December 20, 2016


Voters Really Did Switch To Trump At The Last Minute (Dan Hopkins, 12/20/16, 538)

[T]he latest wave of the Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics panel survey that my University of Pennsylvania colleague Diana Mutz and I have been overseeing is now complete, and it provides new evidence that voters did shift to Trump in the final weeks of the campaign, too.

Panel surveys differ from other polls in that they re-interview the same people repeatedly, allowing us to see how specific Americans' attitudes shift over time. They thus help us sidestep the problem that some groups of people might be more likely to take polls when their candidate is thought to be doing well or receiving favorable press coverage. Our October 2016 wave was conducted with nationally sampled adults over age 26 between Oct. 14 and Oct. 24, meaning that it ended soon after the third Clinton-Trump debate. At the time, Clinton was riding high in the polls -- and 43 percent of our panelists in that wave expressed support for Clinton, as opposed to 36 percent for Trump. By way of benchmarking, this same group of panelists had gone for President Obama over Mitt Romney 46 percent to 39 percent in October 2012.

At first glance, it might seem as if Clinton in October 2016 was in roughly the same position as Obama was in October 2012, at least with respect to the distribution of votes nationally: Both enjoyed margins of 7 percentage points among exactly the same group of people. But there were critical differences, even beyond the fact that the geographic distribution of support is crucial in making one candidate president. First, the number of undecided respondents in 2016 was 21 percent, significantly outpacing the 15 percent we saw in 2012. Second, our 2016 survey ended on Oct. 24, leaving two full weeks before the Nov. 8 election for people's minds to change. There was still a lot of time on the clock. [...]

As to what moved these Americans in the final weeks of the campaign, the panel has little to say. The timing of James Comey's letter to Congress -- released on Friday, Oct. 28 -- makes it one potential explanation. When making sense of campaigns, people often search for overarching narratives, and Comey's letter provides a ready-made story. No less a political observer than Bill Clinton recently explained his wife's loss by pointing to Comey's letter.

Still, we shouldn't discount the possibility that voters might have gravitated to Trump anyhow. Research has long suggested that over the course of a campaign, partisans come home to their party's candidate. Between mid-October and our post-election wave, Trump picked up almost 4 percentage points from people who had backed Romney four years before, suggesting that Republican identifiers were doing just that. Trump's media coverage in the final two weeks was markedly more positive than it had been during the prior weeks, and it's possible that shift in coverage was just the opening some Republicans and Republican-leaning voters needed to get behind Trump.

As much as Democrats want to believe that it was a particular strategy or tactic or subterfuge that cost them the election, and the Right and the media wish to find some hidden value in Donald that led him to victory, they risk ignoring several basic facts:

(1) Hillary was a historically unpopular nominee [only Donald was ever more disliked]

(2) the historical models all called for a GOP victory [only Donald was capable of so drastically underperforming the models]

(3) she was on track to win anyway until the Comey intercession [which liberated Republicans to vote for a party nominee they don't think should be president]

(4) she ultimately lost to the Republican party, whose congressional and state level candidates widely out-polled the party nominee, as well as her, and carried Donald to victory.

At the end of the day, the conservative brand simply remains more powerful than the liberal in American (Anglospheric) politics.  Moving Left in response to the election will be just as deadly for Democrats as it has been for Labour in England.

Posted by at December 20, 2016 7:00 AM