US Election 2016 — views from Oxford

We share the views of some Oxford academics in the aftermath of this historic US Election.


Will Trump Bring Down the West?

Chris Patten, Chancellor of Oxford University, the last British governor of Hong Kong and a former EU commissioner for external affairs.

I have spent my whole political life somewhere called “the West.” It was not literally “west”: while its heartland was Western Europe and the United States, it also included faraway countries like Australia and Japan. Rather, it was a community that embraced shared hopes and values. Reflecting America’s global leadership after World War II, the West was protected by US hard power and shaped by US soft power. And it was the most peaceful and prosperous place in the world.

The West has long provided the foundation for the global order — probably the most successful such foundation ever created. Led by the US, the West built, shaped, and championed international institutions, cooperative arrangements, and common approaches to common problems. As it helped to sustain peace and boost prosperity in much of the world, its approaches and principles attracted millions of followers.

The election of Donald Trump as US President, however, threatens this entire system. If Trump does in office what he promised to do during his crude and mendacious campaign, he could wreck a highly sophisticated creation, one that took several decades to develop and has benefited billions of people. Those of us who, like Americans, have gained from it must fight for it while it still breathes.

One promise on which Trump must not follow through is to advance trade protectionism. The case for tearing up free-trade agreements and aborting negotiations for new ones is premised on the belief that globalization is the reason for rising income inequality, which has left the American working class economically marooned. But the real sources of American workers’ economic pain are technological innovation and tax-and-spend policies that favor the rich.

If Trump, say, walks away from the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada, turns his back on ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and challenges the World Trade Organization, he will hurt the very people who voted for him. And he will lose friends and influence abroad.

Another dangerous policy that Trump could pursue would be to back away from America’s security arrangements with countries like Japan and South Korea, as well as with NATO. In Trump’s distorted view, the US should not be offering “free” security to its allies, and instead should leave them to fend for themselves.

In practice, such a stance would be highly destabilizing. Eastern Europe and the Baltic states would be at the mercy of Russia. And Asia and the Middle East would be at risk of nuclear proliferation, as countries lacking the US security backstop would seek to develop their own nuclear arsenals — an approach that Trump has said would be acceptable.

Trump’s pledge to scrap the nuclear deal with Iran is a case in point. Does anyone think Saudi Arabia would sit still if Iran restarted its weapons program? Criticizing the agreement — a major achievement of US President Barack Obama — might have served Trump during the campaign, but actually abrogating the deal would make the world a far more dangerous place.

Trump’s stated approach to climate change is just as problematic. He has declared his intention to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and staving off catastrophic climate change. He has already appointed Myron Ebell, an outspoken climate change denier, to oversee the transition at the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Trump bases this approach on the nonsensical belief that human-driven climate change is a hoax, invented by the Chinese to make US industry less competitive. And that is far from the only accusation Trump has hurled at China. His generally hostile attitude toward the country, particularly with regard to trade, threatens further damage to an already-tense bilateral relationship — and thus poses a risk for US multinationals and US allies alike.

A Trump presidency also poses something of an existential threat. His derogatory comments about marginalized groups — including Muslims, Mexicans, women, and people with disabilities — imperil the values that are fundamental to America’s identity and place in the world, and that bind the countries of the West together.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is one leader who seems to recognize how quickly the collapse of US leadership could bring about the end of the post-1945 global order. Her response to Trump’s victory was eloquent and powerful: “Germany and America are connected by values of democracy, freedom, and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or political views.” On the basis of those values, she declared, she would work with Trump.

That is precisely how all of America’s allies and friends should be responding. Like Merkel, we should all speak up for all that the West has stood for, and all that it has achieved. We must condemn any move by Trump to shirk the rule of law and the norms of a free society. We must argue the case for free trade, which has brought far-reaching benefits to humanity. And we must fight to uphold the nuclear deal with Iran and nuclear non-proliferation around the world.

There is also an imperative to reiterate our commitment to stand firm against Russian adventurism in Eastern and Central Europe. In particular, we must make clear that Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty applies to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland — all members of the military alliance that the US still leads. (It would also help if, after years of backsliding, NATO’s European members upped their contributions to our collective defense.)

Finally, we should assert that, while we in the West do not agree with China’s mercantilist policies and repressive measures at home, we want to work with it, not seek to marginalize and humiliate it.

