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Why Trump Won, and Why We Should Have Seen it Coming

Updated on November 29, 2016
Despite losing the popular vote, Donald Trump managed to score an astonishing victory over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential Election, taking with him the keys to the White House. What did we miss?
Despite losing the popular vote, Donald Trump managed to score an astonishing victory over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential Election, taking with him the keys to the White House. What did we miss?

On Tuesday, November 8th, the morning of the election, Nathan Silver's FiveThirtyEight gave Clinton a 72% chance of winning the election, while the New York Times gave her an 85% chance and the Huffington Post gave her a whopping 98.3% chance of victory. But how did they get it so wrong?

Well, the answer is not so simple.

First, let's consider just how unpopular the two candidates were. Hillary Clinton was a woman (which on it's own managed to bother quite a few people) with an on-going investigation into her emails and a history of lying. In fact, 70% of those surveyed said Clinton was untrustworthy and dishonest. Donald Trump, on the other hand, had no prior political experience and a history of racist and misogynistic rhetoric.

With two obviously unqualified candidates on the ballot, voters found themselves with a tough choice; many were left undecided in the days leading up to the election, causing polls to be inaccurate. A lot of polls also failed to take into account the non-college educated white citizens (who voted largely in Trump's favor), mainly due to the fact that they live in rural, remote parts of the country.

Most importantly, pollsters had no way to account for Trump's silent voters. "There's some suggestion that Clinton supporters are more likely to say they're a Clinton supporter than Trump supporters are to say they're a Trump supporter," Arie Kapteyn, director of USC Dorusife center for Economic and Social Research, told NBC News. Many of his supporters were scared to admit they were voting for him, due in large to social media, and this also contributed to the inaccuracies.

On a more general note, let us consider the fact that the current polling methodology is completely outdated. More and more people today are abandoning their landlines in favor of handheld smartphones, making it harder to reach voters. Instead, many polling companies are relying on anonymous online surveys, but these are wildly unpopular. According to the New Yorker, in the 1930's, online survey response rates hit over 90%. In 2012, it was only 9% (it is also worth mentioning that the population has more than doubled since 1930).

Finally, we have to look at voter turnout. Unless voter turnout is consistent with that of years past, an accurate prediction cannot be made. In this year's case, the voter turnout was the lowest it has been in twenty years, making it difficult to estimate which groups showed up to the polls and in what percentages. With an erratic campaign season, outdated polling methods, and low voter turnout, reliable data is nearly impossible to come by, and the best anyone could have come up with was an educated guess.

But how exactly did Trump win? Well, it turns out the answer to that is also not so simple.

A big contributor is the fact that too many Americans are not happy with the state of our economy today. The national debt has soared from 10.6 trillion dollars in 2008 to 19.9 trillion in 2016; if every American citizen were to help pay off the debt, each would owe approximately $61,253, and if the debt were to be divided up among taxpayers, that would rise to $166,533 (3 times the average household income). As if that's not bad enough, government benefits are becoming more expensive while Medicaid is expected to go bankrupt within the next decade. The U.S. also has the third highest corporate tax rates in the world, causing businessmen to offshore their companies and millions of jobs to be lost. For many, the current political agenda is simply not working, and they are desperate to see a change.

Another reason is that Trump simply ran a better campaign than Clinton did. He campaigned much more than Clinton in both Michigan and Pennsylvania, both historically blue states with a total of 65 electoral votes. She didn't even bother campaigning in Wisconsin because she was so confident she would win, which proved to be a fatal mistake - Trump won Wisconsin by over 22,000 votes. Trump was also much better at rallying up crowds. Many of his rallies housed close to 15,000 people, while Clinton's rarely exceeded 1,000. Even in advertising, Trump dominated. "Make America Great Again" is an iconic phrase, but how many of us will actually remember Clinton's slogan in 10 years?

Whether we like it or not, Donald Trump will be our next president, so what's important now is that we all come together and root for his success, regardless of political affiliation. There is absolutely no doubt that this was an election unlike any other, but if it taught us anything, it's that you should never underestimate the power of a silent majority, nor should you rely on polls to dictate the voice of an entire people.

Who did you vote for?

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