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Democratic voter crossover for Donald

Trump measured in online civic


engagement platforms
Aleks Mistratov
Jeremy Meadow

AAPOR Conference
May 20th, 2017

ABSTRACT
Almost all pre-election polls called for a Hillary Clinton victory on
November 8th, and yet, Donald Trump became our countrys 45th President.
What happened and why did the polls get it wrong?

Brigade -- a mobile app and website that asks users who theyll vote for in
the election and verifies their identity by matching them to their states voter
record -- discovered a trend missed by many pre-election polls. In the months
leading up to the election, Brigade saw a statistically significant (Mult
R=0.85) cross-over effect of registered Democrats pledging their votes for
Donald Trump at disproportionately high rates in states like Pennsylvania
(N=2,816) and North Carolina (N=1,269) -- states where Trump ultimately
outperformed FiveThirtyEight election forecasts. Conversely, in states where
Clinton outperformed pollsters forecasts, like Nevada (N=344), registered
Democrats on Brigade were significantly less likely to cross-over to pledge
their vote for Trump.

This paper outlines Brigades method of asking users who they pledge to
vote for, its method for verifying users against their public voter record using
information like name, date of birth, and mailing address, as well as a
detailed analysis of registered Democrats who pledged to vote for Donald
Trump. It will also expand on how we believe data from voters online
activity can be used to aid future election forecasts.

1
Table of Contents

Introduction 2
Review of Literature 3
Methodology 5
Results 8
Discussion 10
Conclusion 11

Introduction
Almost all pre-election polls called for a resounding Hillary Clinton victory on November
8th, and yet, Donald Trump will be our countrys 45th President. What happened and why did all
the polls get it wrong?
Pollsters and journalists have been scrambling to understand the result, offering a
spectrum of explanations ranging misinterpretations of the margin-of-error in otherwise sound
polls to election interference by a foreign power. We dont explore all possible scenarios in this
paper, focusing instead on Trumps performance among registered Democrats and implied
Democrat voters in key swing states, using online vote pledge data collected through the
Brigade mobile app and website in 2016.
Brigade, a mobile app and website, asked users to pledge their votes for a presidential
candidate, and verified the users identity by matching them to their states voter record. Users
pledged their vote through the app, without talking to a pollster over the phone, and Brigade was
later able to verify whether each user actually voted in the 2016 election. Our data supported the
conclusions of Lincoln Park Strategies and Nate Cohn of the New York Times that Donald
Trump was able to outperform his Republican predecessors among a demographic of Democrats
in swing states.
Could pollsters have picked up on this trend before Election Day and used it to improve
election forecasts? Could the Clinton campaign have used the data to refocus its efforts in the
final weeks of the campaign? While voters increasingly engage with politics online, their online
political activity -- posts on social media, public endorsements of candidates, and answers to
online polls -- are still under-utilized in election forecasts.
This paper will outline Brigades method of asking users who they pledge to vote for, its
method for verifying users against their public voter record using information like name, date of
birth, and mailing address, as well as a detailed analysis of registered Democrats in each state
who pledged to vote for Donald Trump. It will also expand on how we believe data from voters
online activity can be used to aid future election forecasts.

