Nate Silver: Clinton Campaign Strategists Were ‘Huge Dumbasses’

There are many myths about the 2016 election. On the left it is an article of faith that Donald Trump could not have won without illicit coordination with the Russians. On the right, there is the pervasive notion that because Trump beat the odds to win the presidency, all polling is wrong and should be disregarded. Yesterday Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight managed to blow up both of these theories in a single tweet.

The exchange began with a tweet from Ben Collins of NBC News that asked, “What did the Kremlin’s cutouts know about targeting MI and WI? How did they know it? And is there data to show they took action on it?”

Silver, the head of the FiveThirtyEight polling analysis site, responded quickly with a tweet that slammed the door on that particular aspect of Russian collusion. “The 538 model, which was based on publicly-available polling data, said the campaigns should target WI and MI,” Silver wrote. “You didn’t have to have any proprietary info to know they were important states. You just had to look at the data and not be huge dumbasses like the HRC campaign was.”

Silver followed up with a link to a FiveThirtyEight article from February 2017, “Donald Trump Had A Superior Electoral College Strategy.” The thrust of the article, subtitled “How Hillary Clinton and the media missed the boat,” was that Hillary made two key errors in the campaign. First, she focused on states where the race was close rather than states that had the potential to tip the race. In particular, the article points out that Clinton did not set foot in Wisconsin after the Democratic primary. Second, she was overconfident and limited her focus to a narrow range of states. Hillary’s main focus was on Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio.

Silver didn’t explicitly address the idea that because the forecasts were wrong in 2016 that all polling is wrong, but it is implicit in his statement that the Clinton campaign was made of “huge dumbasses” who ignored polling data that showed that Hillary was in trouble. Many Republicans claim that the media gave Hillary a 99 percent chance of becoming president on election night, but FiveThirtyEight’s forecast, which is still posted, gave Donald Trump a 29 percent chance of winning. Under those circumstances, Trump was an underdog, but not prohibitively.

With respect to the two states in question, FiveThirtyEight gave Trump a 21 percent chance in Michigan and a 17 percent chance in Wisconsin. Many polls were within the margin of error in Michigan, but Wisconsin polling was further off, showing a consistent albeit single-digit lead for Hillary.

As I pointed out a few months ago, polls are snapshots rather than predictive. One good technique for examining polls is to look for trends in the big picture. The big picture of the polling average from 2016 is still available on Real Clear Politics in convenient graph form. If we look at the trend, we can see Trump plunging in the polls about Oct. 10 then starting a slow rise on Oct. 20. There is a sharp increase between Oct. 28 and Nov. 2 that brought Trump to within two points of Hillary, well within the margin of error of most polls. Going into Election Day, the national polling average had the two candidates about three points apart, a close race by any standard.

If we look at key events that occurred in the campaign, we can see exactly what caused these movements in the polling. Keeping in mind that polls are lagging indicators, we see that Trump’s decline in early October followed the release of the Access Hollywood tape on Oct. 7. The final presidential debate was on Oct. 19 and Trump’s performance seems to have helped him in the polls, but not enough to close the deal. The event that sealed the race in Trump’s favor occurred on Oct. 28, the release of FBI Director James Comey’s memo to Congress that detailed the discovery of thousands of emails that related to the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. In a May 2017 article, Silver also made the case that Comey’s memo cost Hillary the election.

There are lessons for both parties in Silver’s tweets and articles. For the Democrats, candidates should not take the Rust Belt states for granted. Traditional party loyalties may not be enough to carry a state, especially in an election where everything seems to be going wrong for your candidate. There is no substitute for getting into the field and making appearances. Charisma, broad appeal outside the party, and the stamina to campaign should be factors in nominating a candidate.