The idea of “the West” is one of America’s finest achievements (though many other countries have also contributed). It would be a true disaster for the world if America, in an act of self-destructive decadence, tossed this noble, practical, and inspiring creation into the dustbin of history.

This article originally appeared in Project Syndicate.


Is Social Media Killing Democracy?

Philip Howard, Professor of Internet Studies.

This is the big year for computational propaganda — using immense data sets to manipulate public opinion over social media. Both the Brexit referendum and US election have revealed the limits of modern democracy, and social media platforms are currently setting those limits.

Platforms like Twitter and Facebook now provide a structure for our political lives. We’ve always relied on many kinds of sources for our political news and information. Family, friends, news organizations, charismatic politicians certainly predate the internet. But whereas those are sources of information, social media now provides the structure for political conversation. And the problem is that these technologies permit too much fake news, encourage our herding instincts, and aren’t expected to provide public goods.

First, social algorithms allow fake news stories from untrustworthy sources to spread like wildfire over networks of family and friends. Many of us just assume that there is a modicum of truth-in-advertising. We expect this from advertisements for commercial goods and services, but not from politicians and political parties. Occasionally a political actor gets punished for betraying the public trust through their misinformation campaigns. But in the United States “political speech” is completely free from reasonable public oversight, and in most other countries the media organizations and public offices for watching politicians are legally constrained, poorly financed, or themselves untrustworthy. Research demonstrates that during the campaigns for Brexit and the U.S. presidency, large volumes of fake news stories, false factoids, and absurd claims were passed over social media networks, often by Twitter’s highly automated accounts and Facebook’s algorithms.

Second, social media algorithms provide very real structure to what political scientists often call “elective affinity” or “selective exposure”. When offered the choice of who to spend time with or which organizations to trust, we prefer to strengthen our ties to the people and organizations we already know and like. When offered a choice of news stories, we prefer to read about the issues we already care about, from pundits and news outlets we’ve enjoyed in the past. Random exposure to content is gone from our diets of news and information. The problem is not that we have constructed our own community silos — humans will always do that. The problem is that social media networks take away the random exposure to new, high-quality information.

This is not a technological problem. We are social beings and so we will naturally look for ways to socialize, and we will use technology to socialize each other. But technology could be part of the solution. A not-so-radical redesign might occasionally expose us to new sources of information, or warn us when our own social networks are getting too bounded.

The third problem is that technology companies, including Facebook and Twitter, have been given a “moral pass” on the obligations we hold journalists and civil society groups to.

In most democracies, the public policy and exit polling systems have been broken for a decade. Many social scientists now find that big data, especially network data, does a better job of revealing public preferences than traditional random digit dial systems. So Facebook actually got a moral pass twice this year. Their data on public opinion would have certainly informed the Brexit debate, and their data on voter preferences would certainly have informed public conversation during the US election.

Facebook has run several experiments now, published in scholarly journals, demonstrating that they have the ability to accurately anticipate and measure social trends. Whereas journalists and social scientists feel an obligation to openly analyze and discuss public preferences, we do not expect this of Facebook. The network effects that clearly were unmeasured by pollsters were almost certainly observable to Facebook. When it comes to news and information about politics, or public preferences on important social questions, Facebook has a moral obligation to share data and prevent computational propaganda. The Brexit referendum and US election have taught us that Twitter and Facebook are now media companies. Their engineering decisions are effectively editorial decisions, and we need to expect more openness about how their algorithms work. And we should expect them to deliberate about their editorial decisions.

There are some ways to fix these problems. Opaque software algorithms shape what people find in their news feeds. We’ve all noticed fake news stories (often called clickbait), and while these can be an entertaining part of using the internet, it is bad when they are used to manipulate public opinion. These algorithms work as “bots” on social media platforms like Twitter, where they were used in both the Brexit and US presidential campaign to aggressively advance the case for leaving Europe and the case for electing Trump. Similar algorithms work behind the scenes on Facebook, where they govern what content from your social networks actually gets your attention.

So the first way to strengthen democratic practices is for academics, journalists, policy makers and the interested public to audit social media algorithms. Was Hillary Clinton really replaced by an alien in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign? We all need to be able to see who wrote this story, whether or not it is true, and how it was spread. Most important, Facebook should not allow such stories to be presented as news, much less spread. If they take ad revenue for promoting political misinformation, they should face the same regulatory punishments that a broadcaster would face for doing such a public disservice.