2
Review of Literature

2016 Election Post-Mortems


The surprising election result left voters in search of explanations from pollsters and the
media. The news media and many pollsters had come to a pre-election consensus that Hillary
Clinton would win the presidency -- predictive models created by national publications gave
Clinton a 70-90% chance of winning, with some even predicting a 98% chance of victory.1
In the weeks following the election, early reactions tended to cover a wide range of
explanations for Trumps surprise win. A leading theory centered around social desirability bias
and shy Trump voters, who were too embarrassed to tell a live pollster that they intended to
vote for Trump. The theory was fueled by Trumps unusually low favorability rating, the
perceived social stigma of expressing support for him, and his slightly better performance on
online polls than live polls.2
Another theory pointed to unusually high numbers of undecided voters -- a trend also
explained by both candidates low favorability ratings -- breaking for Trump in the final weeks
before the Election.3 Various other theories pointed to combination of low turnout -- especially in
Democratic areas -- and an overreliance on the national vote polls to project an election decided
by the electoral college.4
Over the last few months, another narrative has emerged as analysts have poured over
exit polls and updated voter files from secretaries of state across the country. Donald Trump was
able to flip an unexpected type of voter -- one who previously voted for Democrats including
Obama in 2012 -- to vote for him instead of for Hillary Clinton in the Rust Belt. Clintons
campaign had been counting on Rust Belt states -- including Pennsylvania, Michigan,
Wisconsin, and Ohio -- but Trump was able to win them and, thus, the election.
The literature points to some demographic trends among these unexpected Obama-Trump
swing voters. They tended to be older, white, working-class, and less likely to have a college
degree. Several pollsters, like Nate Cohn of the New York Times, had suggested before the
Election that such voters could swing for Trump5, and they were further vindicated when the exit
polls were released. Lincoln Park Strategies, a Washington, D.C. analytic research firm, explored
the state-by-state results in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Broadly, they found
that Trumps ability to flip rural counties in these states which had voted for Obama in 2012
put Trump over the top in the 2016 election.
1
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/upshot/presidential-polls-forecast.html
2
https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/live-polls-and-online-polls-tell-different-stories-about-the-election/
3
http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-invisible-undecided-voter/
4
http://www.npr.org/2016/11/14/502014643/4-possible-reasons-the-polls-got-it-so-wrong-this-year
5

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/10/upshot/there-are-more-white-voters-than-people-think-thats-good-n
ews-for-trump.html
3
Clintons support among white working-class Obama 2012 voters was tepid overall, and
she especially underperformed in Rust Belt swing states. Cohn writes, Mrs. Clinton won Mr.
Obamas white-working class supporters by a margin of only 78 percent to 18 percent against
Mr. Trump...In the Midwestern battleground states and Pennsylvania, Mrs. Clinton had an
advantage of 76 percent to 20 percent among white working-class Obama voters.6
In Pennsylvania, LPS found a high cross-over effect among white non-college graduates
from Obama to Clinton. Though they made up the same percentage of the electorate in both
elections according to the exit polls (52%), non-college graduates dramatically shifted from
voting with the Democratic Party to the GOP. In 2012, 57% of non-college graduates sided with
Obama, while only 42% supported Romney. In 2016, just 45% supported Clinton, a 12-point loss
for the Democrats. In contrast, Trump received 52% of votes among non-college graduates, a
10-point gain for the Republican.7

Turnout Modeling
Traditional turnout modeling performed by campaigns relies heavily on historical voting
data and thus is unable to accurately predict changing trends in electorate behavior.8 Most
modern campaigns use each voters turnout score to predict election turnout and outcomes, and
to target likely voters with events and communications in an effort to drive them to the polls on
election day. A turnout score can reflect a variety of inputs beyond voting history, but most
models are heavily reliant on historical voting patterns to predict future voting behavior. Even in
models which incorporate hundreds of input variables, those variables are trained on historical
turnout data to predict the behavior of the same demographics who have voted in previous years
elections. If campaigns design their predictive models to identify voters who would have
historical voting data, they will fail to locate voters who would not have voted in past elections
but who would vote in the upcoming election.
Polling also makes adjustments based off of historical data to determine who is actually
going to vote. Most election polls will ask subjects if they intend to vote, but will incorporate this
amongst a variety of inputs when determining the final appearance of the electorate. Turnout
data will be adjusted based on factors such as age and other demographics, voter registration
status, self-assessed turnout likelihood, and voting history.9 This means that if one segment of the
population behaves differently than it has in the past and pollsters are making similar
adjustments to their turnout predictions, all polls could systematically misjudge election results,
especially in locations where those segments of voters were overrepresented.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/28/upshot/a-2016-review-turnout-wasnt-the-driver-of-clintons-defeat.ht
ml
7
http://lpstrategies.com/white-papers/whathappened2
8
MacNamara, Michael. The Political Campaign Desk Reference
9
http://abcnews.go.com/US/PollVault/abc-news-polling-methodology-standards/story?id=145373&page=5
4
Another risk of traditional polling is voters who may lie or misrepresent their actual
intent. According to internal campaign pollsters, Donald Trump polled 3% higher in online and
automated polls compared to in-person phone calls for most of the campaign10, and creating
corrections for this potential mistake is highly difficult as shy Trump voters could represent
their shyness through claiming to be undecided or even ignoring poll requests altogether11,
biasing the polling sample.

