Harry Enten points out that areas surrounding Ivy League schools voted predominantly for Clinton. He concludes that these are bubbles. I think there is something more in these numbers.
Undeniably, academics tilt liberal, as do the communities they live in. However, additional forces were at work in 2016. White college-educated voters swung away from the Republican Presidential nominee, by double-digit percentages. The numbers above reflect that. In addition, think of the fact that elite universities are institution-oriented. That is, they favor the existing order: meritocracy, a rule-based society, and governmental/private organizations that remain stable over time. Those values are conservative – but they also cross party lines.
If you think Ivy League students are living in a cultural/political bubble… You are exactly right. All are in 80%-90% Clinton areas. pic.twitter.com/cJouWh9VcG
— (((Harry Enten))) (@ForecasterEnten) December 16, 2016
This year, the Republican nominee promised to upend that order. His personal actions, and those of advisers such as Stephen Bannon and Michael Flynn, do not count as conservative by any usual definition. Today, conservative columnist Michael Gerson points out that while the Republican Party is at its zenith, conservatism is at a low:
…what is the proper conservative response? It is to live within the boundaries of law and reality. There is no certain way to determine if Russian influence was decisive. And no serious constitutional recourse seems to remain. While open to other options, I see none. It will now fall to citizens and institutions to (1) defend the legislature and judiciary from any encroachment, (2) defend every group of people from organized oppression, including Muslims and refugees, (3) expand and defend the institutions — from think tanks to civil liberty organizations — that make the case for a politics that honors human dignity. And pray for the grass to grow.
Indeed, signs of instability to democracy have been brewing in multiple Western nations, as documented by Roberto Foa and Yascha Mounk (original article PDF here). In addition to conservative voices, liberal voices have also pointed out the risk; see this essay by Paul Krugman, “How Republics End.”
Usually, PEC would close down after the election for two years. But this year I’ve heard from many of you about your continued appetite for data-based analysis. More than ever, data is necessary to understand public life. Here are some examples of what we learned this year:
- Data showed us Trump’s strength in the primaries in January. They showed us Clinton’s inevitability in her party’s primaries as well.
- Simulation showed how the GOP nomination rules were stacked in Trump’s favor.
- In the general election, data showed us just how entrenched voters have become starting in the 1990s, and how close and unmoving the race was.
- Detailed time-series analysis shows that late-deciding voters post-Comey were a key factor in the home stretch.
That is just the analysis done here – there was also much excellent work done at FiveThirtyEight and The Upshot.
The failure was in the general election – and even there, polls told us clearly about just how close the race was. The mistake was mine, in July: when I set up the model, my estimate of the home-stretch correlated error (also known as the systematic uncertainty) was too low. To be honest, it seemed like a minor parameter at the time. But in the final weeks, this parameter became important.
The estimate of uncertainty was the major difference between PEC, FiveThirtyEight, and others. Drew Linzer has explained very nicely how a win probability can vary quite a bit, even when the percentage margin is exactly the same (to see this point as a graph, see the diagram). At the Princeton Election Consortium, I estimated the Election-Eve correlated error as being less than a percentage point. At FiveThirtyEight, their uncertainty corresponded to about four percentage points. But we both had very similar Clinton-Trump margins – as did all aggregators.
For this reason, it seems better to get away from probabilities. When pre-election state polls show a race that is within two percentage points, that point is obscured by talk of probabilities. Saying “a lead of two percentage points, plus or minus two percentage points” immediately captures the uncertainty.
Even a hedged estimate like FiveThirtyEight’s has problems, because it is ingrained in people to read percentage points as being in units of votes. Silver, Enten, and others have taken an undeserved shellacking from people who don’t understand that a ~70% probability is not certain at all. Next time around, I won’t focus on probabilities – instead I will focus on estimated margins – as well as an assessment of which states are the best places for individuals to make efforts. This won’t be as appealing to horserace-oriented readers, but it will be better for those of you who are actively engaged.
State polls aren’t the only thing that failed. On a larger scale, journalists failed to see the Trump phenomenon coming, and did not take him seriously as a disruptive force. Now the failure takes a new form: an inability to see that if false statements compete on equal ground with truth, the rules have changed. Nowhere is this better evidenced than by this photograph of an off-the-record feasting-and-ritual-humiliation.
As CNN’s Brian Stelter has written, this pairs oddly with Trump’s continued assault on the media. Columbia Journalism Review’s Kyle Pope has written that a “new aggressiveness” is needed when covering politics. Contrary to the coziness shown in the photograph, now seems like a time to redouble the use of fact-based discussion – and to call out inaccuracy.
This all leads to a question of what to do in the months ahead. The risk to institutions does not allow the luxury of waiting for two years. I plan to use the Princeton Election Consortium as a forum for data analytics in the public interest. The general goals are to understand where we are today, and to identify ways in which individual efforts matter, not in 2020, not in 2018, but right now. For examples, see the right sidebar, which lists some ideas.
I’m looking for partners in this endeavor. All are welcome, and all political persuasions. One common theme is that quantitative analysis and facts will serve as a starting point. Sometimes we will focus on norms of society and government, though that is a domain where external expertise would be helpful.
I hope students and colleagues will be part of this effort. Postings will be less regular than during the election season, but we still aim to bring you good work. I hope you will stay with the Princeton Election Consortium.