Is Clinton’s Lead Over Trump as Large as Advertised?
Once upon a time, political polls tended to be pretty accurate (there were occasional exceptions to this rule, but they were few and far between). Recently there have been a few notable misses though. One that comes to mind is the Brexit referendum. Shortly before the vote, polls indicated the outcome would be a very close one, while betting markets were indicating a solid win of the “remain” vote. The actual result was around 52:48 in favor of “leave”, so this was quite a big miss.
Polarizing candidates – one of whom has already managed to confound election forecasters in the nomination race.
Image via cnn.com
Another case that confounded even the most seasoned forecasters was the race for the Republican nomination. See for instance this article by Mish from January, in which he rightly berates famous election forecaster Nate Silver for vastly underestimating Trump’s chances to win. Silver held them to be around 12% to 13% at the time, which turned out to be a miss of truly monumental proportions. He kept missing the mark for many more months to come (essentially until the point in time when Trump had made the transition to “inevitable nominee”).
We currently follow press coverage on the presidential election only cursorily, for lack of time, and also because it seems both very superficial and one-sided. The mainstream media bias in this election seems astonishingly blatant. To quote Stefan Molyneux, there is apparently no mud one cannot sling at the orange-haired maniac. We are of course well aware that Donald Trump has an uncanny ability to put his foot into his mouth, but it seems almost as if little else is discussed (skim through a few MSM articles at random and see how much you learn about his policy proposals – good luck).
On the other hand, it is not as if Hillary Clinton were widely considered an angel. The woman has spent decades mired in scandals, from her credulity-stretching career as a cattle futures trader in the 70s, to the Whitewater affair, Travelgate, the harassment of women pointing fingers at her philandering husband, to the recent questions about the Clinton foundation, the gigantic speaking fees she gets for mouthing platitudes at corporate gatherings for 20 minutes a stretch, the e-mail server controversy (and not to forget, her sociopathic streak)… and we’re sure we have left a few things out.
In short, she is just as polarizing a figure as Trump is widely held to be. Then there is the fact that Donald Trump continues to draw huge crowds wherever he goes to speak, a feat Hillary Clinton is not known for. Perhaps this is merely a sign that Trump voters are more energized for their candidate – but that seems quite an important factoid by itself. Remember the Brexit post mortem in this context: the “remain” camp mainly failed because it was unable to create even the slightest bit of excitement for its cause.
All of this made us wonder why Hillary Clinton is so solidly ahead in political polls. Below is a chart of the NYT’s “national polling average”, which concludes that her current lead boils down to an “89% chance of winning the presidency”. Really? That sounds a bit like Nate Silver judging Trump’s chances to win the Republican nomination back in January, i.e., it is a bit hard to believe.
The NYT national polling average asserts that Clinton’s chance to win the election is 89%. That strikes us as wishful thinking along the lines of “Trump will never get the nomination” – click to enlarge.
If one looks at the list of polls the NYT uses to construct this average, one can see that Clinton’s lead actually varies quite widely among them. Some of the organizations and/or media conducting the polls either have a known political bias, or a known bias in this particular election. The reported size of her lead seems to be correlating rather closely with these known biases. This is slightly mystifying, is it not?
Most of these polls are conducted via telephone, but there is also an online tracking poll by UPI/CVoter. Its margin of error cannot be calculated because the participants are self-selecting, but UPI mentions a credibility interval of 3 percentage points (apparently based on the Bayesian approach to quantifying uncertainty). This particular poll has fluctuated in quite a wide range, but at the end of last week, Trump has overtaken Clinton again for the first time since July:
Once again, it is possible that Trump voters are simply more engaged and more likely to self-select for this poll. Trump certainly packs more internet punch than Clinton through his Twitter feed, Facebook and You-tube presence (even though his tweets occasionally land him in hot water). As noted above, Trump has something in common with the erstwhile Democratic rival of Clinton, Bernie Sanders: he is generating genuine excitement among his supporters.
We wonder what it takes for Democrats to get excited over the prospect of voting for a woman who bears a large share of responsibility for turning an entire country into a war-torn failed state overrun by terrorists and is showered with money by Wall Street (note: she not only gets serious money for her probably sleep-inducing speeches from the likes of Goldman Sachs, she has actually received 2,550 times more money from hedge funds than Trump).
Presumably many are clinging very strongly to the “lesser evil” fantasy, but surely they realize that she stands for business as usual (including more war) – the quintessential representative of the cronyism characterizing Washington.
What Might be Skewing the Polls?
One thing that occurred to us already during the nomination process was that certain Trump supporters were likely to refrain from identifying themselves as such, given the steady drumbeat of condemnation of their man in the media.
