Why Trump Defied the Polls

Why Trump Defied the Polls November 8, 2016

This is not a political blog, and I am not an expert in politics. That’s why I didn’t post the following when I wrote it five days ago. Now that it actually seems to be happening, I’m posting in case it can give any insight into how the polls could have gotten things so wrong. I doubt it explains everything, and maybe it’s off-base, but thought I’d put it out there in case anyone finds it useful:

Why Trump Will Win

From 2011 to 2014, I lived in Western Canada, near the border between Alberta and British Columbia.This put me in a position to observe two provincial elections that completely defied polling predictions. In 2012, polls in Alberta clearly showed the upstart ultra-conservative Wild Rose Party defeating the incumbent (11 times in a row) Progressive Conservatives (PC). As it turns out, the PC won easily. A year later, a very similar pattern played out in BC: even Election Day polling showed that the socialist New Democratic Party would defeat the incumbent moderate Liberal Party. Again, the incumbent party won easily, defying even margin-of error pollster predictions.

I think the same thing can and will happen this Tuesday, and Donald Trump will defeat Hillary Clinton despite polls to the contrary. Granted, those two provincial elections had troubled moderate incumbents defeating their more radical opponents, which would seem to favor Clinton. But I suspect the dynamic goes more along these lines: party-line voters grumble and complain when they don’t like their candidates, which can show up as a lack of support in polls. But when it gets right down to it, it’s easier to vote a straight ticket than to pick and choose, and the fear of losing to the other side outweighs dissatisfaction with the party. And if most Republicans hold their noses and vote Trump, I think he wins. (Incidentally, this is why comparisons to Brexit and the primaries miss their mark – in those cases there isn’t a default “party” position to slide back to when faced with a bad choice.)

I happen to know several Republicans who say they don’t know WHAT they’ll do on election day – they can’t stomach either candidate. But there’s a funny thing about the act of voting. Leading up to an election, the decision seems weighty and fraught with importance. But once you’re actually there, seeing the lines of people, realizing it’s all the push of a button or the pull of a lever – suddenly you realize how laughably small and mundane your vote is. It’s the act of a moment. And in that moment, how easy it is to say, “I guess I’ll vote straight Republican. What’s the worst that could happen? At least it’s not Clinton. And my vote isn’t going to tip this thing one way or the other.” Which is true – but if enough people think that way, you end up with BC or Alberta. Or in this case, President Donald J. Trump.

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