Below are excerpts from remarks and other commentary posted by Sam Wang at the Princeton Election Consortium website, http://election.princeton.edu, and on Twitter:
Friday, July 15
From the PEC blog: “FOO (Freakouts Over Outliers).”
A CBS/NYT poll released yesterday indicated a 40-40 tie between Clinton and Trump. Cue media freakout. This illustrates the point that news organizations habitually report on outlier events, a bad move when it comes to data points when other data points are available.
Four other surveys with mostly overlapping dates show Clinton +1% (Morning Consult), YouGov/Economist (Clinton +3%), AP-GfK (Clinton +4%), and Clinton +12% (Raba Research). Five data points, with CBS at the extreme end. Oldtime PEC readers, all together now: take the median. . . . So the race may have narrowed from a 5% gap — maybe because of FBI director Comey’s public announcements? Anyway, it’s not a tie yet.
Friday, July 22
In the aftermath of the Republican Convention July 18 to 21.
Measuring the effect of a particular political event is challenging. Any single poll spans multiple days, and multiple polls are necessary to get good accuracy. National surveys give the first indication, within a week. State polls (upon which the PEC snapshot and forecast are based) are more accurate when aggregated, but take longer.
In the case of the Republican convention, we will have a hard time knowing what its effects are in isolation.
Today the electoral snapshot is at Clinton 312 EV, Trump 226 EV. Margins in many states are quite narrow . . . Consequently the Meta-Margin (how much swing toward Trump would be needed to create an electoral tie) is only 2.5%. This close lead, in PEC’s approach to prediction, makes Clinton’s November win probability only 80%, in a range (20-80%) that I call uncertain. This is our starting point for evaluating the weeks ahead.
Monday, August 1
Wang notes a 7 point bounce for Clinton following the Democratic National Convention, July 25 to 28.
Tuesday, August 2
From the PEC blog: “Rigged?”
@SamWangPhD RT @oliverdarcy: Trump to Hannity: “I’m telling you, Nov. 8th, we’d better be careful, because that election is going to be rigged”
Three months before the general election, why would a candidate claim that the election will be rigged? Either to foment unrest afterward, or to claim that he was robbed. In either case, the remark suggests that he expects to lose.
The high accuracy of poll aggregation acts as a safeguard against blatant fraud. In the last few weeks of the Presidential campaigns of 2004, 2008, and 2012, poll aggregates (including those served up here) gave the correct winner in all states where the poll median was more than 1% for either candidate.
At the Princeton Election Consortium, we use state polls only, which means that it takes some time to catch up with changes in opinion.
Wednesday, September 7
From the PEC blog:
Nervous about recent changes in polls? As usual, don’t pay attention to single surveys. However, it is true that the Presidential race has narrowed by a few percentage points; the median of national polls taken over the last week is Clinton +2%. PEC’s state poll-based analysis will probably continue to move toward Trump for at least a week as it catches up with national surveys.
Friday, September 16
From the PEC blog: “Sometimes Life Comes at You Fast” Excerpts follow.
It looks like the Presidential state-poll snapshot is heading for a near-tie. This should become evident in the PEC analysis by the time of the first debate. I believe this will be a temporary situation. It will take at least until after the first debate on September 26th to find out.
Monday, September 26
From the PEC blog on the day of the first debate: “Three Reasons to Ignore Debate ‘Expectations.’”
Polls are likely to move after the debate. It is the moment when voters get to make a direct, side-by-side comparison of the two candidates. This may also be the last time for any significant shift in the race.
Both before and after the debate, pundits will emit opinions about “expectations.” This commentary does not have predictive value. It would be better if they kept their focus on policy substance or factchecking.
Here are three reasons why you should basically ignore the onslaught of horserace punditry that is about to rain down.
1. What commentators think about “exceeding expectations” is an anti-indicator.
2. If polls move after the debate, the reasons were baked in a long time ago.
3. Polarization has made it difficult for opinion to move much.
The unappreciated story of 2016 is the amazing stability of public opinion. As measured by national polls, 2016 marks the most stable Presidential race in >60 years of modern polling. At the level of state-poll-based analysis, the stability is even greater. This basic fact should inform all analysis.
Thursday, September 29
From the PEC blog: “The Incredibly Stable 2016 Campaign.”
This year’s Presidential campaign has been full of drama (much of which is captured in a single current story, that of Donald Trump and Alicia Machado). Despite all the venom and extremeness, actual voter sentiment is more stable than it’s ever been.
It does not seem to be a coincidence that just as campaign rhetoric has left civility far behind, opinion has become more stable than ever.
