Post Election Hangover Edition: Links, Documents, and Guides to Understanding the Outcome

I posted on my Reed College introductory politics class “Moodle”.  I shared this on Facebook and getting a lot of requests to share more broadly.  Any questions about the class readings and other references below, please email


I’ve spent the day trying to absorb and understand the election results, and I thought it might help to provide a list of resources where I am going to try to reason through this. I certainly don’t mind, and I’m sure Chris would not mind, if people want to talk, or rant, or celebrate, or protest.

We are not suggesting that you should be dispassionate or apolitical about the election outcome. I handle unexpected political changes by doing by best to deconstruct it and understand it. That’s my makeup. It need not be yours. Do what you will with below.

1) The 50,000 Foot Look:

I still think the best place to look and reflect is at a site that allows you to drill down to the county level, and compare vote changes from 2012. I prefer the NY Times, but I list a number of other sites below. Click through at these sites to see the various maps.

The best interactive maps in my opinion at the NY Times:

Great mix of maps and exit polls at BBC:

USA Today does a better job displaying change in support…/intera…/how-the-election-unfolded/

CNN has a different look and feel, not my choice but has very nice individual state results

2) This election is a game changer and this election is a realignment

Most of the evidence is that this election reinforced the existing divisions between the two parties. What was surprising to many observers was that more Republicans did not abandon their party standard bearer, given a lack of endorsements and many leaders distancing themselves from Trump. If you are able to ignore that for a moment, Trump’s support coalition looks nearly identical to Romney’s. Clinton underperformed Obama, especially among African Americans and Latinos. That’s the election in a nutshell.

Larry Bartels at the Monkey Cage examines election 2016…/2016-was-an-ordinary-elec…/

3) What about race, ethnicity, gender? Didn’t the horrible things Trump said make a difference?

You know from our class that voters decide based on a wide variety of things–partisanship most importantly, then issues (mostly the economy), and then finally candidate characteristics. It has never been the case that candidate characteristics are the most important consideration. And it is often the case that attitudes about particular “single issues” can overwhelm everything else. While the things Trump said may matter a lot to you, you can’t expect that those same things matter to other people, who may believe in very different things and have very different life experiences. We won’t be able to answer this question in detail for a few months, but I suspect we are going to find not that many Trump voters did not completely ignore the things he said, but they heavily discounted them because of other concerns. And for another big chunk, race and ethnicity in particular get bound up with fear and discontent. That, unfortunately, is very common in the human condition.

This graphic from the NY Times summarizes Trump and Clinton support, compared to elections back to 2004, among key demographics. You may want to look at this first before following up on the links below.…/…/elections/exit-poll-analysis.html

3a) On Gender: Clinton simply did not benefit much from her gender, at least that’s what the evidence indicates. Gender identity is very different from racial solidarity, so expecting the gender effect in 2016 to function like the race effect in 2012 and 2008 was probably wishful thinking, no matter how much gender identity may matter to you.

Michael Tesler at the Monkey Cage, with extensive citations to past work on the comparative weakness of gender identity.…/why-the-gender-gap-doomed…/

3b) On Ethnicity (primarily Latinos): Evidence is far more mixed. The finding you are seeing in the press is that Trump received 29% of the Latino vote, which exceeds Romney’s margin by 9%. However, others are disputing this finding, critiquing the way the exit polls are conducted. This one will be debated for a while.

Matt Barreto of UCLA and Latino Decisions (and older brother of a recent Reed alum in political science) runs down why he thinks the exit polls overestimate Trump support among Latinos…/the-rundown-on-latino-vot…/  (UPDATE: Nice article at the Monkey Cage.)

3c) On African American support: Clinton did not do as well as Obama among African Americans. If the 88% number holds, that’s down 5% from 2012. But what appears to have been more damaging is lower turnout overall, and this really hurt in states like Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

Politico story on the number of African Americans in Florida who voted early in 2012 and did not in 2016, citing the work of political scientist Daniel Smith of University of Florida.…/clinton-campaign-struggles-in-get…

Analysis of the exit poll data by political scientists Stanley Feldman and Melissa Herrman…/cbs-news-exit-polls-how-donald-tr…/

4) What about the polls and the forecasts? Does this indicate that polling and statistical forecasting is junk?