The second problem is a social one that can be exacerbated by information technologies. This means it can also be mitigated by technologies. Introducing random news stories and ensuring exposure to high quality information would be a simple — and healthy — algorithmic adjustment to social media platforms. The third problem could be resolved with moral leadership from within social media firms, but a little public policy oversight from elections officials and media watchdogs would help. Did Facebook see that journalists and pollsters were wrong about public preferences? Facebook should have told us if so, and shared that data.

Social media platforms have provided a structure for spreading around fake news, we users tend to trust our friends and family, and we don’t hold media technology firms accountable for degrading our public conversations. The next big thing for technology evolution is the Internet of Things, which will generate massive amounts of data that will further harden these structures. Is social media damaging democracy? Yes, but we can also use social media to save democracy.


Don’t Shoot the Messenger!

What part did social media play in 2016 US e­lection?

Helen Margetts is the Director of the Oxford Internet Institute and Professor of Society and the Internet.

Commentators have been quick to ‘blame social media’ for ‘ruining’ the 2016 election in putting Mr Donald Trump in the White House. Just as was the case in the campaign for Brexit, people argue that social media has driven us to a ‘post-truth’ world of polarisation and echo chambers.

Is this really the case? At first glance, the ingredients of the Trump victory — as for Brexit — seem remarkably traditional. The Trump campaign spent more on physical souvenirs than on field data, more on Make America Great Again hats (made in China) than on polling. The Daily Mail characterisation of judges as Enemies of the People after their ruling that the triggering of Article 50 must be discussed in parliament seemed reminiscent of the 1930s. Likewise, US crowds chanting ‘Lock her up’, like lynch mobs, seemed like ghastly reminders of a pre-democratic era.

Clearly social media were a big part of the 2016 election, used heavily by the candidates themselves, and generating 8.8 billion posts, likes and comments on Facebook alone. Social media also make visible what in an earlier era could remain a country’s dark secret — hatred of women (through death and rape threats and trolling of female politicians in both the UK and US), and rampant racism.

This visibility, society’s new self-awareness, brings change to political behaviour. Social media provide social information about what other people are doing: viewing, following, liking, sharing, tweeting, joining, supporting and so on. This social information is the driver behind the political turbulence that characterises politics today. Those rustbelt Democrats feeling abandoned by the system saw on social media that they were not alone — that other people felt the same way, and that Trump was viable as a candidate. For a woman drawn towards the Trump agenda but feeling tentative, the hashtag #WomenForTrump could reassure her that there were like-minded people she could identify with. Decades of social science research shows information about the behaviour of others influences how groups behave and now it is driving the unpredictability of politics, bringing us Trump, Brexit, Corbyn, Sanders and unexpected political mobilisation across the world.

These are not echo chambers. As recent research shows, people are exposed to cross-cutting discourse on social media, across ever larger and more heterogeneous social networks. While the hypothetical #WomenForTrump tweeter or Facebook user will see like-minded behaviour, she will also see a peppering of social information showing people using opposing hashtags like #ImWithHer, or (post-election) #StillWithHer. It could be argued that a better example of an ‘echo chamber’ would be a regular Daily Mail reader or someone who only watched Fox News.

The mainstream media loved Trump: his controversial road-crash views sold their newspapers and advertising. Social media take us out of that world. They are relatively neutral in their stance on content, giving no particular priority to extreme or offensive views as on their platforms, the numbers are what matter.

Rather than seeing social media solely as the means by which Trump ensnared his presidential goal, we should appreciate how they can provide a wealth of valuable data to understand the anger and despair that the polls missed, and to analyse political behaviour and opinion in the times ahead. Social media can also shine the light of transparency on the workings of a Trump administration, as they did on his campaign. They will be critical for building networks of solidarity to confront the intolerance, sexism and racism stirred up during this bruising campaign. And social media will underpin any radical counter-movement that emerges in the coming years.

Helen Margetts is the author of Political Turbulence: How Social Media Shape Collective Action and thanks her co-authors Peter John, Scott Hale and Taha Yasseri.


New questions, new answers?

A preliminary micro-level statistical analysis of the 2016 US presidential election.

Dr Seth Flaxman, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Statistics, and Junior Research Fellow in Computer Science at Jesus College.

Who are the 59.6 million voters who voted for Donald Trump, and who are the 59.9 million voters who voted for Hillary Clinton? And what about the voting-age citizens, all 97.9 million of them, who did not vote?