Saturday, October 8
The morning after the infamous Access Hollywood tape emerged, Wang addressed the notion that this would sink Trump’s chances:
The insta-consensus among commentators is that somehow this event is a cause of Trump’s electoral doom. I think the logic is backwards — to me, the growing obviousness of his doom created an environment for this story to blow up. The genuinely new development is the impact for downticket — in both the Senate and the House.”
Based on past elections, I estimate that people’s “animal spirits” about a campaign start to shift when the front-runner’s win probability gets close to 95% as defined using PEC’s methods. At that point, the marketplace of ideas starts looking for a reason to pile on to the loser. Enter the video/audio recording.
Sunday, October 9:
Shortly before the second debate, Wang tweeted a link to an article he wrote for the American Prospect, “The Hardened Divide in American Politics,” dated October 7. Excerpts follow.
Though news reports and commentators during this year’s presidential election have focused on twists in the race and shifts in polls, the real story about campaigns since the mid-1990s is how little movement there is during a general election. American voters are much less open to persuasion by the other side than they used to be. With increased partisan polarization among voters, how states vote from one election to the next also changes much less than it previously did . . . Election outcomes aren’t foreordained, but all the movement has been taking place within a relatively narrow range.
The hardening of partisan geography explains why the terms ‘red states’ and ‘blue states’ now make sense to us. Since 2000, only two states, Virginia and Colorado, have shifted from being more Republican than average to being more Democratic than average; only Missouri has shifted in the opposite direction. The rest have stayed the same.
In a subsequent blog post, Wang noted:
Several of you point out that my analysis of Presidential races 1952-2016 in The American Prospect appears to conflict with an assertion by Nate Silver about this year’s Presidential race. Yesterday he discussed why he thinks 2016 is a year of high ‘volatility.’
I do not mean emotional volatility. The entire political season has been emotionally fraught. … I do get the sense that Silver may have inadvertently let this colloquial interpretation get into his analysis. … I think it is a mistake to mix our personal judgments of what a weird year it is with quantitative measurements of opinion.
Silver introduces a novel definition of volatility: responsiveness to events. This is not commonly accepted usage! In finance, it is defined the same way as variability: volatility is the degree of variation over time. … In fact, I would say that whatever our emotional response to this year’s events, the most remarkable aspect of public opinion is how little it is changing.
Monday, October 10
@SamWangPhD retweeted @IMillhiser: Turn it off. Today PEC’s Clinton win probability hit 95%. In past races that’s been a Rubicon.
From the PEC blog:“Some Secrets Are Not Dirty.” Excerpts follow.
Yesterday, Hillary Clinton’s PEC win probability hit 95%.
In last night’s debate, the 2005 candid video of Donald Trump saying what he does with women was still on everyone’s mind. In response, he brought up many topics beloved by Republican rank-and-file voters: Bill Clinton, Benghazi, e-mails…it was a veritable Greatest Hits of 1996-2016. The likely consequence of this is that Republican leaders are trapped. All their base (R) belong to him. This will reverberate, downticket.
This seems like a good time to reveal one of the Princeton Election Consortium’s own secrets. Thankfully, it does not involve an Access Hollywood video.
Here it is: poll-based Presidential prediction is not very hard.
I have formed a sneaking suspicion that the runaway success of poll-based forecasting arises from these two victories [2008 and 2012]. If this is correct, then sites like The Upshot and FiveThirtyEight are basically prurient entertainment for progressives. Which is okay with me. Everyone needs an outlet. Republicans got theirs in 2010 and 2014.
I think it is a good thing that those sites did not start in 2004. When many hobbyists (including electoral-vote.com, me, and many others) started doing poll aggregation, it was a tough year: John Kerry and President George W. Bush traded the lead several times, and it was a photo finish, coming down to Ohio. When it comes to probability, it is too easy to do a suboptimal job of extracting all the possible value out of polls. That would have led to a boring year of commentary: “it’s too close to call!” seems okay for a pundit to say, but is that what we really want from a data nerd?
But Presidential analysis seems to be a problem that is well under control, thanks to the abundance of data and analysis from hordes of nerds.
Wednesday, October 12
With the presidential contest wrapped up in Wang’s mind, his focus turned to more competitive races in Congress.
@SamWangPhD: Big stampede toward idea of a downticket disaster for Republicans. My long-term expectation: in January 2019, Republicans will control House
@SamWangPhD: … even if Democrats pull off a takeover, would be by the slimmest of majorities. GOP would have to stay imploded in 2018
@SamWangPhD: … seems unlikely. I know, our heads are filled w/ Trump today. But will that be the case in two years?
