Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
November 13, 2016

Why Polls Fail

Today I discussed the U.S. election with a friend who studied and practices statistics. I asked about the failure of the polls in this years presidential election. Her explanation: The polls are looking at future events but are biased by the past. The various companies and institutions adjust the polls they do by looking at their past prognoses and the real results of the past event. They then develop correcting factors, measured from the past, and apply it to new polls. If that correcting factor is wrong, possibly because of structural changes in the electorate, then the new polls will be corrected with a wrong factor and thus miss the real results.

Polls predicting the last presidential election were probably off by 3 or 5 points towards the Republican side. The pollsters then corrected the new polls for the Clinton-Trump race in favor of the Democratic side by giving that side an additional 3-5 points. They thereby corrected the new polls by the bias that was poll inherent during the last race.

But structural changes, which we seem to have had during this election, messed up the result. Many people who usually vote for the Democratic ticket did not vote for Clinton. The "not Clinton" progressives, the "bernie bros" and "deplorables" who voted Obama in the last election stayed home, voted for a third party candidate or even for Trump. The pollsters did not anticipate such a deep change. Thus their correction factor was wrong. Thus the Clinton side turned out to be favored in polls but not in the relevant votes.

Real polling, which requires in depth-in person interviews with the participants, does not really happen anymore. It is simply to expensive. Polling today is largely done by telephone with participants selected by some database algorithm. It is skewed by many factors which require many corrections. All these corrections have some biases that do miss structural changes in the underlying population.

The Clinton camp, the media and the pollsters missed what we had anticipated as "not Clinton". A basic setting in a part of the "left" electorate that remember who she is and what she has done and would under no circumstances vote for her. Clinton herself pushed the "bernie bros" and "deplorables" into that camp. This was a structural change that was solely based in the personality of the candidate.

If Sanders would have been the candidate the now wrong poll correction factor in favor of Democrats would likely have been a correct one. The deep antipathy against Hillary Clinton in a decisive part of the electorate was a factor that the pseudo-science of cheap telephone polls could not catch. More expensive in depth interviews of the base population used by a pollster would probably have caught this factor and adjusted appropriately.

There were some twenty to thirty different entities doing polls during this election cycle. Five to ten polling entities, with better budgets and preparations, would probably have led to better prognoses. Some media companies could probably join their poll budgets, split over multiple companies today, to have a common one with a better analysis of its base population.One that would have anticipated "not Hillary".

Unless that happens all polls will have to be read with a lot of doubt. What past bias is captured in these predictions of the future? What are their structural assumptions and are these still correct? What structural change might have happened?

Even then polls and their interpretation will always only capture a part of the story. Often a sound grasp of human and cultural behavior will allow for better prediction as all polls. As my friend the statistician say: "The best prognostic instrument I have even today is my gut."

Posted by b on November 13, 2016 at 20:17 UTC | Permalink

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B sorry by your adviser analysis is to cover up their complacency and goal seeking disgusting practice to satisfy sponsors.
Especially probability of winning published of 90% for Clinton cannot be explained by a random error since it would have been about 50% with no polling at all just a wild guess.
In fact for those who know something about statistics Trump winning was 3-5 sigma event consider in science a unrefutable proof of bias that cannot be generated by any genuine random error but by deliberate action or in particle physics a proof of discovery of new elementary particle.

All the press were hired by Hillary mafia to be her influence peddlers to rig election in one more way and they failed.

Posted by: Kalen | Nov 14 2016 20:56 utc | 101

nice guy it is so sad he was not elected!!

Posted by: Mina | Nov 14 2016 21:07 utc | 102

I think this is related - Monbiot on the election. So many comments (about 3900 as of now), they're showing 100 per page.

Posted by: spudski | Nov 14 2016 21:49 utc | 103

The war clouds are definitely receding: Washington Post: Trump, Putin agree in phone call to improve ‘unsatisfactory’ relations between their countries, Kremlin says:

President-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in a telephone conversation Monday that relations between their countries were “unsatisfactory” and vowed to work together to improve them, the Kremlin said in a statement.

