People assume because our name is “Civic” Science, that we’re all just sitting around obsessing over the presidential election all day, like we don’t have anything better to do. I can’t get through one game of Words with Friends at my desk without somebody asking me who we think is going to win. Even the woman who does my regular Monday afternoon pedicure was grilling me about it. Can’t she see I’m busy running a company? It’s so annoying.
So I’ll tell you what I tell everybody. I don’t know who is going to win, and nobody else does either.
You’d think if anyone could predict the presidential election, we could. We’ve collected hundreds of millions of poll responses since 2011. Millions of those were about politics. In fact, in just the past few months, we’ve surveyed over 27,000 U.S. voters about the Clinton-Trump cage match. We have some of the smartest people in the world pouring over the numbers.
But nope. We still can’t tell you who is going to win. Any pollster who tells you otherwise is just trying to get their names in the press. Sure, some firms will be able to brag – in retrospect – about having the right numbers, but they were just lucky to have their math in the right place at the right time. This race is either really hyper-close or a big mystery…or both.
For starters, check this out:
We’ve been running this question every day since early July (No, we never added any other independent candidates to our question). All told, we surveyed 27,431 Americans over 4 months. When we roll everything up, a mere 124 votes separate Trump and Clinton. Week over week, the numbers have swung, sometimes wildly. There was a noticeable trend just last week. Nonetheless, with all of those swings, the aggregate differential was almost nothing. This thing has been neck-and-neck.
But here’s the bigger problem. For the life of us, we can’t figure out who is going to actually vote. The dynamics of this race and these candidates have thrown traditional turnout models into the garbage disposal. As many as 7% of Americans who’ve never voted in their lives are going to show up for the first time. Approximately 5% of Americans who’ve voted in every race of their adult lives are going to stay home, out of protest. The pundits warn of lower enthusiasm (see: “turnout”) among African Americans and rank-and-file labor union members. Moderate and young Republicans are so conflicted that they may just skip the whole thing.
We made the decision to not publish Presidential horse race polling a long time ago. Until we figure out what political polling is going to look like in the future – and we absolutely MUST figure it out – we believe that the science is currently too imprecise, given the amount of influence poll numbers can have on the process.
Still, we’ve been polling the Presidential race extensively, every day. We share findings and insights with our business clients almost as often, but we do it with effusive explanation of the caveats. Nobody should be betting their lives or reconsidering their vote based on our poll numbers or anyone else’s.
With a late surge in the past few days, if turnout is anywhere close to what it was in 2012, our numbers would indicate that Hillary Clinton should win by a fairly safe margin – maybe 8 points. But that’s a big “IF.”
So we still can’t tell you who’s going to win. We have no idea.