Pre-Election Polls That Had been Fallacious

Following up on my final publish Massive Knowledge Flubs Donald Versus Hillary, listed here are some well-known instances the place pre-election polls have been unsuitable.

The Literary Digest Predicts Landon Will Defeat Roosevelt in 1936

In 1936, the USA and the world have been within the depths of the Nice Melancholy. Unemployment and poverty have been rampant. Hitler had risen to energy in Germany. The communist authorities in Russia had skidded off the rails underneath Stalin, executing each supporters and opponents in an more and more apparent reign of terror. A extreme drought and unusually sizzling temperatures in 1934 had devastated agriculture within the midwest, the so-called “Mud Bowl”, main to large numbers of destitute migrants and financial refugees from Oklahoma and different states laborious hit by the drought.

Within the drought yr of 1934, a number of former key supporters of President Roosevelt, particularly the controversial Senator from Louisiana Huey Lengthy broke away and tried to kind a 3rd social gathering, arguing for insurance policies like Social Safety and powerful authorities intervention to create jobs. Huey Lengthy was a flamboyant populist politician with rumored ties to underworld figures. Many individuals noticed him as an American Hitler or not less than Mussolini. Lengthy was assassinated on September 10, 1935, which ended the risk that he may run as a 3rd social gathering candidate for President in 1936.

Whether or not to move off a populist revolt or as a consequence of real disappointment with the outcomes of his insurance policies or some combination of each, President Roosevelt shifted to the left, enacting lots of the insurance policies reminiscent of Social Safety that most individuals consider because the New Deal at present and dropping lots of the pro-business insurance policies related to the Nationwide Restoration Administration (NRA). Roosevelt’s shift to the left elevated denunciations of him as an American Hitler, would-be dictator, communist, and related prices by conservatives, Republicans, and numerous enterprise leaders.

It was in opposition to this polarized backdrop with concern and anger working rampant that the distinguished Literary Digest which had accurately predicted the outcomes of the 1916, 1920, 1924, 1928, and 1932 elections by conducting polls, carried out a ballot for the 1936 election. The 1936 ballot predicted a landslide for the Republican candidate Alf Landon: Landon, 1,293,669; Roosevelt, 972,897

The Chicago Tribune Predicts Dewey Defeats Truman in 1948

Within the 1930’s and 1940’s most main newspapers have been solidly conservative, Republican, and hostile to the New Deal and Democrats. None extra so than the Chicago Each day Tribune, now simply the Chicago Tribune, and its outspoken writer Robert Rutherford “Colonel” McCormick (1880-1955), typically often called the “Colonel” or “Colonel McCormick”. McCormick was a crusading right-wing writer who had crossed swords with Chicago’s highly effective gangsters and may very well be counted on to denounce liberal insurance policies and the Democrats. He was a person liberals and leftists beloved to hate. In some respects, the Chicago Tribune was the FOX Information of its time — in all probability a classier old-school WASP model of FOX Information.

Colonel McCormick of the Chicago Tribune

Colonel McCormick of the Chicago Tribune

In 1948, the Chicago Tribune made its most well-known blunder, printing a headline on November 3, 1948 — the day after the election — declaring that the Republican candidate Thomas Dewey had defeated President Harry S. Truman.

The Chicago Tribune had apparently printed the headlines earlier than the election outcomes have been in primarily based on their polls displaying that Dewey would win!

The Chicago Tribune was not alone in its well-known blunder. Most polls, typically carried out by then conservative, Republican or Republican leaning newspapers and media organizations had predicted Thomas Dewey because the winner.

Reagan Clobbers Carter in 1980

For weeks earlier than the presidential election, the gurus of public opinion polling have been practically unanimous of their findings. In survey after survey, they agreed that the approaching selection between President Jimmy Carter and Challenger Ronald Reagan was “too near name.” A number of factors at most, they mentioned, separated the 2 main contenders.