Methodology

Brigade Vote Pledging


A vote pledge represents a promise to vote in the upcoming election, and has been used
by political campaigns for years to identify the supporters of a candidate and turn them out
during an election. Traditionally, voters have pledged to vote by filling out a vote pledge card
for a specific candidate and writing a short reason explaining why. Campaigns use these vote
pledge cards as a foot-in-the-door technique and some have asked voters to submit those pledge
cards directly to the candidates campaign, reminding them in the days before the election of
their previous pledge and reason.12
Beginning in August 2016, Brigade asked users and visitors to its website to pledge their
vote in the Presidential Election, choosing between Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Jill Stein,
and Gary Johnson. To pledge their vote, a user would need click or tap on the Pledge Vote
button next to a candidates name and photo. Immediately after vote pledging, users would have
to create a Brigade account (if they didnt already have one), providing their name, email address
and birthday to Brigade, information which would be used to connect a voter record to their
Brigade account. A user could change their pledge to another candidate in the race -- or
un-pledge their vote to indicate they were undecided -- until 11:59PM on Election Day.
We conducted our analysis using the share of active vote pledges for Donald Trump or
Hillary Clinton, out of all active vote pledges on Brigade as of 11:59PM on November 8th, 2016.

Voter Verification and TargetSmart


Brigade developed an algorithm that leverages personal information given by a user,
including but not limited to name, address and birthdate, and attempts to match the user to their
public voter record. This algorithm has been continuously iterated on to better weight different
types of data in potential record matches and to make better decisions with missing or unclear
information. When new users sign up with Brigade, the algorithm would attempt to identify their

10
https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/shy-voters-probably-arent-why-the-polls-missed-trump/
11

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/11/12/there-may-have-been-shy-trump-su
pporters-after-all/
12
http://equipgop.com/pledges-and-voter-turnout/
5
voter record based on provided information. If the algorithm returns a single high-confidence
voter record match, the user was automatically assigned to their voter record. For users whose
voter record search returned with a lower degree of confidence, a manual search process was
initiated where users would be prompted to input additional information before a second search.
Once users have been tied to a voter record, we can segment users by geography or
demographics as well as correct for imbalances in Brigades user population. Record matches
also inform us of whether a voter is registered with a national political party or not -- in the 28
states plus the District of Columbia that allow voters to indicate a party preference when
registering to vote. For the 22 states whose voter records omit party registration, including
Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin -- we used a partisanship score created by Targetsmart to
determine a voters likely party. Our analysis focused on the voters who were registered (or
likely registered) with the Democratic party, but who pledged for Donald Trump in 2016.13