In a work-in-progress manuscript, colleagues and I describe our efforts to begin answering these questions by asking new questions of available data. We do this, in short, by combining data from the most recent United States census with the electoral vote counts by county. We are thus able to draw conclusions across the entire United States, and at a local level, about voters and non-voters. Exit polls, by comparison, focus on national and state results (for only some states) and only on people who went to vote — they lack both breadth and detail.

In this post I will delve into just a subset of the many correlations we make, by probing the data on voting patterns by sex and income. For example, our preliminary results suggest an interesting relationship between personal income and voting. Those making less than $50,000 per year were 65% of the population, and they voted for Clinton over Trump by 51% to 49% (we have excluded third parties for this part of the analysis).

As we move up the income scale this trend reverses: the 24% of the population making $50,000-$100,000 supported Trump, as did the 10% of the population making above $100,000. Much has been written and will be written about the role that the working class played in this election. But these results, and the exit polls, show that Clinton won at the lower end of the income scale.

Similarly, our method shows that among women, support for Clinton was 56%, while among men, support for Trump was 55%. Since women were 53% of the electorate and supported Clinton at this higher rate, this reminds us that if US elections were based on the popular vote, rather than on the Electoral College, Clinton would have won.

Our method allows us to dig deeper, looking at how these relationships play out together, and here we see something interesting. At all levels of income, women supported Clinton while men supported Trump. But the composition of the electorate changes as income increases: under $50,000, women are a larger percentage of the electorate, but over $50,000, they are a smaller percentage, giving one possible explanation for the overall trend.

But an important caveat applies to this explanation: we have no way of knowing about the relative importance of sex versus income or any other variable in understanding why voters voted the way they did.

What we can do with data like this is ask which demographic variables are particularly useful in finding patterns — that is, in ‘predicting’ — the results. We undertook an exploratory analysis to see which census variables describing people were most predictive of the outcome, again using geography to link the two datasets, and this time focusing on group-level characteristics (like the relative fractions of baby boomers and millennials).

Here are the categories of most-predictive variables that we found: race/ethnicity; the interaction of race/ethnicity with ‘has a degree’; level of education; ancestry; occupation; type of work and industry; age interacted with hours worked per week.

Below, we plot the census variable for ‘detailed ancestry’ on a plot showing Clinton/Trump vote share horizontally, with Clinton on the left and Trump on the right, and participation rate vertically. As more than 40% of voting age citizens did not vote, we thought it would be interesting to understand who they were as well. The census allows over 200 options for this question, and we included the most common choices.

Clinton/Trump vote share

Regions where people listed their ancestry as ‘American’ were very supportive of Trump and likely to vote; regions where people listed their ancestry as ‘white’ were also supportive, but unlikely to vote.

Here is a map that we made using our method, showing the gender gap in support for Trump, calculated as support for Trump among men minus support for Trump among women:

Gender gap map

Twenty-nine regions had gaps of more than 20 percentage points, and 54 regions had negative gender gaps (higher support for Clinton among men than women).

We see our novel statistical method as a new way of understanding voter patterns, including the patterns of those who did not vote and relationships between group-level characteristics and voting. We are able to fill in the incomplete (and potentially misleading) picture painted by exit polls, especially before large-scale surveys and the voter file become available.

There are many more relationships still to examine, just a small fraction of which are currently in our manuscript. We have focused on relationships at the level of the entire country, but local effects could be very informative as well. I would encourage statisticians, public policy experts, humanists, social scientists and journalists to explore the correlations presented by our statistical analysis, raise new questions, and provide new answers with an in-depth analysis of the meaning of these numbers.

A full version of this blog appears here.

Acknowledgments: the author thanks his collaborators, Professor Yee Whye Teh (Department of Statistics), Yu-Xiang Wang (Carnegie Mellon University) and Dougal J Sutherland (University College London), and Oxford historian Jaclyn Granick for extensive comments.


A political earthquake with few US precedents

Desmond King is the Andrew W Mellon Professor of American Government at the University of Oxford. His most recent book is Fed Power: How Finance Wins with Larry Jacobs (2016).

The election of Donald Trump is a political earthquake with few direct precedents. Andrew Jackson’s election as a populist in 1832 is one possibility. As a novice to elected office, President Eisenhower’s election in 1952 has that in common but little else. Ideologically, Trump’s radical reforms permit a loose analogy with Ronald Reagan’s agenda in 1980, but President Reagan was an outward-looking and internationally engaged White House incumbent. Trump is decidedly inward looking and isolationist. His conversion into a normal presidential candidate has been remarkable.

