Presidential election result leaves pollsters in disarray

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If one were to look at the polls for the presidential race in Michigan in August 2016, only one conclusion was possible: Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton had it in the bag.

As the presidential race wound down and months went by, polls in Michigan grew less predictable , though many remained in Clinton’s favor.

In the Detroit Free Press poll from July 30 to Aug. 3, Clinton was on the heels of her Democratic nomination and sat comfortably 11 points above Republican candidate Donald Trump.

Trump’s national and state wins on Nov. 8 came as a bit of a shock given the polling data  throughout the course of the election. The thought process behind calling elections and looking to polls have come into question following Trump’s win.

University of Michigan-Dearborn professor and Detroit Free Press election analyst Timothy Kiska said the polling world has yet to recover from the blow of Election Day and the incorrectness of the polls locally and nationally.


Around 9 p.m. on Nov. 8, the Free Press called the Michigan race, declaring Clinton the inevitable winner. About two hours later, the Free Press retracted its original declaration, which Kiska now says was premature.

Kiska said by around 9 p.m., 65 of the 80 sample precincts were fully reported and Clinton held a 3 point lead over Trump.

It was after those precincts came in that Kiska and the Detroit Free Press team decided to call the election.

“Statistically, it looked like we were on solid ground,” Kiska said. “If we had waited just an hour we would have been right on the money.”

During that hour, Trump’s lead grew immensely, and he took most of the remaining precincts, Kiska said.

Michigan’s official canvass of the vote was released on Nov. 28. The Michigan Board of State Canvassers declared Trump the winner in Michigan by 10,704 votes, with a total of 2,279,543. The state is expected to conduct a recount.

“I underestimated those last 15 precincts and how strong he (Donald Trump) was going to be running,” Kiska said.

Trump outperformed 2012 Republican candidate Mitt Romney in several rural precincts, giving him an edge in the race in Michigan, Kiska said. Clinton did not deliver in counties where President Obama had done well in 2008 and 2012.

Trump’s most discussed precinct win came after he won Macomb County, turning it red for the first time in nearly 30 years. Many have argued that the county’s choice put a nail in the coffin for Clinton’s chances in Michigan.

“The Trump people showed up, but I don’t think the Clinton voters showed up nearly to those numbers,” Kiska said about not taking into account the election’s unusual elements. “It was just too close to call.”


Grand Valley State University Fieldhouse on Nov. 7, 2016. Presidential Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton hosted her last rally in Michigan in Grand Rapids.

A variety of factors go into viewing a poll and designating what it represents: sample size, when it was taken, how was it taken, what was asked.

Kiska said polling skeptics have begun to come out of the woodwork.

He said he is not surprised about how people were thrown by the different poll predictions and that the pollsters were thrown as well by their own results.

“We’ve been asking ‘Why were all of these polls off?’” Kiska said. “We are going to be looking at this for a long time.”

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