The statement said the two leaders discussed combining efforts in the fight against terrorism, talked about “a settlement for the crisis in Syria” and agreed their aides would begin working toward a face-to-face meeting between them.

Posted by: lysias | Nov 14 2016 22:46 utc | 104

Nice one, spudski at 103 ... Monbriot makes great sense of the current state of affairs.

He ends with this note, "It’s too early to say much yet, but at its core is the recognition that – as modern psychology and neuroscience make abundantly clear – human beings, by comparison with any other animals, are both remarkably social and remarkably unselfish."

I have observed that people are always naturally generous when unburdened of outside forces ... it is in our nature.

Posted by: jonku | Nov 15 2016 6:12 utc | 105

Thierry Meyssan on Trump's victory:

I explained a few weeks ago in these columns that the divide that divides the United States is not determined by ethnic affiliation or social class but by Puritan ideology. If this explanation is correct, we should witness an existential struggle of supporters of this ideology against the Trump administration. Everything the new president undertakes will be systematically sabotaged. Already, sporadic protests against the outcome of the election show that the losers will not respect the rules of democracy.

Rather than reflecting on how we could take advantage of the Trump administration, we should ask ourselves how we can help it succeed in freeing its country from its own imperialism, ending the unipolar world and "doctrine" Wolfowitz "; How we can substitute co-operation for confrontation.

While the US press is speculating on the possible appointments of Bush administration figures to the Trump administration, we must anticipate the political role that Trump Organization's business executives will play, the only ones in whom it can have trust.

We must rely on General Michael T. Flynn, who, although Democrat, was the principal foreign and defense policy advisor during his campaign. Commander of Military Intelligence, from the Geneva Conference 1 to the conquest of Iraq by Daesh, he has continued to fight President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, Generals David Petraeus and John Allen, and Jeffrey Feltman About the use of jihadists and terrorism to maintain US imperialism. Whether he is a national security adviser, director of the CIA or secretary of defense, he will be the best ally of peace in the Levant.

Posted by: ProPeace | Nov 15 2016 11:08 utc | 106

Wow, great analysis, too bad it's crap.

I mean, I guess all of the internal and external polls could have be wrong or the US just experienced yet ANOTHER stolen election.

Seriously, when you are confronted by things not making any sense – e.g., every single internal and external poll being wrong – then you should start to look for more logical explanations esp. ones that have precedent – i.e. 2000,2004.

I thought when confronting outright fascism we were NOT supposed to be "good Germans".

Oh well.

Posted by: Ron Showalter | Nov 15 2016 12:15 utc | 107

Kellyanne Conway: Rudy Giuliani ‘could be’ next secretary of state

Giulani political positions from wikipedia

Giuliani has been considered one of the staunchest supporters of Israel among the candidates. A project created by Haaretz, rated Giuliani as the best candidate for Israel.
Giuliani believes that the leaders of Iran have objectives that are similar to those of al-Qaeda.

Posted by: virgile | Nov 15 2016 13:11 utc | 108

Some of the pols were actually rigged, imho, in that there was a deliberate effort to collect data that favored HRC independently of stat. procedures. Recall, not counting a vote as a one vote by one person is traditional in the US (black votes worth 3/5 etc.) For ex. one article, discusses a Podesta e-mail about poll manipulation:

Political Insider

This election turned up a new one for me: hanging up immediately when the person responded “Trump.”

Yet, if one credits the Palast link Ron Showalter posted at 107 (=> election fraud in favor of whites), the question “Why was Trump allowed to win?” arises, as the PTB were ostensibly as-one-man behind HRC? Plus, the whole shmear is being presented as an ‘unfortunate’ yet ‘legitimate’ victory of the Voice of the People?

