Political Misfortune: Anatomy of Democratic Party Failure in Clinton’s Campaign 2016 (Part I)

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

First, a word on the headline: It’s inspired by Eliot A. Cohen and John Gooch’s wonderful Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War. The authors begin their account of “defeats and disasters on the field of battle” by discussing methodology:

For example, the “man in the dock” at Pearl Harbor might be Rear Admiral Husband Kimmel; and the man in the dock for a hot take on the debacle of the Clinton campaign might be Robbie Mook, or Jill Stein, or Vladimir Putin, or even [genuflects] Clinton herself. Or the “man in the dock” might be collective: #BernieBros, or white working class racists. However, failure in war, like failure in politics, follows complex, cascading pathways with multiple points of failure, for which Cohen and Gooch have devised a clever representational technique that I shall apply in part two (that is, not today, but tomorrow). Today, I’ll put forward two narrative approaches that I strongly believe are inferior to Military Misfortune’s approach: The Poll-Driven “Horserace” narrative, and the Electoral College narrative. Both narratives will be useful to fix the sequence of events of campaign 2016 in your mind, in case you have forgotten or repressed them, but as the election results showed, and as I shall show in part two, they lack explanatory power. (Obviously, giving an account of why the Clinton campaign lost is challenging, time presses, and I might not be up to my usual standards on linky goodness. So please correct me where I go wrong, and, if you will, supply any lacunae.)

The Poll-Driven “Horse Race” Narrative

Rather than go deep into the weeds on timelines[1], I’m going to construct a narrative of inflection points based on the Los Angeles Times “Daybreak” poll, the one poll that (more or less) “got it right,” in that it predicted a Trump victory. (As it turns out, the Daybreak poll over-sampled rural voters, a technical failing that serendipitously matched increased 2016 rural voter turnout, as we show in part two. O felix culpa!) Then I’ll look for those same inflection points at the Huffington Post, Nate Silver, and Real Clear Politics. Here is the Daybreak poll:

Two points on the “horse race” as a whole: First, It’s obvious that Clinton (blue) could never quite pull away from Trump (red). Every time Clinton took a lead, she’d lose it. Second, Clinton’s lead (or, for that matter, Trump’s) was within the margin of error the whole time. Until Trump won by a nose. Now, to the inflection points:

(1) The Kahn Feud: I suppose I can’t say that the Clinton campaign used Khizr Khan’s son, Humayun, killed in the war she voted for, as a prop at the Democratic National Convention, because the elder Khan consented to be so used. Trump wasn’t happy about it, expressed himself, but more to the point, couldn’t let the “issue” drop, which voters (presumably) saw as unbecoming and perhaps even disqualifying in a President. So Trump’s numbers went down, and Clinton’s went up.

(2) “Meltdown” narrative: Trump reaches a trough, and there are a number of stories about the “meltdown” of his campaign (most of them using that word, as if they got it from somewhere). Bannon was hired at this time, and coincidentally or not, that arrests Trump’s decline, and the numbers stay choppy and flat.

(3) Clinton Collapses: Clinton faints at a 9/11 memorial and has to be hauled into her van, days after calling half Trump’s supporters a “basket of deplorables. Her numbers fall. Trump’s rise.

(4) “Pussy Grabbing” : Access Hollywood leaks a Trump “hot mike” tape with Billy Bush where Trump boasts he grabs women “by the pussy” [2]. Trump’s numbers wilt; Clinton’s swell.

(5) Email: Hero of the Republic Russian stooge FBI Director James Comey, produces an October Surprise: He’s looking into Clinton email again (actually, mail that Clinton confidante Huma Abedin sent to her odd husband, Anthony Weiner, that might have included sensitive mail from Clinton’s account). The story broke just before the election, and may (or may not) have affected the outcome by reinforcing voter’s priors about Clinton.

(6) Election Day: Trump wins. (Daybreak got the outcome right.)

Surely a coherent narrative at least? Well, maybe. Let’s lay it against another series, this one from Nate Silver:

(I used Silver’s “Chance of Winning” series, basically because the curves were bigger! That “within the margin of error” thing seems to have made Silver’s other curves too flat. Scientific, I know!) Some differences:

(2) “Meltdown” narrative: This doesn’t seem to have affected either candidate’s chances of winning at all; in fact, the post-Bannon choppiness isn’t there.

(3) Clinton Collapses: The swing is much smaller.

(4) “Pussy Grabbing” : Clinton’s upswing before the story breaks is much smaller.

(6) Election Day: Clinton wins. (Silver got the outcome wrong.)

Now let’s look at a third series, from Real Clear Politics (a poll of polls):

Some differences:

(3) Clinton Collapses: There is virtually no effect, by comparison to (2) the Kahn Feud or (3) the Meltdown phase.

(6) Election Day: Clinton wins. (RCP got the outcome wrong.)