For Republicans, the lesson is also that the Rust Belt states should not be taken for granted. Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were all decided by about one percent of the vote after being all but ignored by the Democrat candidate. Just because they voted for Donald Trump once does not mean that they will do so again. The Clinton campaign made mistakes that will probably not be repeated by the next Democratic candidate. Even with these mistakes, however, Trump still lost the popular vote and would most likely have lost the electoral vote had it not been for James Comey. Donald Trump has the stamina to campaign, but he lacks charisma and popularity outside the GOP.

Despite claims from both sides, the 2020 election is far from a sure thing for either party. The outcome will be determined by which side better learns the lessons of the 2016 election and adapts their strategy to a changing electoral environment.








The Polls Didn’t Fail, The Pollsters Did

There’s going to be what will become the longest autopsy of all time on the stupendous failure of polls to predict what happened last night. I won’t dwell on the minutiae, but I don’t think we had a polling failure.

The data was there. What we experienced was an interpretation failure of enormous proportions. It was one of the biggest confirmation bias errors the media has ever made, combined with the abject horror (by some) and shock (by all) at what we were seeing.

Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight repeatedly and emphatically warned that the polls contained a heaping helping or two of uncertainty, which meant the outcomes could vary wildly. He was ridiculed for it by many in the press who would rather just parrot the polling results without a rigorous data-based model.

The LA Times tracking poll, which consistently leaned Trump by 4 points, was more right than the rest of the polls. But it was only right because the grab bag of participants happened to stumble into the correct voting and demographic categories.

And this is the issue with polling. There weren’t a lot of “shy Trump voters” in the sense that they weren’t willing to say who they might vote for. But the models were shy in their assumptions about who will turn out to the polls, in what proportion, and what blocs of voters lean which way.

These are powerful confirmation biases that have been proven false:

  • African-Americans would reliably turn out for the Democratic candidate because President Obama implored them to;
  • Hispanics had enough voting power to overturn a largely middle-class, middle-aged, white voter base;
  • Women would vote with their emotional connection, or revulsion to Donald Trump for his history of misogyny;
  • The correlation of a popular sitting president with a relatively good approval rating to the party in power continuing in office;
  • The failure of issues to dominate the political discussion makes the election into a popularity contest.

President Obama is everything we thought he is, and because of that, he exhibited shockingly short coattails. It is his policies: Obamacare, social experimentation in the military, and his failure to deliver on economic promises, which sunk Clinton. She had nothing new to offer except doing more of what Obama did and failed to deliver on the hopey changey future. Because Trump ran as a demagogue, Clinton thought she could simply run as the anti-demagogue and win.

And the poll interpretations supported that view. Except they didn’t. There wasn’t enough correlation of the issues people cared about with the issues Clinton was touting. In other words, Trump found issues that resonated with the electorate while she didn’t. I’d been touching on that for months (here, here), but Trump’s tendency to eat his own feet submerged the effects of these issues beneath the surface of confirmation bias.

Either Trump is a genius by purposely sticking his feet in his mouth as a disinformation campaign so Clinton wouldn’t see the actual trend and believe her own intelligence reports, or it happened regardless due to natural causes. The disinformation hypothesis is not so far-fetched–it’s how the Allies won World War II and had a successful Normandy landing. Certainly, operators like Roger Stone, Newt Gingrich, Paul Manafort, and Steve Bannon knew how to run a disinformation campaign.

But I think it was simply natural causes. The data was there, but the pollsters themselves focused more on their own demographic models, turnout projections, and voter bloc behavior assumptions than issues-based correlations.

Nate Silver kept seeing the disparities in the polls as a sign of groupthink, and kept warning that this uncertainty could drive results in unexpected directions.

Even when the election results rolled in, the pollsters assumptions and confirmation bias kept the election prognosticators from looking at the real data. They kept looking for the thorn in the rosebush, but it wasn’t there.

It took until 2:30 am for the AP to acknowledge the race call. The Washington Post called Pennsylvania for Trump at 1:38 am, which would have put Trump over 270 except they hadn’t called Wisconsin yet. Everyone had the same data, but nobody wanted to make “the call” to put Trump over. Except one: Decision Desk HQ.