Thursday, October 13
From the PEC blog: “Year Of The Woman, Again: Four Races That Will Determine The Senate Majority.” Excerpts follow.
This year’s coverage of women in politics has, reasonably, focused the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. In the Senate, women will also play a equally historic role, but not because of their gender.
The four women are all Democrats: Deborah Ross (North Carolina), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nevada), Maggie Hassan (New Hampshire), and Katy McGinty (Pennsylvania). They are running in some of next month’s closest Senate races. There are also close races in Indiana and Missouri. Control of the Senate in 2017 hinges on these races; current polls suggest that Democrats+Independents could end up with as many as 53 seats.
However, Republicans’ best outcome is similar, about 52 seats. And somewhat surprisingly, Senate polls have edged toward Republicans in the last several weeks. It looks like it will be right down to the wire.
Friday, October 14
From the PEC blog: “All The Reasons You Doubt Polls: Motivated Reasoning Strikes Again” Excerpts follow.
Every Presidential election, it happens. People on the side that is heading for a loss find ways to disbelieve what polls are telling them. This year is no different.
First, a tiny dose of cognitive science. Our brains are really good at letting in information that agrees with our prior views — and we look for reasons to reject information that is disagreeable. In a complex media environment, this tendency is deadly. It probably underlies our deep political divisions: getting the agreeable information is very easy. Witness the echo chambers in which dumps of fairly anodyne e-mail from Hillary Clinton take on sinister significance.
Monday, October 17
From the PEC blog: “The Polarization Hypothesis Passes the ‘Access Hollywood’ Test.”
Polarization is so strong that other than Debate #1, which moved opinion by about four percentage points, it is looking like no existing story line can alter the trajectory of the Clinton-versus-Trump race. The primary exhibit is national polls, which have not yet shown any measurable aftermath from the Access Hollywood video or Debate #2:
Tuesday, October 18
On November 3, 2012, Wang made a wager on his blog: “A few days ago, the word was that Team Romney was buying ads in Minnesota and Pennsylvania. If he wins either of those states I will eat a bug. [If he wins] Ohio…a really big bug. And yes, I will post a photo.”
@SamWangPhD: It is totally over. If Trump wins more than 240 electoral votes, I will eat a bug.
And he takes on MSNBC commentator Chris Hayes.
@SamWangPhD: That is true…if you mean the first *Republican* debate, when Trump became more than a flash in the pan. General campaign, just aftermath.
RT @chrislhayes: Before this history gets re-written in real time. The “turning point” in the race was the 1st debate, not the Access Hollywood tape.
Wednesday, October 19
In the aftermath of the final debate, when Trump suggested he would not concede defeat.
@SamWangPhD: This has to be worrisome for downticket GOP candidates. Every 1% who stay home = about 6 House seats.
RT @mmurraypolitics: Again, Trump saying that the election could be rigged has HUGE downballot implications. Could depress GOP turnout
Correction from Wang: correction: somewhat lower, more like 3-4 seats per 1%. Still, this kind of talk has to be worrisome for GOP candidates.
Thursday, October 27
From the PEC blog: “Why Did the Polls Seem So Variable This Week?” Excerpts follow.
Why do the polls seem so variable this week? The basic answer is that there were a lot of them. Outliers are an inevitable consequence.
The more polls there are, the wider the range of outcomes that you’ll see. With the election so near, we’re getting megadoses of polls: I count around 17 in a seven-day period. With that many, of course you will get outliers. As a rough rule of thumb, when the frequency of polls goes way up, you should expect the overall range of outcomes to double, more or less.
Don’t be like journalists who run off after the most extreme report — that is ridiculous. The only honest thing to do is to take a median or average of all the polls you can get your hands on. Right now, the collected wisdom of all the poll is that Clinton is ahead by a median of 6 percentage points nationally.
I view PEC as a tool for directing your positive energies to make a difference. Of course we are interested in the Presidential race…but there is little that can be done to affect it. It is basically decided. A good way to work off any anxiety is to work on races where we genuinely don’t know what will happen. Senate control is totally up in the air. There is Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania…so much to do. Donate your time and money to the side that you favor.
Friday, October 28
The FBI director announces further investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.
@SamWangPhD: yup – stories get boring. Though it does seem like the press’s emotional temperature changes shortly after polls plateau or reverse a little
RT @NateSilver538: The FBI story also broke at the exact time when the media was eager for a dramatic twist/complication in the “Clinton coasts” narrative.