Finally, let’s look at a fourth series, from HuffPo. (The general election is to the right, but I wanted to save the proportions by not cropping the chart.)

Some differences:

(3) Clinton Collapses: Clinton’s numbers go up.

(4) “Pussy Grabbing” : Clinton’s numbers go down.

(6) Election Day: Clinton wins. (HuffPo got the outcome wrong.)

My point in comparing these narratives is not to say that “Better methodology is needed”; in fact, the Daybreak poll achieved its (more) correct results to due methodology failure. Rather, my point is that three similar “Horse Race” narratives — each of them coherent — nevertheless have serious differences in detail at their inflection points. (The fourth, HuffPo, really does seem to be an outlier). The only consistent inflection point is, in fact, the post-Democratic National Convention Kahn Feud. RCP doesn’t include the Clinton collapse; Silver doesn’t include the Meltdown. The horse race narratives, then, are just that: Narratives. They are interesting, perhaps even revealing moral tales, but they aren’t in any sense scientific, let alone predictive. And yet vast digital reams are consumed doing, day after day, what I just did in short form, above. Anybody who is paid a lot of money to write or opine on polls shouldn’t be; you or I could tell each other the same stories. In fact, we do!

Finally, all but the Daybreak poll got the outcome wrong. Of course — and I would like any Clinton supporters reading this post to follow me closely here — winning the popular vote isn’t the same as winning the Presidency. It takes the Electoral College to do that, to which we now turn.

The Electoral College Narrative

I’m going to do a little happy dance here, because I had the luck or skill to take a more appropriate methodological approach. (Not that I didn’t write plenty of horse race material; I did. It’s fun, especially for a humanities major. “What is government itself,” Madison asks, “but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?”) The New York Times had a useful interactive, “The 1,024 Ways Clinton or Trump Can Win the Election”, that shows the “paths to victory” in interactive, tree form. Here’s what I wrote based on gaming out the paths to victory based on state polls, and what I read in the papers:


Using the Times interactive, if we simply plug in the values from Polling Margin column, Clinton wins decisively, after picking up OH, FL, and WI.

However, if we assume that the SoS’s control of the electoral machinery could give Trump the win in low margin states*, then we initially give Trump OH, NV, and FL, after which the Times interactive shows that Clinton has only 17 paths to victory, and Trump 45. We give WI to Trump, despite the polls, because of Scott Walker, [the significant Republican voter suppression effort, and] the Republican A.G. At that point, Trump can win with PA. Na ga happen; we give PA to Clinton. NC becomes decisive. NC has a Democrat SoS, but there is also an active Republican voter suppression effort going on in that state. If Trump wins NC, he wins.

Of course, this is just light-hearted punditry, and not serious analysis. Nevertheless, it’s still a horse-race. If Trump, against all the odds-making of the political class, eats into Clinton’s lead in the coming week, it’s even more of a horse race. (I also don’t mean to imply that Democrats wouldn’t use their own institutional advantages, as the Clinton campaign/DNC did in the primaries, but from the margins in the states the Democrats are winning with Democrat SoS’s, they won’t need to, NC being the exception).


Unfortunately for Trump, there’s no path to victory for him for now, based on the above polls (assuming he defines victory as winning the Presidency). In a close race, the party Establishment might help him steal the election (that’s what the Secretary of State and Attorney General columns are for) but even assuming the Establishment wanted to, it might not be close enough.


Assume Trump wins Ohio and Iowa. Trump (in the Times interactive) has 117 ways to win; Clinton, 136. Clinton’s largest leads are Colorado and Virgina (both 8.0%). Give those to Clinton. Clinton now has 46 ways to win; Trump 18. Let’s assume Trump pulls off a miracle in Florida: Clinton 15; Trump 16. Give Clinton Pennsylvania because of women 10%ers in the Philly burbs. If Trump wins North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Nevada or New Hampshire, Trump wins. Na ga happen. Even assuming Walker and the Republicans mastermind the mother of election thefts in Wisconsin — and it’s not like they wouldn’t — Trump still has to win North Carolina and Nevada. And even assuming the North Carolina Republicans mastermind the mother of election thefts in North Carolina — and it’s not like they wouldn’t — Trump still has to win Nevada. Hi, Harry! [waves].


