Episode 51: What Happened? - Study Guide for College 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 College

The election of Donald Trump shocked pollsters, journalists, and researchers; but it didn't shock Allan Lichtman John Locher/AP hide caption

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John Locher/AP

The election of Donald Trump shocked pollsters, journalists, and researchers; but it didn't shock Allan Lichtman

John Locher/AP

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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.

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. Describe Allan Lichtman's general model. What are keys? What do they gauge? How many keys are there? How many keys relate directly to the candidates themselves?

2. What does Allan Lichtman see as the problem with treating elections as horseraces?

3. How has the relationship between the popular vote and the Electoral College vote changed? What is Allan Lichtman's explanation for this?

3. 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?

4. Reflect on Lichtman's answer. Do you find it convincing? What was different about the 2000 election?

5. According to Allan Lichtman, how are polls misused? What are polls able to tell us and what are they not able to tell us?

 

Long Answer & Reflection Questions

6. Lichtman's model seems surprisingly simple, especially given the complexity of large surveys and big data. Do you think this simplicity is an asset or a shortcoming?

7. Lichtman has correctly predicted the last 9 elections. Reflect on how rare that is. Do you think this attention is warranted, or that he just got lucky? If you have learned any probability or statistics, include those in your answer.

8. In this article, you can find Lichtman's thirteen keys. Look critically at all of these keys. Do any stand out to you? Do any keys seem unnecessary? Is he leaving out anything important? Which keys seem more objective and which seem more subjective?

 

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