepared with more accurate polls in the next presidential election.

[Featured Image by Scott Olsen/Getty Images]