Imho, what we see here is not just a ‘total mess’ and ‘accidents’ and ‘multiple frauds’ and ‘who knows’ but a confused underground battle being fought behind the scenes.

(-- Taking on board that fraud is rampant in any case and the battle over minorities is bitter, ugly --)

Posted by: Noirette | Nov 15 2016 13:54 utc | 109

Noirette @ 109

Yet, if one credits the Palast link Ron Showalter posted at 107 (=> election fraud in favor of whites), the question “Why was Trump allowed to win?” arises, (...)

Only if one buys into some greater power/authority behind it all, calling the shots (I do not). And with all due respect, I don't see this as a matter of "crediting" Palast: there is good supporting evidence. Repubs have done exactly this same thing before, repeatedly... and gotten away with it.

It should be investigated, but dems haven't shown kahunas to do this in the past (Florida in 2000, Ohio next election) and no reason to believe they will this time.

One of more insightful election "post mortems" I've read was in comments in this thread at Yves' website, and that link to a comment with more supporting information for this then just Palast.

Posted by: jdmckay | Nov 15 2016 14:24 utc | 110

No and no. Please don't fall for the "normalizing" horsesh!te that is now - as always - being trotted out AFTER the fact - e.g., the polls were over-sampled, jet fuel can melt steel, skyscrapers can collapse naturally into their own footprints, blah blah blah.

Trumps internals saw him losing but - here's a clue - he personally somehow didn't by saying a week ago that the election was going to be rigged thereby taking away from HRC and the Democrats that ability to utilize that truthful argument against him post-election. Gee, it's almost like he was being helped by someone, huh?

EVERY person saw the polls defy common sense just as in 2000, 20004, and the events on 9/11 etc etc and even though it's very easy to accept the MSM normalizing narratives INTELLIGENT people - esp. those living here in the US - knows what it means when their common sense is defied: they're being played.

All of the talk of rigging elections/primaries was cover for the theft of the big prize and if you don't see that you either 1) don't live in the US and therefore have an excuse not to be able to see it and/or 2) you're naive and prone to believing the MSM as they tell you once again to doubt your own intuition.

Posted by: Ron Showalter | Nov 15 2016 14:26 utc | 111

Is this a sound argument? or the very reason people end being neutral about Trump?
"In other words, some type of political devolution in Syria. Otherwise many other people, unhappy in Syria, may join Daesh while they are fighting Daesh," De Mistura said.

Posted by: Mina | Nov 15 2016 14:27 utc | 112

111 was for Noirette at 109.

Again, if you're an awake American/world denizen when you realize that your common sense is being called into question, you can guarantee that you are being yanked.

Again for a refresher, from Mr. Rove:

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."[2]

Posted by: Ron Showalter | Nov 15 2016 14:32 utc | 113

Trump to pick most evil neocon ever? John Bolton.

Posted by: Rip | Nov 15 2016 15:05 utc | 114

Laugh out loud

This is a disaster in the making people. If Hillary wasn't so stupid as to threaten WW3 over Syria, maybe she would've won in spite of the outright voter fraud that assisted the Republicans

Now the odds are on that Iran and Lebanon will soon be in the sights of the neocons for military action.
We all just fell for a massive con job

Posted by: bbbb | Nov 15 2016 15:55 utc | 115

if the polls were truly wrong before the election, why is it that people report that the Clintons had huge arguments before the election about how Hillary's campaign was tanking?

Posted by: mischi | Nov 15 2016 16:20 utc | 116

What's hysterical is that Clinton supporters don't even realise they've been played and are still being played - by Trump or Bannon, hard to say right now.
In the last days of the campaign, it was all about Putin and Russia rigging the election and having soon their puppet at the head of the USA. Now, it's the GOP that's been rigging the election.
And they don't even see they appear, to outside observers, neutrals, independants, moderates - like complete lunatics deep into conspiracy theories that were once the privilege of the far-right nutjobs ranting about black helicopters.
That's the point. And some of the leaks and arguments fed to liberal/progressive mouthpieces were obviously false-flags planted by Trump's side, to actually ensure that Clinton supporters would appear like ranting crazies, turning off plenty of moderates - not that they were going to vote for Trump and his loony supporters, but they sure as heck weren't going to vote for Clinton and her loony supporters, and they just went home instead, or voted genuine loony Johnson.
That's one of several key reasons why Clinton's total vote is so ridiculously lower than Obama's.