FiveThirtyEight Pre-Election Polls and New York Times Election Results


Next, we compared Brigades vote pledge data to Nate Silvers FiveThirtyEight final
pre-election Polls-Only polling aggregations. The FiveThirtyEight Polls-Only average is created
by collecting most available state polls -- excluding several that FiveThirtyEight determined to
engage in blatantly unethical practices like faking poll data.14 Polls are weighted against each
other based on factors like sample size, FiveThirtyEights own ratings, recency, trendline (the
direction are the polls moving in over time), likely voter models, and House Effects (whether
each poll tends to skew Democrat or Republican).
This papers analysis uses the final difference in FiveThirtyEights projection of Donald
Trumps vote share and Hillary Clintons vote share in each state. For example,
FiveThirtyEights final projection in Florida was for Hillary Clinton to receive 48.1% of the
statewide vote, while Donald Trump would receive 47.5% (Gary Johnson was projected to
receive 3.2%, and the remaining votes were projected to go to other third-party candidates). For
our analysis, we consider the FiveThirtyEight projection to be Trump -0.6.
We then subtracted the final FiveThirtyEight projection from Trumps final
margin-of-victory, as provided by The New York Times website to determine how surprising his
win in each state was15. Again using Florida as an example, we see that Trump received 48.6% of
the vote, while Hillary Clinton received 47.4% of the vote, giving Trump a margin-of-victory of
+1.2%.

1.2 - (-0.6) = +1.8. Trump exceeded the final FiveThirtyEight projection in Florida by 1.8
percentage points.

13
We conducted one analysis blending the results of the registered Democrat voters with the likely
registered Democrats, and a separate analysis using only registered Democrats.
14
https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/a-users-guide-to-fivethirtyeights-2016-general-election-forecast/
15
http://www.nytimes.com/elections/results/president
6
We repeated this calculation for the 22 states in which we had a sample size of at least
200 registered Democrats who vote pledged for one of the presidential candidates. Below is a
map representing Trumps overperformance in each state.

Figure 1. States where Donald Trump overperformed/underperformed 538s final state-poll forecast.

We then ran a simple linear regression against the adjusted rate of crossover among
Brigade Democrats voting for Trump and the number of percentage points Trump exceeded his
final FiveThirtyEight margin in each state, controlling for voter income data provided by
TargetSmart.16 We also repeated the analysis for the 16 states in which we had at least 200
implied Democrats identified using Targetsmarts partisanship score, though those states were
not the focus of our primary findings.

Brigade Crossover Rate Normalization


To identify states with especially high rates of crossover voting, we normalized pledging
data among our userbase by calculating the baseline rate of crossover voting among registered or
implied Democrats and comparing each states rate to the baseline. For states with party
registration data, 39.9% of registered Democrats pledged their vote to Trump.
Each state was normalized against the baseline crossover rate for its party data source.
For example, Pennsylvania is a state with party registration data where 45.0% of Democrats
pledged for Trump.

45.0% / 39.9% = 12.9%. Registered Democrats in Pennsylvania were 12.9% more likely
to pledge for Trump than the baseline rate across the entire userbase.

16
Controlling for income in our model improved R2 from 0.59 to 0.70
7
Figure 2. States where registered Democrats on Brigade crossed over to pledge their vote for Trump.

Results
For states with party registration data available, we observed a correlation of 0.782
between crossover Trump pledging rates and margin of victory in excess of FiveThirtyEight
projections, and an Adj-R2 of 0.59. When adjusting for the difference in vote share among
Democrats earning <$50,000 versus those earning >$100,000, Mult R increased to 0.85 and
Adj-R2 increased to 0.70.

Figure 3. Correlation between states where Trump overperformed and states where more registered
Democrats crossed over to pledge for Trump on Brigade.
8
We observed the highest rates of registered Democratic crossover votes in Appalachia
and parts of the Midwest, with Kentucky, West Virginia, and Oklahoma all showing crossover
pledge rates at least 60% higher than the Brigade baseline. These states represented three of
Trumps top four most surprising margins of victory and three of Brigades highest incidences of
crossover voting.