Erosion for Clinton across the board. Again, remarkable (and Friday’s Weiner/Abedin email bombshell cannot have worked its way through the electorate yet (nor whatever garbage dumps of oppo are yet to come). Let’s see if Trump flipping Florida provides him with an easier path to victory (and I bet it does). To the Times interactive once again:

Remember the interactive focuses on swing states, listed in the table above. We give Trump Ohio, Florida, and Iowa. Clinton has 26 paths to victory; Trump has 99 (!). We give Clinton (neo-con infested) Virginia, and Pennsylvania (ladies who lunch in MontCo, DelCo, Chester, and Bucks). Clinton now has 18 paths; Trump 11, and all paths lead through North Carolina. We look at the table, note Clinton’s lead, and note that Democrats control both the Secretary of State and Attorney General in North Carolina, and assume that will nullify Republican voter suppression efforts, and award the state to Clinton. If Clinton wins Wisconson (up by 5.7, though dropping) she wins. If Trump wins Wisconsin (and Scott Walker and the Republican Attorney General can get past the Democrat Secretary of State in case of any irregularities) he needs to win Colorado to win. Na ga happen. Still, his chances are better than they were last week!


Still very much a horse-race; Clinton flipped Florida (though by a tiny amount); but Trump flipped Nevada and North Carolina. (All this data is averaged over the 10/26 – 11/6 time frame, and I can’t imagine they capture late shifts in any direction.) To the Times interactive once again:

Remember the interactive focuses on swing states, listed in the table above. We give Trump every state where he is ahead: Ohio, North Carolina, Nevada (!), Iowa. Trump has 44 paths to victory; Clinton, 19. We reserve Florida and New Hampshire, because Clinton’s margin in both states is razor thin, and give her Virgina, Pennsylvania, Wisconson, and Colorado: So even if Trump wins Florida, he has to win New Hampshire, too. Hoo boy. And to think all this campaign had to do was gag him and take away the Android phone he was tweeting from. The slightest bit of self-discipline on Trump’s part, and Clinton is suddenly in the race of her life. Shows her extreme weakness as a candidate, and the decadence of the Democrat nomenklatura that forced her nomination through, not to mention the decadence of the political class, which can’t seem to get approximately half the electorate to accept their view that Trump is history’s worst monster, despite extraordinary unity of purpose and a deluge of propaganda. Prediction: This election will resolve nothing, and volatility will increase.

This is the happy dance part: I don’t know of many other analysts who said “Hoo boy” the day before the election, and said that Clinton was in “the race of her life.” Certainly not mainstream ones! (Just so my head doesn’t swell so much I can’t get it through the door on my way out: Obviously, I got it wrong on Pennsylvania suburban women, and in other places.)

However, I would urge that the style of narrative is superior to a poll-driven narrative, for the following reasons:

(1) A focus on states is a focus on “what it takes” to actually win the election. Which is the whole point, no?

(2) A focus on states is a focus on voters in their social context, as opposed to voters on the phone answering questions[3].

(3) A focus on states is a focus on what the campaigns are actually doing on the ground; in a perfect world with a level of effort, we could try reverse engineering a campaign’s internal polling and algorithms from their behavior.


Tomorrow I’ll use Cohen and Gooch’s representational technique to flesh out the intuitions provided by the “Electoral College” narrative style. Spoiler alert: Clinton didn’t lose because of white working class racists.


[1] There have been a number of timelines created for election 2016:, AOL, the Guardian, NPR, Reuters, Scholastic, UpGruv, the Wall Street Journal, Wikipedia.

[2] I’ve never understand why the Clinton campaign had to go with a “hot mike” tape in September when there are probably miles of tape of Trump saying identical things on the Howard Stern Show that could have been played in, say, January. I guess it was the “Pied Piper” theory, where Clinton wanted Trump as her opponent.

[3] And possibly lying. Real Clear Politics:

In an exhaustive YouGov poll of some 5,000 voters, Clinton held a consistent, if narrow, lead in the national numbers. A large cohort of respondents consistently wouldn’t choose a candidate, however, saying they couldn’t abide either one. When pressed, just as many said they’d vote for Clinton as Trump, but this didn’t quite turn out to be true. A majority of those who told exit pollsters they disliked both candidates ended up picking Trump. Call it the hold-your-nose-and-vote mandate. Could 2016 have ended any other way?

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Jeff S

    Daybreak had the vote Trump + 3 while Clinton won by 2. How does that make it “most right”? Others had it in the Clinton 1-3 range.

    1. diptherio

      They over-sampled rural voters, so they got the popular vote wrong, but the electoral college over-represents rural voters as well, so the Daybreak poll ended up getting it the election result right because of their flawed methodology.

        1. WheresOurTeddy

          Those of us in flyover country will take any conceivable opportunity to try and get the Oligarchy’s boot off our neck, no matter how desperate it may seem.

          Clinton was Doom for rural America, and we knew it. The die is cast with Trump, come what may.

  2. Left in Wisconsin

    This is like Part 1 of those series-ending movie series – Harry Potter, Hunger Games, etc. Very well done but just whetting the appetite for the big finale.

  3. tommy strange

    great thanks Lambert. Will you have time in the future to do the democratic primary..including polls even before sanders entered the race?

  4. Bam_Man

    Rear Admiral Husband Kimmel was the Pearl Harbor scapegoat.
    And he was also Mrs. Kimmel’s husband.