Trump’s intelligence and knowledge of the world of social media and TV entertainment gave him a major advantage during the Republican presidential primaries and then the election campaign. Both in the state primary appearances and during the primary televised debates, he exploited his understanding of social media using effective one-liners and wicked characterisations. Willing to describe groups other than whites in pilloried language: Mexicans as criminals, for instance, gave Trump a massive salience in the contest. He was streets ahead of the other dozen or so Republican Party (GOP) nominee hopefuls.

He slayed his party rivals such as Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina with rude characterisations that were not refuted and mocked interviewers, which appeared to normalise Mr Trump as ‘a regular guy’, who was in touch with certain groups of ordinary voters. These voters are opponents of Healthcare, victims of de-industrialisation and, above, they are white voters. Trump won 58% of white voters and a mere 8% of African Americans. His endorsement by extremist racist groups did not harm his popularity with this large pool of white male (53%) and female (42%) voters. He won a mere two percentage points more Latino voters (29%) than Mitt Romney, the Republican Party’s nominee for President of the United States in 2012; however, in some states, notably Florida, this support was helpful.

Once anointed as the Republican presidential nominee, the disdain directed toward him by leading GOP members merely increased his popularity with voters. The protracted electoral break by Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain, and the pointed silence of the Bush political dynasty, rebounded positively onto Trump. It confirmed his status as a genuine Washington outsider. The criticism of Trump’s credentials by the elite of the Republican foreign policy community similarly had no impact on his electoral appeal.

Despite fluctuating popularity at various points, Trump’s consistent themes of uncontrolled immigration, free trade harms to manufacturing, reduced tax rates and job creation kept him afloat as a plausible candidate amongst his core constituency. This group is primarily made up of whites without a college degree (67%) earning between $50–100k (50%) or over $100k (48%). ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘Take Back America’ have been crisply expressed Trump mantras, which are a coded racial message. The appeal of these messages to certain voters, together with an aggressive international policy demanding NATO members and other Allies fund more of their own defence, enabled Trump to succeed despite his refusal to release his tax returns and his xenophobia and misogyny.

Above all Trump knows how to use the media — in a way which none of his rivals did, including Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. He understood the three national presidential debates had to be as much about entertainment as policy wonk discussion, and that to sit meekly while his opponent declaimed her policies did not win viewers. Instead he interrupted, often forcefully, and drew attention to himself.

President-elect Trump completed this normalisation process with his early hours’ respectful acceptance speech, which began — unexpectedly — with compliments to his defeated contestant. He clearly knows the difference between campaigning and being president in waiting. Whether this subtlety is a sufficient basis for the art of governing (or for winning over those he has pilloried) is something the rest of the world will soon have to judge. It is not a trivial question.


The economic effect of “Trumpism”

Linda Yueh is a Fellow in Economics at St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford.
This article originally appeared on the OUPblog on 10 Nov.

Trumpism is defined as: (1) the rejection of the current political establishment and the vigorous pursuit of American national interests; (2) a controversial or outrageous statement attributed to Donald Trump.

On winning the US Presidential election, Trump’s victory speech confirmed that he would put America first in his policies. That pursuit of America’s interests will permeate US economic and other policies in the years to come.

US President Donald Trump’s effect on the economy is hard to discern due to a lack of policy detail, but there are three main areas to watch: fiscal, monetary, and foreign including trade policy. In each area, there is potential for significant change. But, as with all public policies, there will be a trade-off that is yet to be dissected. For instance, he’s vowed to double America’s growth rate, critiqued the Fed, and expressed protectionist views. How will he achieve those aims? And at what cost?

Firstly, America’s economic growth has been slower than before the 2008 financial crisis. There are underlying trends that have led economists to debate whether the US, and other advanced economies, are facing “secular stagnation”. It’s a term first coined by Alvin Hansen in the 1930’s and recently revived by Larry Summers, which captures the notion that America may face a slower growth future.

Trumpism’s first aim will be to raise economic growth, and the policy to be deployed to achieve that goal is to cut taxes and reduce regulation. But would that square with his desire to reduce America’s debt? The independent Tax Policy Centre, jointly set up by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, estimates Trump’s plan will double the growth in federal debt.