It may not surprise that my answer is “no.” There was a systematic miss for the polls, and consequently the forecasts, and the misses were all in red states. If the models were junk, they would have missed in the blue states as well. That means there was something going on in the red states that was missed by the political observers and political scientists who obviously need to scrutinize what they are doing. But your own fundamentals based forecasts predicted Clinton’s vote almost precisely, as did at least two of the forecasts in PS. Something is seriously amiss about Trump support, but there’s no evidence (yet) that there is something seriously amiss about the fundamental underpinnings of election science.

Andrew Gelman does a nice job showing the consistent miss in red states…/polls-just-fine-blue-states-blew…/

Gelman shows how a comparatively small yet systematic 2% shift in support toward Trump appears to explain virtually all the “misses.”…/11/09/explanations-shocking-2-sh…/

See also Nate Silver…/what-a-difference-2-percentag…/

Silver reminds us (as you read in his book) that there is a tendency among people to refuse to acknowledge the meaning of uncertainty and probability. He’s to blame as much as anyone for producing these seemingly precise forecasts, but he’s not to blame for reporters and citizens not understanding uncertainty.…/final-election-update-theres-…/

E-Day Guide: Absentee Ballots and Election Night Results

Election day is all about ballot cast at the polling place, right?

 In fact, millions of absentee ballots will be arriving today at county elections offices. These ballots may have been delivered right on time by the postal service, or dropped off at a drop box, or hand carried into the local elections office.  

 In so called “postmark” states (Alaska, California, Illinois, Maryland, New York, North Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Utah), ballots need only be postmarked by November 8th (oddly enough, November 7th in Utah) and can arrive a few days to two weeks later. 

Finally, in a few states, such as Arizona,  Montana and California, you can even drop off your absentee ballot at the local polling place.  (Editor’s Note: If anyone knows a comprehensive list of these states, I’d appreciate a link.)

These late arriving ballots can easily make the difference in close races.  

In Multnomah County, OR, elections director Tim Scott estimates that anywhere from 110,000 to 150,000 ballots will arrive today–that’s more than 20% of the total registered voters in the county, so likely more than 30% of the final tally!  Statewide, assuming total turnout of 80%, nearly 500,000 ballots that will be making their way into county offices today. 

In Maricopa County, AZ, the second largest election jurisdiction in the country, over 100,000 ballots are typically dropped off on election day, according to Tammy Patrick of the Bipartisan Policy Center  who worked in Maricopa for a number of years. 

What happens to these absentee ballots?  Are they counted immediately or are they counted at the close of polls?  What about the absentee ballots that arrived prior to Election Day?  I’ve received a flurry of questions about this today.

The quick answer is that in most states, absentee ballots are processed as they arrive.  The ballots are scanned but not counted, and tallying doesn’t occur until Election Day (in some states, at the start of the business day, in some states, after the polls close.  The “scanning” vs.”tallying”  distinction is important–election officials can’t just walk into a room and glance at vote totals–because no totals exist.  Totals are only calculated when a particular form or report is created.  

This means that in most states, the first results will include absentee ballots that arrived prior to Election Day, but will almost certainly not include ballots that arrived on Election Day. 

The late arriving ballots will generally not even begin to be processed until Wednesday.  While this may frustrate politicians, their supporters, and Americans who want to see an announcement of the final results, the delay is necessary to assure the security and integrity of our elections system.

First, in many states, absentee ballots cannot be processed before the close of the polls because election officials have to check to make sure that no one has voted twice, once by absentee ballot and a second time at a polling place.  This is the kind of security measure that exists in the American election system and is often ignored by those making unsubstantiated charges of “rigging.” 

Next, the absentee ballots need to be processed.  This involves a multistep

  • Signatures need to be verified
  • Ballots need to be separated from the outside envelope
  • In some states, ballots need to be inspected (and potentially “remade”) so they can be read by the machines.