I’ve known Brandon Finnigan for a couple of years. He’s fearless in his calls, he knows Pennsylvania’s electorate better than just about anyone in the U.S., and he’s been building a completely independent crowdsourced election reporting mechanism for 4 years.

An hour and a half before anyone else, Finnigan saw the data, saw that Clinton couldn’t win in Pennsylvania or Arizona, and called the race correctly. It wasn’t taking a chance, it was simply seeing through the confirmation bias (Finnigan had previously concluded here on this site it was nearly impossible for Trump to take Pennsylvania, but shrugged and did what the evidence showed).

In future elections, we will all benefit from this election as an object lesson in confirmation bias. Black Swans tend to have that effect, exposing bad assumptions and herd mentality. The data was there. Next time we’ll do better.

There May Be No ‘Post-Trump’ Because He’ll Never Go Away

By any reasonable standard, the fat lady is standing at the microphone, warming up. It’s over. The score is 49-27 at the two-minute warning. Sure, it’s possible; it’s just never been done.

Nate Silver:

Simply put, there isn’t a precedent for a candidate coming back to win this late in the game after being behind by as much as Trump is now. That’s not to say Trump is dead in the water — polls are not perfectly predictive — but history doesn’t offer much hope for candidates in Trump’s position.

But we all knew this. November 8th will be no surprise. The electoral map will be ugly. There’s a fleeting, tiny chance the election could deadlock, if Evan McMullin wins Utah and Trump overperforms in Hillary Clinton’s “firewall” swing states. Really fleeting, which is to say less chance of that than Trump winning outright. (FiveThirtyEight gives Trump at 15 percent chance, and the best calculation they have pegs the McMullin/House/Deadlock scenario at between 1 and 3 percent.)

So, then, what? Will Trump keep his promise and go back to his “really nice life” and days of golf, beauty pageants, and a fine piece of–ahem? Odds are, not a chance in the world.

First, the narcissist doesn’t like to lose, so he’s systematically doubling down on his “rigged” conspiracy.

And not just on Twitter. He’s spending lots of time on this at his rallies.

At a rally on Friday in Greensboro, N.C., Trump leaned into his “rigged” premise.

“This whole election is being rigged,” Trump told the roaring crowd. “The whole thing is one big fix. One big ugly lie. It’s one big fix.”

Let’s say that Trump sends his “people” to as many polling places as he can for the election. In most states, it won’t make any difference because the outcome won’t be in question. In Ohio, Trump cut off the GOP chairman, likely losing any friendly tilt of its official observers. Trump’s army of outraged cultists won’t get past the door in most counting rooms. At worst, they’ll be jackasses and get themselves arrested.

Other than fodder for news segments, that accomplishes net nothing.

Let’s say Trump files lawsuits in contested congressional districts and against county election officials where the vote is close. He could march out a phalanx of lawyers to replicate the 2000 Bush v. Gore fiasco, and delay the election’s inevitable results. But that won’t work either.

On December 12, 2000, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 “per curiam” (non-specially authored) decision, ruled that the Florida Supreme Court’s recount order was unconstitutional because it granted more protection to some ballots than to others, violating the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. This clause forbids states from denying “to any person within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The Court argued that voting for a president constituted a “fundamental right” strictly guarded by the Equal Protection Clause, and that the Florida Supreme Court’s order violated this right because it was “arbitrary.” The Court alleged that the order contained standardless and unequal processes to divine the “intent of the voter” that were above and beyond the settled processes required by Florida election law.

Given that 2000 was a very specific instance, the Court established itself firmly on the 14th Amendment as it regards dealing with vote manipulation. No matter how much pressure is placed on getting to the bottom of every vote tabulation discrepancy, the Court will likely punt in favor of a decided result and a peaceful transition of power.