Will Trump be able to justify that trade-off in his fiscal policy? Of course, his plan to cut business taxes from 35% (which is among the highest in the OECD) to 15% (which would be among the lowest), as well incentives to increase investment, may be welcomed by businesses who voted him into office.

The Tax Policy Centre also concludes that Trump’s plan would actually increase and not decrease the tax burden on middle class Americans, while cutting taxes for the better-off and corporations. Given the stagnant median wages that have squeezed the middle class, economic growth that does not raise incomes for the average American is less than desirable. The American consumer also drives the global economy, so there are wider implications.

Second, and perhaps one that’s important for markets is what happens to the Fed. Trump has criticised the Chair of the US central bank, Janet Yellen, for acting in a politicised manner. It has led to concerns over the independence of the Federal Reserve as well as whether Yellen will remain in post until February 2018.

That adds prolonged uncertainty on top the near-term economic uncertainty caused by the scant details of Trump’s economic plans. The dramatic market movements where the US benchmark stock index, S&P futures, fell so far it hit its bottom limit, as well as the plunge in the value of the dollar reflected the concerns of investors. Indeed, markets have downgraded the prospect of an interest rate rise next month to 50–50.

But the most significant market movements were seen in emerging markets; notably Asian stock markets and the Mexican peso give an indicator of how emerging economy currencies were unsettled by Trump’s foreign and particularly trade policy.

Trump has said that he will revisit trade policy, including withdrawing from NAFTA if the agreement doesn’t benefit America, consistent with his philosophy of putting America first. This is an area where the President has the unilateral power to re-negotiate and even withdraw from trade agreements — congressional approval is needed to enter into free trade agreements (FTAs), but is not required to pull out. The same goes for the imposition of some tariffs, which President George W. Bush did on steel, until he was pulled back by the World Trade Organisation.

In a world economy that it already experiencing weak trade growth, a more protectionist US president is certainly worrying for the rest of the world, many of whom rely on selling to the vast American market. For Asian economies in particular, growth depends a great deal on exports, including to the US.

The immediate reaction to Trump’s surprise victory — polls predicted a Hillary Clinton win when the voting began — was a dramatic fall in global markets, which reflected this surprise but also an underlying concern about where America is headed. Those market declines were moderated as the news sank in.

But what happens next will depend on the policy specifics around Trumpism.

Until we get more detail, there will be economic uncertainty about America, and by extension, the global economy. And that tends to be unsettling.


How we correctly predicted a Trump victory with amazing precision

Vuk Vukovic is a DPhil student of politics at the University of Oxford and the director and co-founder of the start-up Oraclum Intelligence Systems.

The US election result came as an absolute shock to many, but it was the pollsters that took the biggest hit. The major poll-based forecasts, a lot of models, the prediction markets, even the superforecaster crowd all got it wrong. They estimated high probabilities for a Clinton victory, even though some were more careful than others in claiming that the race would be very tight.

Our prediction survey, however, was spot on thanks to the method we used for Oraclum Intelligence Systems, a start-up developed out of our academic work. We predicted a Trump victory, and we called all the major swing states in his favour: Pennsylvania (which no single pollster gave to him), Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio. We gave Virginia, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico to Clinton, along with the usual red states and blue states to each. We only missed three — New Hampshire, Michigan, and Wisconsin (although for Wisconsin we didn’t have enough survey respondents to make our own prediction so we had to use the average of polls instead). The only misses directly resulting from our method were actually Michigan, where it gave Clinton a 0.5 point lead, and New Hampshire, where it gave Trump a 1 point lead. Every other state, although close, we called right. For example in Florida we estimated 49.9% to Trump vs. 47.3% to Clinton. In the end it was 49.1 to 47.7. In Pennsylvania we have 48.2 to Trump vs. 46.7 for Clinton (it was 48.8. to 47.6. in the end). In North Carolina our method said 51% to Trump vs. 43.5% for Clinton (Clinton got a bit more, 46.7, but Trump was spot on at 50.5%). Our model even gave Clinton a higher chance to win the overall popular vote share than the electoral college vote, which also proved to be correct. Overall for each state, on average, we were right within a single percentage point margin. Our full analysis is here — it was a risky prediction, particularly in the US where the major predictors and pollsters were always so good at making correct forecasts. But we were convinced that the method was correct even though it offered, at first glance, very surprising results.

Why did we get it so right when other more established pollsters got it so wrong?