What we didn’t know was that the phenomenon actually has a name, which a friend recently pointed out to us. It is called the “Bradley effect” (you can read all about it here), named after the supposedly winning (but actually losing) candidate in the 1982 gubernatorial election in California. Even the exit polls turned out to be wrong in this case.
A short while ago we have come across another possible explanation. Below is a video in which Stefan Molyneux speaks with Bill Mitchell. It has to be pointed out that Mitchell is a Trump supporter, so his views are presumably colored by his own bias to some extent. Nevertheless, he presents very interesting arguments.
Apart from mentioning some of the things we discuss above (e.g. the enthusiasm Trump generates), and the likelihood that independents and currently still undecided voters will overwhelmingly vote for Trump (which incidentally would also be in line with the “Bradley effect”), he notes that there are certain technical problems with the polls.
Specifically, he points out that the polls are skewed because Democratic voters are generally oversampled and the results are not corrected for that. He mentions a few counter-examples that seem to confirm this (note that we have not fact-checked these assertions).
While the term “social mood” isn’t mentioned in the course of the conversation, Mitchell does point to it when he says that (we are paraphrasing) “Trump is just riding the wave of an already existing trend”. This trend is noticeable all over the world as we have previously discussed (see e.g. “Incumbents Swept from Office Around the World”). Here is the video – it is well worth watching:
Stefan Molyneux speaks to Bill Mitchell about the polls and Trump’s chances
Part of the “Bradley effect” would also consist of demographics that are thought to be overwhelmingly favoring Clinton containing more Trump supporters than is generally thought. And there may well be many who are prepared to reassess their views when Trump tries to reach out to them – which he appears to be doing of late, once again employing a theme tied to the current social mood.
Consider this brief video clip from a speech he recently delivered at a rally in Michigan, in which he explains why African-Americans should consider voting for him. His argument is basically: you have it bad now, so what do you have to lose? Better vote for change (in the form of Trump), instead of voting for the status quo again.
Trump asks African-Americans to consider voting for him
This idea may have unexpected appeal, considering that blacks have overwhelmingly voted for Obama and have lost a great deal of ground economically under his administration. During his presidency, black home ownership has declined from 46.1% to 41.9%, while black food stamp recipients have soared from 7,393,000 to 11,699,000 people. One statistic that was improving – namely unemployment, and specifically youth unemployment – has come undone again after the introduction of higher minimum wages, rising from 28.1% to 40.1% in a single month.
There seems to be a lot of smug certitude that Trump is definitely destined to lose the election. We are not so sure. At the very least we would think that the race between Trump and Clinton is far tighter than it appears according to recent polls. This bring us back to a point we mentioned last week: the market is not pricing in the “risk” of an election upset.
We happen to think that presidents cannot change as much as is widely thought, or as they would perhaps like to – the one area in which they can actually make a difference is foreign policy. This is probably also the main reason why Trump is vilified so extensively, as he has repeatedly stressed that he would alter the US approach to foreign policy, which is seen as a threat to the greatest racket of all time.
Charts by: New York Times, UPI/ CVoter
You may have noticed that our so-called “semiannual” funding drive, which started sometime in the summer if memory serves, has seamlessly segued into the winter. In fact, the year is almost over! We assure you this is not merely evidence of our chutzpa; rather, it is indicative of the fact that ad income still needs to be supplemented in order to support upkeep of the site. Naturally, the traditional benefits that can be spontaneously triggered by donations to this site remain operative regardless of the season - ranging from a boost to general well-being/happiness (inter alia featuring improved sleep & appetite), children including you in their songs, up to the likely allotment of privileges in the afterlife, etc., etc., but the Christmas season is probably an especially propitious time to cross our palms with silver. A special thank you to all readers who have already chipped in, your generosity is greatly appreciated. Regardless of that, we are honored by everybody's readership and hope we have managed to add a little value to your life.
Bitcoin address: 1DRkVzUmkGaz9xAP81us86zzxh5VMEhNke
4 Responses to “US Presidential Election – How Reliable are the Polls?”
Most read in the last 20 days:
- Gold Sector: Positioning and Sentiment
A Case of Botched Timing, But... When last we wrote about the gold sector in mid February, we discussed historical patterns in the HUI following breaches of its 200-day moving average from below. Given that we expected such a breach to occur relatively soon, the post turned out to be rather ill-timed. Luckily we always advise readers that we are not exactly Nostradamus (occasionally our timing is a bit better). Below is a chart of the HUI Index depicting the action since the January...
- India: The next Pakistan?