A bevy of lawsuits will therefore probably be summarily dismissed by the Supreme Court in time for electors to be submitted to Congress.

And that leaves…Trump as a cult leader, media personality, and gadfly…forever.

Chris Cillizza wrote in the Washington Post, and I agree, with one nit:

Trump, I think, has two options for his future in politics, assuming he loses this fall. The first is that he works to keep his bloc of voters together post-election and forms some sort of conservative alternative third party that aims to bash Republicans and Democrats in roughly equal measure. The other is that he starts a conservative media/broadcasting company in an attempt to monetize the loyalty his supporters have for him and the anti-elites, anti-party message he has been pushing throughout the campaign.

I think Trump will do both and, not either or, and I think he won’t form a third party outside the GOP, but will seek to further eat the GOP like a snake devouring a toad. He’s already devoured the head. After November 8, everyone assumes there will be this great heave-ho as Republicans who supported Trump will suddenly disavow him. But why would that happen?

There’s a rich vein of gold and treasure to mine blaming “The Establishment,” the #NeverTrump movement, and media personalities (such as Erick Erickson) who bashed Trump from the beginning. Trump’s troll army could mobilize, elevating those who side with Trump, who will be offered sweet media deals in Stephen Bannon’s new flagship (whatever that is).

It worked for this election cycle with the GOP, so why would it not work afterward? Trump will never concede, but will want to play kingmaker and transform the Republican Party. Kneel before Zod will be his slogan, just like it was in Iowa.

In fact, the “big tent” Trump offers doesn’t need to include pesky evangelicals, social conservatives and conscience voters. Everyone gets to save face, and everyone gets to be right. Those who opposed Trump will simply become irrelevant to the GOP. We conservatives will be in the wilderness–fighting for a third party.

I would love to see the GOP do what Erick recommended and have a post-Trump revival. But I fear there will be no post-Trump at all. The curse, like the Red Sox curse of the Bambino, may very well be with us for many decades, if the Republican Party survives at all. Like all Trump enterprises that fail, this will just be one more for the books, where Trump walks away with more millions and everyone else gets the shaft.

Hillary’s Bradley Effect: Trump is Counting On It

Trump’s post-convention bounce is significant, more significant than any since 2000, according to CNN, putting Trump in the lead. Indeed, every post-convention poll has Trump ahead.


Trump’s polling has been on a a sine-wave pattern, hitting his high points right when he needs it most. Now he’s on top. The question is: Will he stay there?


Much has been made of something called the Bradley Effect, named after former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley’s ill-fated run for governor in 1982. Bradley was ahead in the polls right to the end, but lost disastrously. The effect usually refers to race, where voters hide their true preference from pollsters for the sake of political correctness.

But it can also apply to Hillary. I wrote last week that Trump’s speech resonated with working class Americans, across the board. This is now supported with data:

Almost half (48 percent) rated Trump’s speech as good or excellent, which is essentially tied with the speech given by his daughter, Ivanka Trump, but higher than his running mate, Mike Pence, or RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.

More people surveyed liked Trump’s speech than admit to liking Trump. The speech is polling 7 points higher than the candidate. This could mean a couple of things.

One, that Trump simply gave one speech that resonated with a segment of the public, but many others found to be dark, ominous and the worst kind of rank scare-mongering. If that’s true, then the bump will quickly fade, and (unless the Democrats disintegrate into chaos this week) Clinton will resume the lead as Trump reverts into his Cheeto Jesus personality.

Or two, that this is a real phenomenon, with “subterranean” support for Trump beginning to emerge as people feel more comfortable telling pollsters they prefer him to “Crooked Hillary.” This would be Hillary’s Bradley effect, or Trump’s “reverse Bradley.” This theory has been kicked around for months–with Vanity Fair giving it a whirl in June.

