Emotions To Numbers

Enthusiasm gap, passion gap or whatever verbiage you choose it certainly exists in the 2016 election and it is affecting polling if not the outcome. Let’s explore.


Some polling is coming out that suddenly shows Donald Trump leading Hillary Clinton. The news media is making a big deal of it and many among us (well probably not my readers – for the most part they are more politically savvy than the general population) are in panic. Elections tend to tighten up a bit later into the contest and 2016 is proving to be no exception. Another factor is at play this time around; a flaw in polling methodology.


Trump and Clinton (in that order) are the two most unpopular presidential candidates in American history. Therefore there are millions of people who will vote for them without being particularly excited about them taking office. Therein resides the challenge for some pollsters.


The key to getting a polling result that will accurately predict the outcome of an election is to get the most representative sample of voters possible. A perfect sample would be people who will actually vote (likely voters) distributed to represent the influencing demographics in the exact proportion of the eventual electorate. Polling your crazy uncle who rants right wing mythology only to finally conclude that all the candidates are crooks so he sits home is meaningless and misrepresentative of the final outcome.


The likely voter quest appears to be part of the problem with some polls. Who exactly is a likely voter and how do you determine that? At least one major and reputable pollster uses its measure of enthusiasm in determining the likelihood that the person being polled will actually cast a vote. In normal years that is a pretty accurate but 2016 is far from a normal year!


Many voters who will eventually figuratively hold their nose and vote for Hillary do not make the likely voter cut. To be fair some mainstream Republicans who will end up voting for Trump out of Party loyalty while not caring for The Donald specifically are also erroneously excluded. The later number is smaller than the former. Therefore in likely voter polls the Hillary vote is undercounted. An interesting aside is whether that will be counterbalanced by what I call the Trump Effect – the voters actually intend to vote for Trump but are embarrassed to admit that to a pollster. On a further even nerdier note, online polls would appear to remove almost any Trump Effect and would be superior to telephone polls in that respect.


In polling Clinton is hurt more than Trump by the passion gap. Trump’s most ardent supporters (the deplorables) are actually very enthusiastic in their support. (Just like George Wallace’s base was; hence the big rallies.)

Another place where this passion gap is likely hurting Clinton is in recruiting volunteers. The positive is that hate/fear often drives people to volunteer more than love of their candidate. I lack an inside pipeline into the 2016 Clinton campaign but I bet they are having a more difficult time getting volunteers than we did in the 2012 Obama campaign. It is important to note that volunteer recruitment numbers spiked immediately after Mitt Romney named Paul Ryan as his running mate – people hated Ryan.

If you care about the future of America, what we leave to younger generations and those yet to be born you have one duty and one choice this November; vote and vote for Hillary Clinton even if the prospect of doing so isn’t very exciting.

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