We used a different type of survey called a prediction survey. The established poll-based forecasters usually pick up the ‘low-hanging fruit’ polling data and run it through some elaborate model. We, on the other hand, needed to get actual people to come to our site and take the time to make a prediction for their state. So instead of just picking up raw data and twisting it as much as we could, we needed to build our own data. Given that we were doing this with limited resources explains why our sample size was rather small (N=445).

However, even with a small sample the method works. Why? Our survey asks the respondents not only who they intend to vote for, but also who they think will win, by what margin, as well as their view on who other people think will win. It is essentially a ‘citizen forecaster’ concept adjusted for the question on groupthink. The idea is to incorporate wider influences, including peer groups, that shape an individual’s choice on voting day. Which is why our method is perfect to conduct via social networks.

Our model, in other words, did not require a representative sample to make a good prediction. And this is the biggest problem the pollsters are currently struggling with — how to make a more representative sample. Our method goes beyond representativeness, self-selection problems and random sampling, and focuses simply on trying to find out how people estimate their local conditions and sentiments. And the people are pretty good at this.

As a final sense check, we tested the same method on the Brexit referendum and it provided the same stunning results. We had 6 models tested, three of which showed Leave and three of which showed Remain. We did not bother with being correct at the time, we just wanted to see which method was the best one. The one method that gave us a 51.3% for Leave is the same one that predicted the victory for Donald Trump. We intend to test it further. This is therefore just the beginning.


Mr Trump has revolutionised US politics

Dr Tom Packer,Teaching and Research Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute.

A sensational election night capped a sensational election. As the dust settles, what are some of the key points to be borne in mind?

Firstly and perhaps above all else: this is an election that speaks to the power of opposition to high levels of immigration and related concerns of culture, race and nationality. Remember Donald Trump had a host of liabilities in both the primary and general election — not least the fact that consistently more voters disapproved of Trump and thought he was not qualified to be President.

One issue he monopolised in both the primary and the general election, however, was immigration and related considerations. He was the first presidential nominee since before World War II to run on a platform of restricting legal immigration. And he outperformed among voters who were concerned with these themes, along with related considerations such as fears of terrorism and opposition to free trade. In the primary, voters concerned about immigration and related cultural concerns were the core of his support; in Florida, for example, voters who cared about immigration outscored others by 38 points. In the general election he outperformed among white voters with no college degree; it was a huge turnout among white voters with no college degree that won him the presidency and it was in the rural and working-class areas of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that he secured his victory.

And his victory underscores another broad pattern that extends beyond American politics. When combined with the polls for other electoral decisions such as Brexit, it strongly suggests that polling tends to underrate the power of positions that are nationalist, culturally conservative or which favour immigration restrictions. It’s not simply the case that polling suggests the public is more socially conservative than its elites, but also that polls underrate that difference.

Secondly, it’s time to dismiss the idea that the Republican party is in a state of collapse. This is a narrative that has been remarkably resistant to evidence. The GOP now dominates every level of elected government in the US: not just the presidency, but Congress, state governors and state legislatures to an extent unseen since the 1920s.

The only level of US government where Democrats tie or dominate is its least democratic branch — the federal courts. And that is unlikely to stick for long. Nor can one make this a simple Trump effect — the GOP did better in 2014 and Senate candidates this election cycle seem to have run ahead of Trump as much as behind. The strong vote by practising Christians for the GOP this election speaks to the electoral advantage the GOP has gained by Democrats’ embrace of a strongly liberal ‘moral’ (but secular) agenda.

This does not mean the GOP is invincible. Mr Trump is at minimum a highly unorthodox figure in whom a party should be wary of placing their future. But at this moment if there is a majority party in America it is the Republican party — for the first time since the 1930s. It is the Democrats who’ve been in denial.

Thirdly, the infrastructure of campaigns and party establishment should be regarded much more sceptically. There was a huge emphasis by commentator and political operatives on how much better organised the Clinton campaign was than Trump’s, which was possibly the least well-organised and run of any major party candidate for decades. Trump got less formal campaign support at both elite and popular level than any Republican major party nominee since at least 1964: neither of the living Republican presidents voted for him or supported him, while the Clinton campaign mobilised everyone from President Obama to previously non-political celebrities like LeBron James to thousands of volunteer advance organisers across the country. The fact Trump won doesn’t mean it didn’t matter — he might have won by much more otherwise. But it does suggest its impact is limited.