  5. Bob

    Altho a bit off-topic, last night on CBS 60 Minutes was a great example of your “Man in the Dock”. The segment covered the sinking of the El Faro, an entirely avoidable incident. They tragically sailed directly into the path of a rapidly intensifying hurricane. The captain set course and went to bed, sleeping for 8 hours; by the time he awakened, the ship had 3 hours left. The crew on the bridge were receiving up-to-date typed messages about the rapidly strengthening storm, but the captain in his room was receiving maps that were 6 hours old. The crew on the deck thought about changing course, but apparently didn’t want either to awaken the captain or alter course without his approval. By the time the captain returned to the bridge, it was too late to change course, and when the ship began to take on water and list, the engine failed and they sank not long after. I just watched the segment again (there is a short commercial). http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/voices-of-the-lost/

  6. Kokuanani

    My favorite phrase in the above:

    If Trump, against all the odds-making of the political class, eats into Clinton’s lead in the coming weak, . . .

    I love such Freudian typos.

    And any charts that include “pussy grabbing” as a marker are great as well!

  7. justanotherprogressive

    This is just another example of how Big Data can fail. All polling is is the use of Big Data – weighting factors are just another name for algorithms. Unlike Cambridge Analytica which was going outside its data to make projections, the pollsters insisted on using the wrong model to determine human behavior – and that is just as bad. Instead of watching who the polls said was in the lead, I was watching the error analyses. The model of how people vote had changed, but polling companies just didn’t notice (or perhaps didn’t want to notice). Certainly the elections of 2010, 2012, and 2014 should have alerted them to changing trends and model instability and their error analyses should have been much higher than they were. But putting data into a garbage compactor just gives you more garbage….

    1. clarky90

      People assume that “Big Data” is science. It is not. They are “models”, like kid’s Lego models, that reflect the consciousness of the “Model’s Creator” (This kid seriously likes battleships, or cosy little houses!) Sort of like the way IQ tests reflect the culture, class and race of its creator. (You usually do not get points for identifying a bird by it’s bird-song or differentiating edible plants from the inedible, by taste/smell).

      This proves that most Big Polling companies are run by Clintonistas, just as Big Media is run by Clintonistas. Their polling numbers still show that Trump is losing, to this day. They are truly exceptional people. (In a weird and creepy way)

      This also implies that Lambert possesses that very rare quality- The Open Mind, that can see through powerful/dense/stinky bullshit, with x-ray vision.

      applauds and stands respectfully, cheers

    2. susan the other

      It’s amazing how much more complex a humanities approach is compared to a stone cold set of unemotional variables. To wit: Trump won because the “rural” component of the LA Times was exaggerated – so then what does that say for the urban component who where almost as down-and-out. This is logic karma. The humanities guy, using a tree of almost-psychic analysis gets it right. Love it a lot. And there is some connection to our favorite Mr. Professor, Mark Blyth when he describes these fed-up electorates (those betrayed by neoliberalism) as “no-shows.” Well, we could go on and on. Truth becomes the fractal analysis of politics.

      1. vlade

        “The humanities guy, using a tree of almost-psychic analysis gets it right”.

        I’ve got some bad news for you. Decision trees are part and parcel of Machine Learning techniques.

        And polling has nothing to do with Big Data per se – sample of a few thousand is not Big Data in any way form or shape, it’s just statistics. And while statistics doesn’t have any bias, statisticians (and polsters) do (as do, for the matter, any and all humans).

        1. justanotherprogressive

          Your comment reminds me of some data science jokes going around:
          1. Data science is statistics done on a Mac.
          2. A data scientist is a statistician living in San Francisco.
          3. A data scientist is a person who knows more about statistics than a computer scientist and knows more about computer science than a statistitian.
          (I’d give credit to whoever started these jokes if I could only figure out who they were…..)

          Statistics is a big part of Big Data – it cannot be done without it. You’d probably be surprised to know that polling is a part of data science. And you’d probably don’t know that the first documented use of Big Data was by Tycho Brache/Kepler…..
          It is important to understand what Big Data/Data Science is since it is here and it isn’t going away. Curiosity Stream has an excellent video, “The Human Faces of Big Data” that is well worth the watch.
          And as always, the worst thing a person can do is give up their ability to think critically when presented with Big Data results, which are not truths, but only patterns based on the data given. GIGO still applies….

          1. justanotherprogressive

            I need to correct my next to last sentence to read: ….which are not truths, but only patterns based on the data given AND the algorithm used…..
            Sometimes the data is good, but the algorithm is bad and vice versa……

    3. Rosario

      I have to remind myself every time I see data modelling political and cultural phenomenon that these particular models can or will work well until they don’t. They always operate within a political and cultural paradigm and when that paradigm is broken or even just faltering the methods (which are heavily biased by that paradigm) fall apart. I can’t say it is apophenia as the data/patterns are relevant within an existing paradigm. Maybe it is apophenia in reverse. The culture establishes an agreed upon framework thus informing the modeller and skewing their modelling. So the culture creates the patterns on a largely nonscientific basis and the modeller simply interprets them to predict the culture’s future behavior. It seems like an exercise in futility.