After all these steps are completed, the ballots can be scanned and the votes counted.

In most states, none of this will happen on election night, when election officials have already worked a very long and arduous day.  Election officials need their beauty sleep, just like the rest of us!  

And they’ll be working hard to provide full and accurate results for days and weeks after November 8th. 


Early Voting: The E-Day Minus One Edition

We have nearly final figures on the early voting totals in each state, and the ballot return rates continue to force us to reconsider many of our previous assumptions about who votes early and where early voting is most popular.


Early voting as a percent of the 2012 early vote, as shown in the first map, is blowing old totals out of the water. Charles Stewart has reported on the pace of early voting in North Carolina  and Daniel Smith has been doing the same for Florida.   Other states with extraordinarily high numbers compared to 2012 include Arizona (106%), Georgia (124%), Maryland (167%), and Nevada (109%).  As I noted in an early posting, the Massachusetts and Minnesota numbers are misleading because they have relaxed their early voting laws. 

These numbers are more impressive when viewed as a proportion of the total 2012 vote.  This indicates higher turnout overall, or an electorate that is switching wholesale to early voting.  In either case, it means that in the states that rank high on this list (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington), it’s not going to be enough any more to have an election day GOTV operation.

Election day is rapidly becoming election week(s) in many parts of the country. 


EV as Percent of Total 2012 Vote EV as Percent of Total 2012 Vote

Just wow, that’s all I can say.  Off to class!


Early Voting 2016: Halloween Edition! Early Voting 2016: Halloween Edition!

(This post co-written by Paul Gronke and Brian Hamel, Department of Political Science, UCLA)

Even the prospects of ghosts, goblins, Russian hackers, and Wikileaked emails don’t seem to be able to stem the tide of early voters in 2016. It’s truly a historically early early vote total nationwide.  (Take that sentence, Doug!)   

Five days ago, we reported that in a number of key battleground states, close to 50% of all early votes cast in 2012 had already been cast in 2016. With less than a week till Election Day, these numbers continue to climb



The highest rate is in Louisiana, where the total early votes cast this cycle have already exceeded the total cast in 2012 over six more days of balloting.  Sec’y Tom Schedler talked about this last week at the Bipartisan Policy Center.  This may be a result of good election planning.  After all, if the Tigers beat ‘Bama this Saturday, there could be a few folks who won’t wake up until after Election Day! Something unique is happening in the Bayou State.

Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee are also showing very high ballot return numbers, at or exceeding 80% of the 2012 totals.  

Overall, twenty-nine states have racked up more than half as many early votes as were cast over the full early voting period.  For many states last week, these totals only included no-excuse, vote by mail ballots, but now millions of more voters are heading to early in-person voting locations in most major battleground states.  

Out of Politico’s eleven battleground states, in fact, only New Hampshire and Pennsylvania don’t report more than half of the early vote has already been cast (if we use 2012 as a baseline).   This is going to create a huge problem for Donald Trump if, as some sources report, his early vote targeting operation lags Hillary Clinton’s. 

The numbers look even more forbidding for Trump if you look at the early vote totals as a percentage of the total 2012 vote.  These numbers have to be viewed with a bit of caution; state registration totals will have grown and shrunk during this period, and 2012 voter turnout is obviously an imperfect predictor of 2016 total.  However, these numbers aren’t going to have moved that much, and more importantly, the relative position of states will have changed even less. 



In Florida, nearly a requirement for a Trump victory, early votes exceed 44% of all votes cast in 2012.  In Nevada, not a key to a Trump victory, but a state that Harry Reid wants to deliver for Clinton, 45% of the 2012 total has already been cast.  In Tennessee, things are looking brighter for Trump–over half of the 2012 totals are in the books, although we have no data on the partisan breakdown of these ballots.

Michael McDonald notes that only in Nevada do the party ballot return totals indicate a clear Democratic advantage, and the election electorate will break for Trump (it has to if more Democratic votes are cast early). Still, this may mean that Clinton can redeploy her targeting resources in Florida and other states in a way that Trump may not be able to. 

