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U.S. Presidential Election 2016: Why Polling Missed the Mark. Trump’s Secret Research Weapon

My valued colleague Dr. John Morse attended the ARF (Advertising Research Foundation) symposium on the Election and Polling Research.

The panel shed light on how Hillary Clinton convincingly carried the popular vote, but was narrowly defeated in enough states to lose the archaic electoral college.

Here are John’s recap and key insights:

  • The difference between what people said about their voting intentions and what they actually did was outside the error level range.
  • There was a   significant social embarrassment factor in admitting which candidate you were backing (“shy Trumpers”).
  • In the last days before the election, those “undecided” voters went 50% for Trump; 38% for Clinton.
  • The Trump supporters had more enthusiasm/joy; Clinton much less so and many Clinton supporters stayed home or voted for 3rd party candidates.
  • Trump went for a visceral connection while Clinton was more cerebral.
  • Pollsters focused on what people said rather than how they felt.  The latter was a more accurate predictor of voting behavior.
  • The rural voters and those “off the map” were greatly under-counted in polling as were cell phone only users (non-response bias).

Cambridge Analytica

  • The Trump organization extensively used the new “big data” company, (UK based) Cambridge Analytica, to effectively micro-target and motivate likely undecided and indifferent voters with over 4,000 data points on 230 million Americans.
    • Messaging was constantly refined with regular data input from surveys.
    • Hundreds of ads were tested to determine which ones conveyed the greatest persuasion by population segment.
    • While polls reported what people said, CA focused on unconscious feelings and modeled likely voting behavior.
    • This modeling turned out to be more accurate in predicting voting behavior than intentions expressed in polling.
  • The repetition of slogans by Trump (“Make America Great Again”) stuck with people.  Clinton’s messages were diffuse and not effectively targeted.

More on Trump’s Secret Research Weapon

  • The Washington Post’s Michael Kranish was the only journalist who I follow and who picked up on Trump’s secret “big data” weapon.
  • Read “Trump’s plan for a comeback includes building a ‘psychographic’ profile of every voter” Washington Post October 27, 2016.
  • Highlights:
    • “The firm says it can predict how most people will vote by using up to 5,000 pieces of data about every American adult, combined with the result of hundreds of thousands of personality and behavioral surveys, to identify millions of voters who are most open to being persuaded to support Trump.”
    • “Stephen Bannon, the Trump campaign’s chief executive, sits on the Cambridge Analytica board, according to a Bloomberg News report.”
    • “Hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer, the top donor to a pro-Trump political action committee, reportedly is the majority owner.”

Documentary Connection

Byron Media

  • You can read more about John Morse and Byron Media here.
  • I partner with John to provide deep audience research data and custom analysis for producers, channels and their stakeholders.
  • Please email me ([email protected]) if your company will benefit from custom audience analysis.