  8. shinola

    While the “horse race” data is interesting & kinda fun to dissect in retrospect, I don’t think it really captures the essence of what happened. Boiled down to 2 factors:

    1) Trump was the “bomb thrower” candidate. First he blew up the R’s establishment candidates in the primaries & then blew up the D’s hyper-establishment candidate in the general.

    2) HRC was a terrible and, ultimately, incompetent candidate. Her palpable sense of entitlement & arrogance was quite off-putting to a significant portion of the electorate. That she won the popular vote but still managed to lose the election says it all about her campaign strategy.

    Trump’s election was a giant middle finger to the “politics-as-usual” crowd.
    (Unfortunately Trump is really very “establishment” – he just ran a non-traditional campaign. I’ll be rather surprised if he makes beyond 2020)

    1. Code Name D

      I suspect there was a lot more neo-liberal working behind the sceine that we might suspect. Polling companies are a lot like the acounting firms for the banks – they are paid to overlook acounting issues. Those that don’t, do not get to keep their contracts. The polling firms were paied not to measure the mood of the electorate, but to produce polls that conformed to the narative. And the narative was that Clintion was going to win by a landslide.

      The polls were just another tool for manufacturing consent.

    2. a different chris

      >(Unfortunately Trump is really very “establishment” – …. I’ll be rather surprised if he makes beyond 2020)

      If he’s “very establishment” why wouldn’t said Establishment keep him on? Are you saying he can’t fool the rubes for 4 full years? Possibly true, but then the D’s have to nominate somebody that can fool said rubes which seems unlikely. Ah well, 4 years can be a long time if things go right…

      1. Carl

        Those folks who showed up wanting change, in 2008, 2012 and again last year, they’ll be showing up again in 2020 with someone else. If they don’t get it from Prez Cheeto, which I have serious doubts. But this year was a nice indication of what happens when you ignore them.

      2. greg

        It is conceivable that the establishment might toss Trump overboard, and say to the electorate: “See how good we look compared to Trump! We’re actually reasonable people, and you should support our reasonable programs of economically disenfranchising you.”

  9. UserFriendly

    However, I would urge that the style of narrative is superior to a poll-driven narrative, for the following reasons:

    (1) A focus on states is a focus on “what it takes” to actually win the election. Which is the whole point, no?

    (2) A focus on states is a focus on voters in their social context, as opposed to voters on the phone answering questions[3].

    (3) A focus on states is a focus on what the campaigns are actually doing on the ground; in a perfect world with a level of effort, we could try reverse engineering a campaign’s internal polling and algorithms from their behavior

    Carl “The Dig” Diggler used a somewhat similar method for the primaries. Essentially taking the most stereotypical aspects of each state and the candidates supporters to make predictions. He got 81 out of 91 races correct. And they were all rather hilarious.

  10. UserFriendly

    I went on two email rants tangential to this if anyone is interested, I enjoyed them.
    On journalism:

    The constraint on punditry is that they are all a bunch of high school mean girls. They spend just as much time gossiping and trashing each other as teenagers. Anyone who doesn’t parrot faux objectivity, which is little more than the D party line, can expect to be ostracized and not given opportunities for advancement.

    They all pretend they can divine absolutely everything from polls, enabling them to forego any real reporting in favor of some number crunching or referencing fivethirtyeight. Polls have so many problems in the first place, that to try and extrapolate to what the electorate is really saying is a fool’s errand. Polls don’t let people say that they would rather be boiled in oil than elect the wife of the guy that laid the groundwork for the GFC, or that they really hate both of them and as long as it looks like Clinton is going to win I might not bother to show up. They certainly don’t have an option for: I see how this country works, I see how corrupt 95% of the elites are, I see how they have had success in their lives and pulled up the ladders of opportunity behind them, I see how they think they are peers with the titans of industry and are willing to forgive them of just about any misbehavior no matter how consequential and despite all that the titans think of them as the paid help. I see how willing they are to make life harder for the majority just to fellatiate their donors; leaving rhetoric and shame as the only tools to get compliance and votes.

    At the end of the day, polls are like horoscopes, a kernel of truth but you can see what you want to see. Which is why we were subjected to copious think pieces about Bernie Bros and Racist Trump voters that are little more than polling cross tabs woven into whatever narrative would best help Clinton.