Saturday, October 29
From the PEC blog: “Why Trump Stays Afloat” Excerpts follow.
In one of the most emotionally wrenching presidential races in living memory, Donald J. Trump’s support is as level as a pond. … Why has Mr. Trump’s support not collapsed further in the face of some fairly damning revelations?
The answer is polarization. The same forces that propel a radical candidate to a party’s nomination also provide a floor through which he is unlikely to fall. Mr. Trump’s ascent is the culmination of trends that began in the 1990s, when Newt Gingrich introduced the Contract With America, and adopted tactics like government shutdowns and impeachment.
Voter polarization translates easily to extreme legislative bodies. … Single-party domination has expanded since 2012 because of increased partisan gerrymandering, which eliminated dozens of competitive districts. These trends suggest that partisan gridlock will continue long after Election Day.
For now, we are stuck with an intensely emotional campaign that has been a significant source of stress for more than half of adults. The American Psychological Association has, for the first time, issued tips on dealing with election-related stress. When tempers run high, as they have for many voters, entrenched support for a party or candidate is more likely. So if you wonder whether there is anyone left to persuade, the answer is probably no. We’re too freaked out.
Sunday, October 30
From the PEC blog: “A Test of the Polarization Hypothesis.”
So, on the day that I wrote in the New York Times about how the race is so emotional that no minds will change, people get into hysterics over the Comey/e-mail story. The poetry of that is awesome.
Let’s take this opportunity to apply lessons from this season to predict what happens next.
First, the starting points:
For 20 years, polarization has made voters increasingly emotional and less likely to change their views. Donald Trump represents the culmination of this trend.
On time scales of a week, journalists get bored with a storyline, and look for ways that the trend is being violated. Until Friday, the developing story was “Clinton is coasting to victory.”
Whichever major party you support, your optimal strategy as a citizen is to focus on knife-edge cases, i.e. cases where the outcome is in doubt. From these, I suggest the following consequences:
The national race will not change meaningfully.
Journalists and pundits will continue to feed hysterics by fussing over the Comey story.
Keep your eye on the ball, which is downticket. … Small changes mean a lot: early voting, get-out-the-vote, bad weather…maybe even the Comey story.
Oh, I’ll go out on a limb on one last item: there is time for one more weird twist in the campaign. Considering the life cycle of journalists’ hidden thought processes, I’ll say it is Donald Trump’s turn for the next adverse story.
Monday, October 31
From the PEC blog: “Midnight Suspense Theater: The Senate.”.
Everyone’s up in arms over this Comey/e-mail thing. As I suggested would be the case, it’s not affecting the Presidential race in any meaningful way. That cake is baked. However, like any good thriller, there’s a fake ending — the election next Tuesday. After that comes actual governing.
The odds overwhelmingly favor a Hillary Clinton victory, as you can see above. However, think about how the opening stages of a Clinton Administration will go. For Cabinet and federal court confirmations Senate consent is necessary, and in our polarized age is easily withheld.
Remember I said that a Clinton Meta-Margin of +3% is the breakeven point for a Democratic Senate? That’s just about where the race is. Either party could easily end up in control — things are on a knife edge.
Tuesday, November 1
From the PEC Blog:
Recently Nate Silver asked us why our polls don’t bounce around much. In our polling, Clinton had a small lead in September which expanded to five or six points after the first Presidential debate on September 26. Since then a lot has happened — sex tapes, election rigging, WikiLeaks — but our numbers have budged only slightly.
We believe that most of the bounces seen in surveys this year represent sampling noise that can be reduced or eliminated by adopting better statistical methodology.
We did not see any shifts after the release of the Access Hollywood video, the second or third presidential debates, or the reopening of the FBI investigation into Clinton’s emails.
Although we didn’t find much vote switching, we did notice a different type of change: the willingness of Clinton and Trump supporters to participate in our polls varied by a significant amount depending upon what was happening at the time of the poll: when things are going badly for a candidate, their supporters tend to stop participating in polls.
Monday, November 7:
Wang retweets Princeton professor Julian Zelizer:
@julianzelizer on the outcome of the divisions of this election: “There’s a lot of evidence that we won’t heal.” A pessimistic statement from @julianzelizer … but probably an accurate one. Overcoming the divisions of 1996-2016 is a giant challenge.
Tuesday, November 8:
Here are my best estimates. The Presidential and House races are a near-replica of 2012. Four Senate races are within one percentage point. Partisans in Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, and North Carolina may want to lawyer up for possible recount battles.