Turnout
Democrats who vote pledged for Donald Trump appear to lower propensity voters than
Democrats who vote pledged for Hillary Clinton in 2016. However, the turnout rate difference
between the two groups decreased in 2016.
Based on voter file data from 2016, 86.8% of Democrats who pledged for Clinton turned
out to vote in 2016, compared to 78.9% of Democrats who pledged to vote for Donald Trump, a
difference of 7.9%.17 In the 2012 General Election, Democratic Clinton pledgers voted at a rate
of 74.6%, while Trump pledgers voted at a rate of 64.3%, a difference of 10.3%. The difference
was even larger in the 2014 midterm general election, where Clinton pledgers voted at a rate of
60.4% and Trump pledgers voted at a rate of 42.5%, a difference of 17.9%. These results are
summarized in the table below:

Table 1. Turnout among Brigade Democrats, by 2016 Candidate Vote Pledge and Election Year.
Turnout rate difference (Clinton
2016 Hillary pledgers 2016 Trump pledgers pledgers versus Trump pledgers)
Turnout in 2012 74.6% 64.3% 10.3%
Turnout in 2014 60.4% 42.5% 17.9%
Turnout in 2016 86.8% 78.9% 7.9%
8 states w/
<5% projected margin 92.4% 87.5% 4.9%

Based on this context, we see that although 2016 Trump pledgers were less likely to vote
in 2016 than Clinton pledgers, they overperformed their turnout in previous elections, relative to
Clinton pledgers, suggesting that Trump was able to galvanize crossover democrats who were
previously less involved in the electoral process.
Further, the overall difference between the candidates voters was even smaller in the
eight states whose projected vote margin (as provided by FiveThirtyEight) was under 5%. For
pledging Democrats in the states states that flipped in 2016 (IA, WI, MI, OH, PA, FL), 92.4% of
Clinton pledgers and 87.5% of Trump pledgers turned out to vote in the 2016 general election, a

17
Turnout data is provided by secretaries of state to Brigade through TargetSmart; 2016 is continuing to
come in as of this writing and % turnout will continue to rise as more results are reported.
9
difference of only 4.9%. The trend suggests that Democrats who voted for Trump were more
motivated in 2016 than in years past to vote.

Demographics
Brigade demographic trends among crossover Trump voters highlighted interesting
geographical differences between regions of the country. To perform more complete analysis
over demographic trends without excluding key areas of the country such as the Midwest, we
have used Targetsmart ideology scores to assign users an implied party.
Education was the clearest indicator of Democratic voters propensity to pledge for
Trump. Overall, registered Democrats with a college degree pledged for Trump at a 27.6% rate
compared to a 46.2% rate for those without one, a 19.4% difference. Implied Democrats showed
a similar difference, where those with college degrees pledged for Trump at a 44.9% rate and
those without pledging at a 62.4% rate, a 17.5% difference. This trend was fairly consistent
across the country and continued in the midwestern states that flipped parties in 2016, with
differences between non-degree holders and degree holders of 18.8% in Michigan, 15.3% in
Ohio, 16.0% in Pennsylvania, and 22.6% in Wisconsin.
Across the entire population of registered Democrats, 42.2% of male users pledged for
Trump, and 38.6% of female users pledged for Trump. Among implied democrats, 59.0% of
male users pledged for Trump, and 58.7% of female users pledged for Trump. Among the
Midwestern states that flipped for Trump in 2016, we saw more men than women pledge for
Trump. In Wisconsin, 61.7% of male implied Democrats pledged for Trump compared to 53.3%
of their female counterparts, a difference of 8.5%. Across all Midwestern states that flipped for
Trump in 2016, more men pledged for Trump than the Brigade baseline, including Pennsylvania
(11.1%), Iowa (8.9%), Ohio (4.4%), and Michigan (4.4%).
We also saw regional differences in terms of age. Crossover voters on Brigade were
largely older, with registered Democrats under 35 crossing over at a 28.6% rate compared to a
39.4% rate among voters 35-50, a 41.5% rate among voters 51-65, and a 41.0% rate among
voters older than 65. Younger crossover voters were more concentrated in the Midwest while
older crossover voters were more likely to originate in the South, indicating that there were some
differences in the demographics of crossover voters in different geographic regions.

