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How polls were right about election, predictions were wrong

In this Oct. 19, 2016, file photo, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump waits behind his podium as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton makes her way off the stage following the third presidential debate at UNLV in Las Vegas. (David Goldman / Associated Press)
In this Oct. 19, 2016, file photo, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump waits behind his podium as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton makes her way off the stage following the third presidential debate at UNLV in Las Vegas. (David Goldman / Associated Press)
By Garrett Cabeza Moscow-Pullman Daily News

Donald Trump will assume the presidency today, but people were – and probably still are – baffled he was even elected, because so many polls predicted a Hillary Clinton victory.

Cornell Clayton, director of the Thomas Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service at Washington State University, addressed the Kiwanis Club of Pullman on Thursday at the Gladish Community and Cultural Center about the 2016 election.

Clayton said the polls were right, but the pundits who were predicting from those polls were wrong.

“You probably shouldn’t use polls to predict an outcome when you have a very close electoral contest,” Clayton said.

He showed a screenshot of a RealClear Politics webpage on the morning of the election with the major polls it tracked.

Clayton said every poll indicated Clinton would win except for one, which showed a Trump victory. The margin of victory of those polls ranged from 1 percent to 5 percent and the margin of error stretched from 2.5 percent to about 4.5 percent, Clayton said. In most cases the margin of victory was less than the margin of error.

Clinton won the popular vote by 2.1 percent, or by 3 million votes, Clayton said, which means all of the polls shown on the webpage were accurate and within their margin of error except for one poll.

Trump won in the Electoral College, which earned him the presidency.

Clayton said voter turnout, estimated at 55.4 percent, explains why Trump was elected.

“That estimate is lower than any of our previous recent presidential elections,” Clayton said.

Clayton said voter turnout is key to determining if a Republican or Democrat will win an election.

“Low turnout elections are going to produce Republican victories,” Clayton said. “High turnout elections are going to produce Democratic victories.”

Clayton said Democrats have growing constituencies, and it will get even more favorable for Democrats in the coming years.

Clayton said Trump will have the advantage of working with a Congress where both houses are controlled by the GOP. In 2008, when Barack Obama was first elected and Democrats controlled both houses, he said, Obama passed many of his major policy initiatives, such as the Affordable Care Act.

Clayton said Trump enters office “more unpopular and more distrusted than any president in history” with an approval rating of 40 percent.

“He cannot rely upon his own popularity or his electoral mandate to put pressure on Congress,” Clayton said.

He said Trump will find success where there is strong GOP support in Congress for policies. Clayton said Americans will likely see tax cuts and some effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but is less likely to succeed where the GOP is divided, such as broad immigration reform or a broad Affordable Care Act replacement bill.

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