The Science Behind the Trump Victory

Wether a Trump supporter or not, the GOP candidates victory probably came as a surprise to you. He was losing in nearly every poll and almost every forecaster and public record pointed towards a Clinton victory… but according to Leslie John, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, that may have been the exact reason Trump won. trump

John is an expert in behavioral decision research, he studies flaws and biases in human reasoning. He credits the outcome of the election to overconfidence, social acceptance, and the elites desire for a certain outcome.

John suggests that many in favor of Clinton didn’t think they needed to vote to assure her victory and instead stayed at home. The majority of figures in the public eye were anti-trump which gave the impression to the American people that the majority of America was anti-trump. This, however, was not the case. The people in the public eye are not an accurate sample of the country as they do not reflect the same opinions as the nation as a whole. These pollsters, forecasters, and analysts may have hurt their own chances at victory by being so confident.

The fear of rejection and judgment may have also played a role in Trump’s Victory. John credits a response bias in the polling that behaviorists call “socially desirable responding”. He believes that many voters, especially women and minorities, feared backlash and supplied pollsters with the information they thought they should say rather than their true beliefs. This could mean that Americans who said they were voting for Clinton instead cast their ballot for Trump on election day. Either this, or they chose not to respond because they viewed the pollsters as “part of the establishment” and were not included in the first place. These dilemmas very likely lead to flawed data in the pre-election polls.


A study done at Stanford University in 1979, “Biased Assimilation and Attitude Polarization,” may provide some explanation for the elections outcome as well. The study concluded that when you want to believe something and you are presented with evidence, you interpret that evidence in a way that supports your initial beliefs. This study was done by giving two groups with differing opinions articles both in favor of and against the death penalty. Both groups left more confident and polarized with their original opinion. This can be applied to the Presidential election as many in the media clearly desired a Democratic victory and may have subconsciously told the public their own biased interpretation.

Wether you are pleased, upset, or indifferent about the outcome of this election, the fact that practically all the experts were wrong is very interesting. We must remember that there can be flaws in the collection of data and that just because some studies say something, doesn’t mean it is the truth. We learned in class that differing opinions are important to finding flaws in others research, this was not done enough between the like-minded media and pollsters in this election. What are your thoughts on how to improve the polling accuracy in the future? Is it possible to really know the outcome of an election before it takes place?

1 thought on “The Science Behind the Trump Victory

  1. Charles Hart

    Perhaps the reason Donald Trump won the election was a form of the Texas Sharpshooter Problem. It is possible that people were focusing on the many reasons Hillary would see high voter turnout but then gloss over the reason why Trump would receive a high voter turnout. This is extremely fascinating, and is going to change polling in the United States, and in other elections outside the United States, forever.

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