Episode 51: What Happened? - Study Guide for High School Pollsters across the ideological spectrum predicted Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 presidential election. They got it wrong. But one man did not: historian Allan Lichtman.

Episode 51: What Happened? - Study Guide for High School

Check out a printable PDF of this study guide!

 

The election of Donald Trump came as a shock to many Americans, but perhaps most of all to those in the business of calling elections. Pollsters on both the left and the right had confidently predicted Hillary Clinton would walk away with the race. They got it wrong. But one man did not: Allan Lichtman.

The election of Donald Trump came as a shock to many pollsters, journalists, and political pundits, but not to Allan Lichtman. John Locher/AP hide caption

toggle caption
John Locher/AP

The election of Donald Trump came as a shock to many pollsters, journalists, and political pundits, but not to Allan Lichtman.

John Locher/AP

In September 2016, Lichtman, a historian at American University, declared that Trump would win, and he stuck by that call through the tumultuous final weeks of the campaign.

Lichtman's predictions are based on what he calls "keys." These are a series of 13 true-or-false questions designed, in his words, "to gauge the strength and performance of the party holding the White House."

Lichtman says elections are basically a judgment on how well the government has governed. The rest of the election season process he dismisses as practically meaningless. "All the twists and turns of the campaign, the ads, the speeches the campaign tricks, the debates...count for little or nothing on Election Day," he says.

"The media makes money by covering the election as an exciting horse race, who's had a good day and a bad day. The pollsters make money by keeping score in the horse race — who's ahead and who's behind. All of that is misleading or worse."

 

Study Guide Questions

1. In what field does Allan Lichtman study?

2. Describe Allan Lichtman's general model

  • What are keys?
  • What do the keys gauge?
  • How many keys or questions does he have?
  • What do "true" answers imply? "False" answers?
  • How many of the questions have to be "false" for Allan Lichtman to predict that the party in power will lose?
  • How many keys relate directly to the candidates themselves?

3. Who called Allan Lichtman to see if George H.W. Bush was vulnerable in his reelection campaign?

4. When did Allan Lichtman call the 2016 election for Donald Trump?

5. Before 2000, in what year was the last discrepancy between the Electoral College vote and the popular vote?

6. Why, according to Allan Lichtman, has the discrepancy between the popular vote and the Electoral College vote become more common in the last couple decades?

7. Why does Allan Lichtman say he called both 2000 and 2016 correctly, even though in 2000 he called the popular vote and in 2016 he called the Electoral College vote?

8. Why was his call in 2016 so hard to make and stick to?

9. According to Allan Lichtman, how are polls misused?

10. What do polls tell us and what don't they tell us?

11. What is the fallacy of false precision?

12. Why does Allan Lichtman see his model as destructive to the media and polling industries?

Ted Ed produced a video about the electoral college

YouTube

 

Resources