Posted by: Clueless Joe | Nov 15 2016 16:39 utc | 117

you either 1) don't live in the US and therefore have an excuse not to be able to see it

As a former resident of the United Shits I can confirm that only by moving away will you learn the truth about it.

Posted by: ruralito | Nov 15 2016 17:29 utc | 118

@Clueless et al.

We are seeing quite a few comments containing paranoid revisionist nonsense meant to undermine Trump. These comments play upon uncertainties and buyer's remorse much like the post-Brexit campaigning to reverse the vote.

Whatever one feels about Trump, lets not forget that he won because the corrupt, crony Democrat Party put forward a flawed candidate. They put THEIR interests about those of the people that they claim to represent just as Hillary put HER interests above those of the United States when she ran a private server.

I think independents might've been more concerned with:

>> Hillary-DNC collusion;

>> Clinton Foundation pay-to-play schemes and connections to foreign interests;

>> Riding Obama's unappealing coattails (bailing out banks; failure of Obamacare; etc.);

>> Her divisiveness ("deplorables", heavy-handed appeals to women);

>> Her wall Street ties (speeches);

>> Her duplicity/Lack of authenticity (emails, public and private positions);

>> Her militarism/bloodlust ("we came, we saw, he died");

>> Her Undistinguished career;

>> Media bias;

Posted by: Jackrabbit | Nov 15 2016 18:12 utc | 119

It's ok, Jackrabbit, we know you don't mind supporting girl-raping fascists.

I'm sure your daughter/wife/niece etc don't mind either. You're a gem.

BTW, did you know that Mike Pence the VP-elect is asking a judge to allow him to keep his emails private?

Nah, you're not a sucker NOR a boot-licker for a girl-rapist.


Posted by: Ron Showalter | Nov 15 2016 18:26 utc | 120

Posted by: Ron Showalter | Nov 15, 2016 1:26:08 PM | 120

Wow, great crap, too bad it's not analysis.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Nov 15 2016 19:00 utc | 121

@120, LOL, the Clintonians love them some fascisti, in Ukraine, Libya, Syria, Argentina, Brazil ...

Posted by: ruralito | Nov 15 2016 19:14 utc | 122

To el Gallinazo, Adalbrand, joey, Noirette and others too perhaps.

Of course this can all be wrong but I agree or think the cheating (in the massive form of electronic fractional vote counting and centralized redistribution of those decimal votes) was curtailed while intentionally not eliminated. I don't know why and don't want to speculate openly yet. I doubt HRC actually got more than 30 million although I have to admit even 30 sounds like far too much to me considering HRC only represented the interests of about 3 or 4 million at most. I can't prove it and I don't want to prove it and strongly recommend the same to everyone else. Sometimes it's best to go the extra mile to avoid any blundering, other times not, this time I think it's for the best to wait.

But you're not alone in your thoughts :)

Subject to change my current temporary opinion and conclusion is that right now there are many topics that have more or less disappeared from the public consciousness that one should avoid pushing until at least 201703.

That's only my take on it and I'm only saying it in case it never entered your consideration in which case it's perhaps worth suggesting it. Figuring out why it might make sense is up to you.

A side benefit is that you might have fewer nightmares and better quality of sleep. That's my experience.