Discussion

Targetsmart Democrats vs Registered Democrats


When classifying voters using Targetsmart ideology scores, we werent able to identify
as a distinct population of potential crossover voters as we did using party registration. Among
states with party registration, we observed a standard deviation of 39.6% between different
states normalized crossover pledge rates. Among states where we relied on TargetSmart scores

10
to identify potential democratic voters, the standard deviation between normalized crossover
pledge rates was only 17.1%. The correlation between Brigade crossover pledging and candidate
election performance relative to polling expectations would likely be higher in states without
party registration if a more reliable method of identifying crossover pledges was found.

Multiple Elections Pledges


Brigades ability to identify changes in voter behavior and enthusiasm will improve once
our vote pledge data extends through multiple election. Had Brigade had vote pledge data from
2012, we would have been able to specifically investigate the intent of 2012 Obama voters in
2016 and compare that to 2012 Romney voters intent. This provides unique insight into parts of
campaigns voting coalition that may be shifting to another party, as we saw in 2016.

Predictions Using Brigade


Brigades vote pledging tool can be used to identify specific voters that may change
parties or voting behavior before the election. Because these voters can be tied to on-platform
activities, demographics, and voting history, there is enough data for campaigns to build
predictive models that could identify potential swing voters and tailor messaging to them to
either bolster their support or convert them.

Conclusion
Donald Trumps 2016 Election victory was an overwhelming surprise to most observers,
partially due to the candidates seemingly unfavorable pre-election poll numbers. Election
projections gave Trump only an outsider's chance to win the presidency as Hillary Clinton
maintained a narrow but consistent lead in the national popular vote.
Ultimately, Hillary Clinton did beat Donald Trump in the national popular vote by about
2.1%, but Trump won a narrow victory in key Rust Belt states which most polls had projected
would vote for Clinton, states that had something in common -- working class crossover. The
Washington Post wrote that Trumps victory was decided by 80,000 people in Pennsylvania,
Michigan, and Wisconsin.18
In such a close election, any number of factors could have contributed to Donald Trumps
surprise win. Our analysis focuses on the unexpected Democratic crossover vote for Trump in
key states, a trend Brigade saw in its early vote pledge data, especially among working-class,
middle-aged men in the Midwest, who voted in higher numbers than expected, and may have
voted for Obama in 2012. Similar findings have since been corroborated by exit polling and
analysis of the actual 2016 voter rolls.

18

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/12/01/donald-trump-will-be-president-thanks-to-80
000-people-in-three-states
11
Clintons performance among working class white voters in the Midwest may be part of a
broader party realignment trend. Cross-party voting in presidential elections increased in 2016,
with 9% more Democrats voting for Donald Trump in compared to 4% who voted for Mitt
Romney. The same was true for Republicans, with 7% of Republicans voting for Hillary Clinton
in 2016 compared to 3% who voted for Barack Obama in 2012.19
Online civic engagement platforms like Brigade can help project crossover rates if they
can identify an individual voters location, demographics, and voting intentions. They can
anticipate demographic-specific and state-specific differences in crossover rates and turnout,
even as the parties political coalitions re-align. Most polls assume that a generic Democrat or
Republican will convince some % of the other partys voters to turnout and vote for them on
Election Day. They arent responsive to specific candidates abilities to draw coalitions from
unexpected demographic groups, as Donald Trump did with working class voters who previously
voted for Democrats.
Brigade and other online platforms are unlikely to surpass advanced models used by
campaigns and independent, but they can be a critical aid in anticipating trends at little cost.
Despite negative coverage, polling did not fail all that spectacularly in 2016, although it was off
enough among key states and demographics to inaccurately predict the final outcome. could
supplement traditional polling to provide additional indicators of voter enthusiasm and intent, as
a platform with an active voting userbase tied to a public voter record provides a unique
opportunity to combine forward-looking voting intent with historical voting behavior. With
online civic engagement continuing to grow in 2017, and with multiple new advocacy
organizations mobilizing voters to take action against their elected officials; the ability to model
this behavior and translate it into election projections has tremendous potential to change polling
and opinion research.

19
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/08/us/politics/election-exit-polls.html
12
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