    But why Clinton? It certainly isn’t because there was a cozy relationship before this campaign. Note this quote from Politico:

    But to this day she’s surrounded herself with media conspiracy theorists who remain some of her favorite confidants, urged wealthy allies to bankroll independent organizations tasked with knee-capping reporters perceived as unfriendly, withdrawn into a gilded shell when attacked and rolled her eyes at several generations of aides who suggested she reach out to journalists rather than just disdaining them. Not even being nice to her in print has been a guarantor of access; reporters likely to write positive stories have been screened as ruthlessly as perceived enemies, dismissed as time-sucking sycophants or pretend-friends.

    I think it has to do with the knowledge that she holds grudges and the level of inevitability she was able to command. Anyone who dared to go even an inch beyond the mean girl hive mind could be assured zero access in her Whitehouse and to have future opportunities for advancement disappear. But it certainly isn’t above her to play favorites and reword good coverage with access, even to the point of dictating adjectives to reporters.

  11. UserFriendly

    The second email was to 538 because they put up a job listing, which I used as an opportunity to get an email read by them.

    Well, I don’t have any experience editing or writing (except as a hobby) but I do have a very extensive knowledge of current events, political trends, polling, voting methods, and heterodox economics. Since it’s doubtful you would consider me for a policy editor position I just thought I would offer some constructive criticism.

    1. Instead of using your models to display the odds of a candidate winning if the election were held today, incorporate the polling error and historical trends to make a graph that starts with lines for the past and ends with probability cones into the future. You may know that polls are only for a snapshot in time, but the vast majority of the TV pundits who use this site as a bible don’t. Then they go and decide who gets coverage based on it. This is especially important when you have a well known candidate vs lesser known ones. This is a key reason Sanders didn’t do as well and why we have a president Trump. They also couldn’t emphasize enough how unelectable he was despite the polls constantly saying otherwise which really was the one thing that sank him. For some reason about 40% of the country says they will vote even if they don’t care about the outcome. I’m sure in reality it is much less, even more so for a primary. However, one of the reason politics is so dysfunctional right now is that no one in their right mind would run for congress or anything else when only 63/435 house districts had a margin under 15%. Any damage you do to the incumbency effect is a huge plus.

    2. Alternative voting. Since your site is all about data I can’t for the life of me understand why you haven’t done a dive into alternative voting methods. It there is one thing this election should have taught us it’s that first past the post (FPTP) is a creation from hell that needs to die. Then the only other option widely expressed is Instant Run Off (IRV), which is just ever so slightly better than FPTP. Would it really be too much to ask to dive into Score Voting, 3-2-1 voting, Condorcet, and Schultz? And maybe look at some of the work being done to model voter satisfaction with those systems.

    3.Improving Polling. Clearly you have contacts at all the major polling firms I have absolutely no clue why you haven’t pressured them to gather better data. Since the elites in this country absolutely refuse to be within a 5 mile radius of real people, they rely on polls to take the temperature of the public. I’d say that hasn’t been working so well. I have seen polls where they find out your stance on ACA, give both side some of the opposing arguments, and then ask again and manage to flip like 20% from each side. Any poll that is going to ask our suboptimally informed electorate something about a hot button issue should give a reason or two for and against before getting a response. Polls that are meant to determine a participant’s preference on a range of hot button issues really should be done with quadratic voting.
    Which brings me to horse race polls. Just to get a baseline about how dysfunctional FPTP is I would have loved to see a poll in the middle of the Dem primary ask “regardless of who you plan on voting for, who do you want to be the next president?” Primary season would also be a great time to test out some of the alternative voting methods mentioned above, most of which would eliminate the need for primaries entirely. But if we are stuck with FPTP I would love for the follow up question to be “In one sentence why do you plan to vote for that person?” That would really be invaluable data.

    I could probably go on for another hour with things that I think you could do to personally improve the miserable state this country is in and will continue to be in for the foreseeable future, but I’ll spare you. Thanks for reading this far if you did.

    1. TheCatSaid

      I’m glad you posted this! I wasn’t familiar with quadratic voting and the link is quite interesting.

      It seems to have some similarities with ranked preference voting. That said, I agree with Peter Emerson that in any choice there should be at least 3 options to choose from, and those options should come from the voting base.

      Choosing from how much I agree or disagree with a single proposal is still a poor option–it depends what the alternatives are if one disagrees, or at least some basics about the implementation if one agrees.

      Using the questions from the QV video as an example, in some questions the nature of the potential alternatives might affect results more than others. (For example, “Do you want to repeal the ACA?” How a person answers might vary considerably depending on the alternatives.)

      1. UserFriendly

        I totally agree. I get completely flummoxed when I get polled on:
        ‘Do I Approve of how Obama Handled the Budget?’
        If I answer honestly they are going to draw entirely the wrong conclusion. I am signed up on YouGov so I usually get 1-3 politics/current events polls a month mixed in with a weekly or so brand survey that I don’t care about. But every time I get a poorly worded poll question I yell at them in the little comment box I get at the end.
        YouGov also has this neato feature where you can submit an opinion and the community responds… It’s a great way to take the temperature on issues.