These stunning figures could be the result of a number of factors, including voters simply responding to the convenience of early voting, the intensity of the campaign, the distinctiveness of the candidates, increased attention from the campaigns and parties on early voting mobilization, or any combination of the three. What is clear, however, is that early voting could be a key indicator of who is winning the horse race.

Data courtesy of Michael McDonald and the United States Election project.




"Un-spinning" the early vote: No, this campaign is not that different; No, early voters don't regret their vote; No, most voters are not undecided. “Un-spinning” the early vote: No, this campaign is not that different; No, early voters don’t regret their vote; No, most voters are not undecided.

Journalists are hungry at this point for any information that might give them some special insight into the eventual outcome in November, and early voting seems particularly valuable because, unlike a poll, early voting reflects, obviously, actual voting.  What’s much less clear is what we can conclude from early turnout at this juncture.  As Michael McDonald warns routinely in his blog posts, these are early indicators, and may reflect changes in campaign mobilization, changes in state and local practices, along with voter interest and enthusiasm.

We have, for example, no research that I know of that correlates absentee ballot requests, returns, and eventual vote totals in a state.  Comparisons between 2016, 2012, and 2008 seldom take into account in a systematic way spending rates and mobilization efforts by campaigns.  Speculation about these things may make for good copy, but I don’t spend a lot of time poring over these numbers.

I am quite willing to speak to reporters, however, on the topic of “voter regret,” and whether early voting is “bad” because of the dynamic nature of “this year’s campaign.”  These questions come in predictably just about this time, when the early vote totals really start to pile up, and reporters are on full alert, filing multiple stories about the campaign.

Here’s the basic math: only a relatively small percentage of total votes have been cast at this point (two weeks out from Election Day).  And a relatively small percentage of registered voters (and an even smaller number of likely voters) are truly undecided at this late stage.  This translates into a tiny theoretical percentage of voters who will cast an early vote and who are likely to change their vote, ignoring in that calculation lots of research indicating that most early voters are decided voters who are not going to be swayed by information provided over the next two weeks.

The best estimate we have of the total numbers of ballots cast at this point is 6.5 million. This is take from McDonald’s daily update on twitter. screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-4-35-32-pm

This sounds like a big number, but we expect over 130 million ballots to be cast in 2016.  The early vote totals to date are about 5% of the total expected.  Three days ago (October 21), it was less than 4%.  Five days ago, the total was under 2%. That bears repeating: 20 days before the election, less than 2% of ballots were cast early.

Now, let’s see how many voters are really likely to be undecided at this stage of the campaign.  According to Lynn Vavreck, a YouGov conducted three weeks ago found just 8% of registered voters were undecided. These undecided “… are less interested in politics and the news, less partisan, and less likely to hold opinions on issues dominating campaign discussions. Essentially, they think less about politics.”  A HuffPollster study conducted a week ago found a somewhat higher percentage of undecided, 14%, yet Natalie Jackson found little space for movement within this segment.

Now we can put everything together.  Who are these “early” early voters?  Are they voters who will change their minds?  All the evidence we have accumulated from past elections says “no.”  Few early voters report that they regretted their choice, and most early voters report that they made up their minds relatively early.  They tended to be more ideological and partisan than the average voter.  Now, we have never  had a study that samples early voters on the fly, after they cast their ballot, and follow up later on.  Instead, we have to rely on post-election reports, and there may be  some rationalization going on.

Nonetheless, as much as it may disappoint reporters, for the vast majority of citizens, the campaign is essentially over.  It’s possible that there may be a late breaking scandal, or late breaking information, or a late breaking event that could move millions of citizens to reevaluate these two candidates who have been in the klieg lights for nine months.  Every reporter is dying to break this year’s October surprise.  But those surprises almost never occur, and given how strongly voters feel about these two candidates, there is very little that will move voters at this point.

Election “day” has begun!  Enjoy the ride.