India’s Rapid Degradation This is Part XI of a series of articles (the most recent of which is linked here) in which I have provided regular updates on what started as the demonetization of 86% of India's currency. The story of demonetization and the ensuing developments were merely a vehicle for me to explore Indian institutions, culture and society. The Modimobile is making the rounds amid a flower shower. [PT] Photo credit: PTI Photo Tribal cultures face...
- The Long Run Economics of Debt Based Stimulus
Onward vs. Upward Something both unwanted and unexpected has tormented western economies in the 21st century. Gross domestic product (GDP) has moderated onward while government debt has spiked upward. Orthodox economists continue to be flummoxed by what has transpired. What happened to the miracle? The Keynesian wet dream of an unfettered fiat debt money system has been realized, and debt has been duly expanded at every opportunity. Although the fat lady has so far only...
- March to Default
Style Over Substance “May you live in interesting times,” says the ancient Chinese curse. No doubt about it, we live in interesting times. Hardly a day goes by that we’re not aghast and astounded by a series of grotesque caricatures of the world as at devolves towards vulgarity. Just this week, for instance, U.S. Representative Maxine Waters tweeted, “Get ready for impeachment.” Well, Maxine Waters is obviously right – impeaching the president is an urgent...
- Welcome to Totalitarian America, President Trump!
Trump vs. the Deep State If there had been any doubt that the land of the free and home of the brave is now a totalitarian society, the revelations that its Chief Executive Officer has been spied upon while campaigning for that office and during his brief tenure as president should now be allayed. Image adapted from the cover of “Deep State #5” - depicting an assassin from the future President Trump joins the very crowded list of opponents of the American...
- Searching for Truth
Heresy or Truth? RANCHO SANTANA, NICARAGUA – In the fifth century, Christian scholars counted 88 different heresies. Arianism. Eutychianism. Nestorianism. If there was a way to “offend” God, they had a name for it. One group of “heretics” argued that there was no such thing as “original sin.” Another denied the trinity. And another claimed Jesus was not divine. Which one had the truth? Depiction of the first Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, convened by Emperor...
- Why the 21st Century Sucks - Turtles All the Way Down
A Truly Sucky Century BALTIMORE – What an awful century! Worst we’ve ever seen. Household incomes are down. Employment is down, with 7 million people in the U.S. of working age without jobs. Productivity growth is down. GDP growth is down – to only about 0.5% per capita last year. Even life expectancies are down. Drug overdoses are up. Suicides are up. One out of every eight children lives in a family getting food stamps. One of out every eight adults takes psychoactive drugs...
- Gold and the Fed's Looming Rate Hike in March
Long Term Technical Backdrop Constructive After a challenging Q4 in 2016 in the context of rising bond yields and a stronger US dollar, gold seems to be getting its shine back in Q1. The technical picture is beginning to look a little more constructive and the “reflation trade”, spurred on further by expectations of higher infrastructure spending and tax cuts in the US, has thus far also benefited gold. From a technical perspective, there are indications that the low at $1045.40,...
- The Unstable Empire – A Campfire Tale
Campfire Tale Caesar: The Ides of March are come. Soothsayer: Ay, Caesar, but not gone. — Julius Caesar, Shakespeare GRANADA, NICARAGUA – Today, we stop the horses and circle the wagons. For 19 years, we have been rolling along, exploring, discovering. We began with the assumption that we didn’t “know” anything - so we kept our eyes open. Now we know even less. Famous people who knew nothing and were not shy to admit it: Sergeant Schultz...
- Off the Beaten Path in Mesoamerica
Greeted by Rooster There’s an endearing quality to a steadfast rooster call at the crack of dawn when overheard from a warm country farmhouse. There’s a reassuring charm that comes with the committed gallinaceous greeting of daybreak that’s particularly suited to a rural ambiance. The allure of a morning cock-a-doodle-doo somehow falls flat in all other settings. Good morning everyone! Before meteorological forecasts were available on TV and smart phones, people...
- Why Silver Went Down – Precious Metals Supply and Demand
Rumor-Mongering vs. Data The question on the lips of everyone who plans to exchange his metal for dollars—widely thought to be money—is why did silver go down? The price of silver in dollar terms dropped from about 18 bucks to about 17, or about 5 percent. Reportedly silver was already assassinated in the late 19th century... so last week they must have assassinated its corpse. [PT] Illustration taken from 'Coin's Financial School' The facile answer is...
- Systematic Trading - Unwrapping the Onion
Lumpy but Robust [ed note: this article has originally appeared at the Evil Speculator and was written by trader and ES contributor Scott. We provide a link to Scott's past articles below this post for readers who want to get more familiar with his ideas and/or any unusual terminology used in this article] One continual theme in my trading is that every time I think I have it figured out, I get punched in the face by an unexpected problem. The tendency is to go more...