Posted by: Outsider | Nov 16 2016 2:16 utc | 123

Poll weighing is a tricky business. This is why most polling has a 4% error margin, so it does not produce as accurate picture as is typically presented by the media. The error is not randomly distributed, it is closely related to the poll weighting. [voislav]

4% "error margin" comes from sampling error, and it is roughly the inverse of the square root of sample size. Weighting is a different story, at this point pollsters have to guess how much the turnout will be different from the past. Taking average of polls reduces the sampling error, but it preserves the bias from the weighting (except that average of experts is more reliable than the individual experts). And it is hard to claim that those guesses were methodologically wrong. If I understand correctly, the poll average was as close to the final result as four years ago, but this time, it was on the wrong side of the result.

Posted by: Piotr Berman | Nov 16 2016 15:08 utc | 124

Blatant derail bs @123. Good analysis posted today at

Posted by: spudski | Nov 16 2016 16:05 utc | 125

I .. think the cheating (in the massive form of electronic fractional vote counting and centralized redistribution of those decimal votes) was curtailed while intentionally not eliminated. I don't know why and don't want to speculate openly yet. Outsider @ 125.

Agree (obviously.) I don’t want to speculate either - let’s say too many unknown unknowns.

However, one low-level answer is that with Trump elected, the US is not facing the horror of President-Elect HRC who might be facing indictment, arrest, continuing investigations, or other along such lines (e-mails, Clinton Foundation, Benghazi…) which would be a national shame, a desperate disgrace on the World Stage (nobody could pretend that was a surprise .. How can that happen in the Shining Democracy?) Her enthroning would (in case of indictment or..) create a completely non-functioning Gvmt, destabilization, loss of control, uncertainty, opportunistic actions from some others, maybe more serious events, etc.

With Clinton a ‘has-been’, shunted off stage right on a stretcher, it becomes possible as the French put it to tourner la page, and forget, bury, the past. If troubles arise Obama has some time to pardon her (not that I know how that works exactly) and for her to be ‘ill, hospitalised’, and so on.

Nobody wants civil war in the US.

Posted by: Noirette | Nov 16 2016 17:31 utc | 126

Nobody wants civil war in the US.
Posted by: Noirette | Nov 16, 2016 12:31:50 PM | 126

Yes they do. Starting with me.
The world has no future until the insanely greedy Billionaires, Banksters, Warmongers (and their bribed vassals) have all been violently transformed into Free, Civilised, fertiliser.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Nov 16 2016 22:40 utc | 127

@127 hoarse

As Noirette says no one wants civil war in the US ... although the Australians might think it would be fun to watch.

Posted by: jfl | Nov 16 2016 22:43 utc | 128


You really should pay more attention and catch up to current events, cos George Soros with his paid provocateurs actually seems like he'd be happy enough with a bit of civil war in the US.

And given that the US has been formenting civil war in countless countries for most of the last 100 years or so, not to mention the 6 or 7 civil wars/coups it has caused in just the last decade or so, I'm pretty sure that the list of people wanting civil war in the US has a lot more names on it than just Mr George Soros'

Posted by: Killary PAC | Nov 16 2016 22:53 utc | 129

Why polls fail, well, here is a reason, US dept. not replying to legit questions,

'Not going to put RT on same level with rest of you’: John Kirby loses temper during briefing

Posted by: ZIMMMER | Nov 17 2016 8:41 utc | 130

The U.S. State Department would have ruled this election illegitimate if it had occurred in another country, based on blatant discrepancy between EXIT polls and reported results, the gold standard.

Trump "victory" statistically impossible?!
Fitrakis is the PhD political scientist and attorney who sued several OH counties for not turning on the audit and scan security tools of their electronic voting systems -- the Republican judge called his complaint "almost frivolous."

Both, for example, James Jacksons dropped from rolls for each voting twice -- even though one was James A. and the other James D. Jr.!
Presidential Polls Were Off the Mark Because of Voter Suppression
Filmmaker Greg Palast says the states of Michigan, Arizona, North Carolina, and Ohio were stolen in this election

Posted by: Robert Beal | Nov 17 2016 14:11 utc | 131

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