How Election Pollsters Got it Wrong

The 2016 presidential election may go down in history as one of the most hard-fought and shocking political contests the world has ever seen. In a move that challenged conventional wisdom about pollsters’ abilities to predict election outcomes, Donald Trump was elected 45th President of the United States.

For weeks leading up to Election Day, reporters, pundits and campaign operatives cited poll after poll with Hillary Clinton winning handedly; According to Real Clear Politics, only two of 21 general election polls showed Trump ahead by Monday, November 7.

Now, efforts are underway to explain how and why pollsters got it wrong. Some argue that the data-driven approach we’ve come to know and trust may not paint a full picture. In this case, pollsters – and many of their counterparts in mainstream media – may have underestimated Trump’s support, both nationally and in key swing states. It’s also possible that they relied on survey samples that do not accurately reflect the current American electorate.

According to U.S. News and World Report, Trump was able to mobilize white men and women to vote in significantly greater levels than anticipated. This suggests that Trump’s “Rally Effect” may have been a more important barometer for voter turnout and enthusiasm than many believed.

Trump’s ability to bring together voters – using concert-style campaign events to grow (and activate) their support – was the cornerstone of his campaign. The impact, though not scientific, underscored the value of face-to-face in this election.

Photo Credit: New York Times

For more than a year, we witnessed Trump’s ability to pack airport hangers, stadiums and convention centers. While Clinton struggled throughout the campaign to fill banquet halls and community centers, her opponent was drawing tens of thousands of supporters to events all over the country – some where men and women waited outside for hours just for the chance to see him speak.

Even those who weren’t able to engage with Trump face-to-face were able to interact directly with one another. They were able to build connections with fellow Trump enthusiasts and feed off the energy of a movement to “make America great again.” The passion they showed when cheering him on was a sign of intense loyalty and support, magnified by the inherent power of face-to-face.

And while this is not to say that the enthusiasm at campaign rallies is a better predictor than polling data, it is to suggest that enthusiasm is an overlooked, often discounted, metric of political support. After all, the same people who were willing to wait in line for hours to attend Trump’s rallies were the same people who proudly cast their ballots in his favor and ultimately, delivered his presidency.

As a nation, there are many lessons we can learn here, about politics and about people, but one lesson is surely about the value of bringing people together face-to-face. Because whether it’s about electing the next leader of our country or another pivotal moment, when it’s important, it’s worth meeting about.

To learn more about the role face-to-face meetings and events played during this election, check out our infographic and Worth Meeting About campaign. In the weeks and months ahead, we look forward to exploring topics beyond the election that show how meetings and events are critical to society. Tweet us your ideas using #WorthMeetingAbout.