Even as Donald Trump begins to form his Administration, people are still wondering why the nation’s top polling organizations failed to spot his surge in the campaign’s final weeks. The reasons they were wrong are important to any retrospective analysis of the election and also as a lesson for future polling. But, much more important is the fact that we must recognize that our failure to follow the opinions of the white, high school graduate men who delivered the election to Trump is a national blind spot akin to the old days when we did not recognize gender gap as political reality.
Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by winning white, high school educated, men in the last three weeks of the election. It was this late surge — more than any other factor — that caused his victory and enabled him to break up Hillary’s “blue wall” of the Democratic states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
According to the Fox News poll, Trump led among white high school graduate men by 14 points three weeks before Election Day. Two weeks out, he doubled his margin to 30 points. With only a week to go, his lead in this demographic swelled to 40 points. And, according to exit polls on Election Day itself, he beat Hillary 67-20 — by 47 points — among high school graduate white men. Similarly situated white women also went for Trump but by smaller margins.
How did the polling firms miss it?
They focused obsessively on the black vote, the Latino vote, and the female vote, but not at all on the white, high school educated vote. It just didn’t occur to them. It was not in their lexicon of political trends. When these voters began to tip toward Trump heavily, they never noticed it. The pollsters did not include this demographic in their data and did not report it to the journalists who recounted the survey results. Methodologically, they probably lumped white high school men in with all other high school grads, whether Black or Hispanic or white or male or female. So they could not spot the trend among the crucial group of what H.S. men.
These voters were not black nor Latino nor female nor necessarily young. So they didn’t count. They were 20 percent of the American electorate but they were never entitled to their own subset in the polling. Their votes were just churned into the national trends.
And because they didn’t follow the sharp tilt of white high school men toward Trump in the final three weeks, they did not see any reason to commit resources to tracking in Michigan, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania. The election would be decided in Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina. The old rust belt states wouldn’t matter because they were Hillary’s “blue wall.”
So now white high school men have finally earned their place in the sun. We will, hopefully track their views in polls and focus groups and will understand that their power is at the core of the emerging identity politics of America.
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