However when the votes have been counted, the previous California Governor had defeated Carter by a margin of 51% to 41% within the well-liked vote–a rout for a U.S. presidential race. Within the electoral school, the Reagan victory was a 10-to-1 avalanche that left the President holding solely six states and the District of Columbia.

TIME correspondent and editor John F. Sacks writing in November 1980

President Carter confronted some severe headwinds that by some means by no means confirmed up within the polls previous to the election. Particularly, the revolution in Iran overthrowing the Shah of Iran had been accompanied by an enormous run up in oil and vitality costs, dampening the economic system and seemingly contributing to an uncommon surge in inflation for the USA. This financial shock was accompanied by the spectacle of over fifty hostages held on the US embassy in Tehran, the Iranian capital, all through the election — a scenario given intensive protection on the night information day-after-day. The polls appeared to point out the general public rallying across the President within the disaster and but the election outcomes went the opposite method.

As in newer failures of pre-election polling, tough-talking Ronald Reagan was portrayed as a none-too-bright struggle mongering closet racist nut case supported by uneducated rednecks and surprisingly conservative white manufacturing facility staff in New York Metropolis like Archie Bunker in Norman Lear’s hit 1970’s scenario comedy All In The Household.

This excessive profile condescension might have made the liberal Democratic elite be ok with themselves, but it surely actually couldn’t have endeared them to the precise “rednecks” or manufacturing facility staff even when they determined to vote liberal and Democrat.


In the UK, only recently, most polls referred to as the BREXIT vote to depart the European Union (EU) unsuitable, predicting victory for the professional EU place.


As we now know, the polls displaying Hillary Clinton main Donald Trump by a number of proportion factors have confirmed unsuitable. Solely the USC/LA Occasions Dawn Ballot, whether or not as a consequence of luck or higher mathematical modeling and statistics, seems to have been roughly appropriate.


This can be a small pattern of maximum outliers the place the pre-election polls have been wildly unsuitable. One can’t draw many particular conclusions from such a small pattern.

Human beings are unpredictable. They offer evasive solutions. They lie. They modify their minds. They’re removed from the idealized unbiased identically distributed random variables of chance concept and statistics. Human society is nothing just like the idealized truthful playing video games of chance concept or radioactive decay in a physics laboratory. Any mathematical mannequin or statistical technique utilized to human beings ought to be seen with warning.

The general sample of those instances appears to be that elite opinion diverged from the widespread man. Whether or not as a consequence of unconscious bias or deliberate manipulation, the pre-election ballot outcomes mirrored this elite opinion regardless of the usage of purportedly goal arithmetic and statistics. Within the 1930’s and 1940’s elite opinion in the USA was predominantly conservative Republican therefore predictions that Landon and Dewey would win.

In latest a long time, we’ve an elite opinion favoring “globalization,” “free commerce,” and “immigration” that’s remarkably related in each political events in the USA and lots of political events elsewhere, e.g. the UK Labor Celebration underneath Tony Blair. Therefore, the polls missed BREXIT and Trump. It’s at greatest an elite opinion that’s out of contact with a lot of the overall inhabitants — its sensible every day issues, its emotions, its issues.

© 2016 John F. McGowan

Concerning the Writer

John F. McGowan, Ph.D. solves issues utilizing arithmetic and mathematical software program, together with creating gesture recognition for contact gadgets, video compression and speech recognition applied sciences. He has intensive expertise creating software program in C, C++, MATLAB, Python, Visible Primary and lots of different programming languages. He has been a Visiting Scholar at HP Labs creating laptop imaginative and prescient algorithms and software program for cell gadgets. He has labored as a contractor at NASA Ames Analysis Middle concerned within the analysis and growth of picture and video processing algorithms and expertise. He has revealed articles on the origin and evolution of life, the exploration of Mars (anticipating the invention of methane on Mars), and low-cost entry to house. He has a Ph.D. in physics from the College of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a B.S. in physics from the California Institute of Expertise (Caltech). He might be reached at [email protected].