While polls show Clinton cruising toward a landslide, Trump has insisted that pollsters have it wrong and that everyone loves him—they just don’t want to admit it. “When I poll, I do fine, but when I run I do much better,” he said during a rally on Thursday. “In other words, people say I’m not going to say who I’m voting for, don’t be embarrassed, I’m not going to say who I’m voting for and then they get it and I do much better, it’s like an amazing effect.”

Trump is counting on it, and really believes he’s loved and his message is on target. Former candidate Rick Santorum’s book “Blue Collar Conservatives” frames Trump’s message. In fact, Santorum claims Trump read the book and met with him about it. In Trump’s world, his business failures are a result of the same economic conditions working class America blames for their ills. Casinos closing in Atlantic City–in this world–aren’t Trump’s fault. They believe him when he says he got out with his skin.

In Trump’s working class message, his bankruptcies simply mean he feels their pain. Romney was a better businessman, but couldn’t connect with workers. Trump can. He sells dreams, not reality. Trump is the working man’s lottery ticket. And everyone, of all races, who dreams of riches without working for it, buys lottery tickets. But most won’t admit it publicly.

But is it true? Is there a real groundswell of support for Trump’s message, enough to suspend disbelief at the man himself? I believe there is. I believe people will opt for the orange-hued clown, their own Cheeto Jesus, and believe he loves them, cares for them, and will take care of them. I believe they’ll find comfort in Ben Carson’s support for Trump (after all, it’s only four years).

I believe many of those who have been reliably Democratic voters, union members, teachers, and even some academics, will eventually fall out of Hillary’s camp into Trump’s. Time will tell, and of course, there’s always the chance Trump will do or say something so scary that nobody would admit supporting him.

Even FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver agrees that Trump’s chances are better than even.

The breakdown shifts a bit between the Electoral College and the popular vote. Silver’s model currently predicts the popular vote going 45.4 percent to Trump vs. 45.1 percent to Clinton, but the Electoral College giving Trump a wider margin of victory, 285 votes and Clinton 252.6.

Silver’s projections take any post-convention bounces into account.

“It’s not Trump’s convention bounce per se that should worry Dems. That’s pretty normal. It’s how it became so close to begin with,” Silver tweeted. “Trump trailed by around 3 points in our forecasts a week ago. Typical convention bounce is 4 points. So you end up at Trump +1 or so.”

“Don’t think people are really grasping how plausible it is that Trump could become president. It’s a close election right now,” he warned last week.

It’s possible Trump could fade. There’s always his Russian connections (which I think the press will largely ignore), and his sordid business history and lawsuits. But those don’t compare well to Hillary, who was publicly damned by FBI Director Comey and at the same time absolved because “She’s Hillary.” That doesn’t play well with the public.

More than half—56 percent—said they disagreed with FBI Director James Comey’s recommendation to the Justice Department to not charge Clinton with any crime, even as he remarked that she and her colleagues were “extremely careless” while slightly more than one-third, or 35 percent, said they approved.

Asked whether Clinton’s conduct made them worried about what the former secretary of state would do as president, 57 percent responded that it did, while 39 percent said the issue is not related to how she would perform as commander in chief.

Trump’s strategy is to never let Hillary get more than three steps away from her email woes. And if Erick is right, his Moscow-controlled legion of hackers and Twitter trolls will see to it.

Time will tell, but I think, like in the primary race, Trump is on top, and will likely stay there, provoking ever-more-desperate attempts by the left to knock him down. The DNC emails did so much damage to that effort that Hillary and the Democrats might simply be out of dry powder for that effort. Then we’ll start to see Hillary’s Bradley effect manifested in the polls.

You Too Can Be Like Former Daily Kos Blogger Nate Silver

Nate Silver has all the liberals calmed down these days. He is the Xanax of the activist left, nervous about Tuesday. In an article HotAir linked to earlier today about rich, white San Francisco residents so upset by the thought of a Romney win they can’t use their home gyms, Mary Katharine Ham found this hilarious quote about a liberal who watched the first debate: | Read More »