        I worded an opinion on ACA about as inflammatory as I could (right wing, failed) and still about 1/5 people agreed that we need single payer instead.

        Clinton, yeah, they get it.

        The end of full employment targeting.

        Kalecki being better than Keynes.

        Only the intentionally harsh ACA one was less than half agreeing with me.

        The comments are always from either the top or the bottom of the barrel though. and frustrating that you can’t respond to them.

  12. DWD


    It’s just not that hard: the Democrats bent the rules and thwarted what people wanted in order to run Hillary because it was her turn, ignoring the negatives that were present before the inept campaign increased them.

    People reacted in a predictable manner.

    End of story.

  13. BobW

    I read that book a long time ago. What I remember (perhaps incorrectly) is that there are simple, compound and complex failures. One error causes a simple failure, two a compound and three a complex. Complex failures are usually catastrophic. The errors were 1) failure to learn 2) failure to anticipate 3) failure to adapt. Perhaps a bit overly structural, but it did stick in my mind for years.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > 1) failure to learn 2) failure to anticipate 3) failure to adapt.

      Those are the types of failure, and those are reasonable enough buckets. But their analysis of how multiple pathways to failure is to my mind far more supple — and you have to treat case case separately.

  14. L

    While I generally agree with your analysis I think that your timeline is missing one key inflection point, the ACA. During September and October some states began announcing pricing changes for the coming year. That fed into the rolling narrative that the ACA was collapsing, or in a death spiral, or otherwise in trouble right around the same time that radical opportunist True Patriot(tm) Jim Comey was bringing up Weiners.

    Others have argued (can’t find the links right now sorry) that this was more meaningful than the emails and my own informal poll of Trump voters is consistent with that. None of them mention Bhengazi or the emails except as general background to her unsavoriness, meaning that the damage was done long before October. But they do bring up the “collapsing state exchanges” and “unreasonable price surges” as current problems.

    1. KurtisMayfield

      I agree 100% . The ACA timing was beautiful from a political perspective. The old question “Are you better off now” was answered with a resounding no.

      Too bad no one is going to fix this health care system. It has to die before it can be reborn. Unfortunately the human toll will be horrible.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      I agree that the email furor could be masking the effect of an ObamaCare rate hike, but I have never seen polling to this effect; if somebody has, please add! There are a lot of events happening simultaneously, and then the press will pick one and make that the cause.

  15. Hayek's Heelbiter

    Bottom line, people in rural western Virginia (with which I am more familiar) might not have even heard the term “neoliberal” [by the way, why do we use his portmanteau of two very positive words to describe a loathsome philosophy? Why don’t we just call it what it is, “neofeudalism” or possibly more accurately, “archeofeudalism”], but these “deplorables” do know that their lives suck more than they ever have due to their lives and livelihood being drained out of them by the 1% and the Accela Corridor Class, of which HRC was the examplar par excellence.

    Just ignore all the polls, all the verbiage, all the analysis. Bottom line: Trump is the proverbial “Ham Sandwich.”


    1. Mel

      The original liberal revolution (circa 1776 and later) mobilized the power of the bourgeoisie, money, and markets to correct the inadequacies of the remains of the feudal society based on agriculture and land. The neoliberal revolution aims to mobilize the power of money and markets to correct the inadequacies of the liberal society based on money and markets. Strategically, to put a price on anything that’s left without one, and eliminate the chances for Polanyi’s “double movement”.

      1. H. Alexander Ivey

        Damn, that has always been my question too. Thanks for your response. I’ll use it unless someone else shows where it is wrong. Thumbs up!

  16. George Phillies

    You write: “all but the Daybreak poll got the popular vote outcome wrong. ”

    Ummh, your sentence exactly disagrees with your data. Almost all polls got the sign of the popular vote total correct, with Clinton leading Trump by several points. The average (Huffington Post does this) of a lot of polls was very close indeed to Trump’s performance, with Trump having fewer popular vote than Clinton by close to 3%.

  17. I Have Strange Dreams

    Trump never said he actually grabbed women by the pussy:

    “And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

    Sad thing is, Trump is probably right. As the old pussy-grabber Jefferson said, “The government you elect is the government you deserve.”

  18. john c. halasz

    I’m surprised in your narrative inflection points, you don’t note Oct. 24 as a key date, the day the administration announced that Obamacare premiums would increase by an average of 22%. Though it didn’t receive as much coverage from the horse-race media, it seems to me that if there was one single event that tipped the race to Trump, it was that announcement.

      1. john c. halasz

        I didn’t follow the polling much in real-time, but my recollection from post-mortems is that Trump received a number of bounces up at inflection events, but then his poll numbers subsided back. But in the aftermath of Oct. 24 his numbers began to rise without subsiding later. The graphs you posted are consistent with that, except that it’s attributed to the Comey letter,, which received a lot of media play, but probably was of lesser importance to voters, as opposed to its importance as a Dembot excuse.

  19. sharonsj

    In Florida, Trump got 113,000 more votes than Hillary. However, election officials report that 130,000 voters refused to vote for either candidate and wrote in the names of various people and cartoon characters. The usual “vote for the lesser of two evils” just isn’t working any more.

  20. Paul Greenwood

    Why not look at how Bill Clinton diverted the Democratic Party towards Wall Street and Oligarchs and left behind huge swathes of traditional voters ? The story of the string-puller from Arkansas and his connections, whether to get him a Rhodes Scholarship and multiple draft deferments, or his visit to Russia in Dec 1969, or his governorship and its strange association with Rich Mountain Aviation in Mena, AK.

    This was where the Democratic Party turned away from its voter base and Blair copied this in UK with New Labour, a Neo-Marxist front facilitating Financial Excess




    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      You’re asking why I didn’t write another post. Basically, because I wanted to write about penguins, and not peacocks. The focus is on the campaign, not on everything that’s been wrong with the Democrat Party since forever (though there’ll be a bit more of that in the forthcoming post).

  21. oy

    One of these days pundits are going to stop treating the election like some damn sporting event, focusing on momentum and god knows what instead of where the candidates stand on the issues of importance. When that happens, maybe we’ll start electing candidates that are interested and capable of solving problems instead of candidates merely striving to stroke their egos.

    1. oh

      I commend you for your optimism, However, the two party (actually one party) duopoly will insist on nominating neo-liberal candidates paid for by yuuge corporate bribes. May I suggest that you look elsewhere if you want candidates capable of solving the people’s problems rather than the corporate ones.

  22. Steven Greenberg

    The trouble with social science is that the subjects read about themselves and change behavior based on what they read. This is the property that George Soros calls reflexive. Even physical science at the quantum mechanical level has as a basic principle that the act of measuring something changes it.

    Yes, even George Soros can be right about a thing or two.

    1. witters

      Who needs Soros for this (and who needs “reflexivity”)? Its there in adolescence: “So you say I’m a nice guy? Well watch me do this!”

      I don’t mind reinventing the wheel, but don’t call it a “reflexively closed transportation device”.

  23. TheCatSaid

    Interesting analysis. What would add considerably is if we had some way of also charting other events, in particular election fraud events (including voter suppression, computer tabulator rigging, etc.) and other election interference mechanisms such as media coverage / non-coverage / miscoverage.

    Not to mention the primary problems. Or the issues having to do with “candidate selection” in the first place.

    Analysis of the election without examining the information made available to voters, and with no hope of knowing how voters actually did vote (hint–we don’t know this from official election results), is dodgy to say the least.

    At the minimum the glaring gaps in information (e.g. about actual vote tallies) should be acknowledged.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Did you read the title of the post? That often gives a good indiction of the subject matter to be found therein. You want me to write another post. Perhaps one day.

      1. TheCatSaid

        The presence of actual election malfeasance for decades (and more–when have we ever had clean elections under public scrutiny?) means that elegant analysis such as yours perversely perpetuates the acceptance of phony election data. That’s why some form of acknowledgement is needed somewhere in the post. Not a different post or a different topic, just a mention that there are . . . issues.

        I would love your approach if only it didn’t contain the unspoken presumption of official election results bearing any resemblance to actual votes cast! Maybe yes, maybe no, depending on the precinct and specific election. We should not advocate people continuing to blindly accept official election results regardless of whether the results were expected, unexpected, close, non-close, matching polls, not matching polls. Analysis that does not acknowledge the absence of meaningful election scrutiny inadvertently perpetuates the problem.

        It’s like doing financial analysis on an economy where all data is submitted by companies with zero requirement for backup financial data. (Not to mention then carrying out “polls” of what “financial analyses” we believe or prefer!) We would never accept that kind of “data” and subsequent “analysis” in a financial context.

  24. Scott

    I see it as a contest for power between two jet setters. Both had Boeings. One was owned by the candidate, bigger & black & red.
    The other was some smaller, and nondescript blue.
    I’d like to see the number of flights and where they went compared.

  25. gizzardboy

    Concerning your inflection points, Lambert: I remember from a while back that Empty Wheel had a chart that showed a major shift in sentiment toward Trump when new higher Obamacare costs were announced for 2017. Sorry, but I don’t know how to run down that link.

  26. Sound of the Suburbs

    It’s bad now, but it could be worse.

    Project Fear.

    OK, Trump is a lunatic but how does that compare with the status quo?

    Let’s give the lunatic a go.

    How bad can it get?

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