Finally, the massive shock to world politics has opportunities for the UK as well as disadvantages. One factor that has been neglected is the impact on the UK’s Brexit negotiations. Mr Trump has talked up the positive side of Brexit, effectively endorsed it and talked about a potential ‘great deal’ between Britain and the US. His closest ally in UK politics is Nigel Farage. This suggests that as the UK leaves the EU he could potentially be helpful. The possibility he will be less ready to underwrite Europe’s defence also makes those European countries with a powerful military much more important — a category that very much includes the UK.

Mr Trump has revolutionised US politics it remains to be seen what will follow next.


Analysis of the media’s role in the US election

John Lloyd, Senior Research Fellow, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

The US news media were overwhelmingly opposed to the candidacy of Donald Trump. Not just the liberal media, but also the main media institutions of the right, as the Wall Street Journal and Fox News — though both of the latter had pro-Trump commentators in their pages or studios.

More, they pushed out to straining point the borders of their commitments to balanced, objective reporting. Both the New York Times and The Washington Post published long pieces on Trump’s finances, his failures, his tax evasions — and his lies, a word which Dean Baquet, the NY Times editor, said should appear in the front page headline, a value judgement rare in the grey lady’s post war history.

There were charges, from the liberal camp, that the news media, especially television — always the main medium by which people get their news — had been slow to publicise Trump’s misdemeanours, lies and abusive behaviour. It is true that the tape of Trump boasting of his success with women had lain in the vaults of NBC, un-aired by the channel: and that it took The Washington Post to put it on its website.

But that reflected over-caution rather than bias. Watching the US channels on Wednesday morning was to see real distress, not just on the face of the liberal pundits but also on the part of the anchors. They had not just got it wrong: they were beginning to realise that they, and the pollsters, and the media and political consultants, faced a harsher reckoning than they had faced in their lives before.

Social, rather than ‘establishment’, media, were much kinder to Trump, because much of their content was created by his supporters. Social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, run not just on people’s comments, but on their feelings — their suspicions of power, their willingness to believe the worst of those politicians they dislike, their predilection for conspiracy theories.

Opinion, polemic and emotion rouse passions more easily than facts; identification of popular frustrations helps politicians more than a close knowledge of economic trends and social policies.

Thus illegal immigration; fear of jihadist terrorism; the effects of trade agreements on working class jobs; the charges of corruption aimed at the Clinton family and Washington in general; the distance from and scorn for working- and middle-class America which ‘the establishment’ is charged with harbouring — these themes strike deep chords, suggest easy political responses, if only the politicians had the will.

The journalism of facts now faces an assault. Some of it will be justified. Reporters on news media institutions as famed (and self-regarding) as the big newspapers and TV networks, are supposed to know their country, the people in it, the well-springs and forms of belief. They are supposed to discount their own views in favour of understanding those of others, to which they must give due weight, even if they find them — to use Hilary Clinton’s words — ‘deplorable’. Reporting, and not just in the US, will have to become more alive to popular opinion.

The rest, on the day after the shock victory, remains in suspension — until the pieces, blown up in the air when Mr Trump comes to Washington, settle, and the shape of a new dispensation emerges.


Gendered language

Deborah Cameron, Professor of Language and Communication and a Fellow of Worcester College.

Gender was always going to be a prominent theme in the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, but it’s striking how much attention focused on the issue of gendered language.

Early on in the campaign there were repeated complaints about Clinton’s ‘shrill’, ‘flat’, ‘grating’ voice — whereas the voices of the male candidates in the race were barely mentioned. These criticisms dramatize a larger problem facing women who aspire to high office: we expect political leaders to speak with authority, but women who speak with authority attract judgments that they are ‘bossy’ or inclined to ‘lecture’ (another word used frequently about Clinton). Women’s speech is supposed to project a gentler, more deferential attitude. This puts women in a double bind, since if they resemble the feminine ideal they are judged weak and lacking in authority, while if they diverge from it they are disparaged as unfeminine, aggressive and thus ‘unlikeable’.

Gender doesn’t just affect the way politicians’ own language is received; it also colours the language used about them. Our limited experience of female political leadership gives us a tendency to put all powerful women into the same few boxes: they are bossy mothers (Angela Merkel), iron ladies (Margaret Thatcher) or seductresses (Eva Perón). Though Clinton doesn’t fit easily into these categories, the language used about her recycled all the familiar stereotypes: it even alluded, via the description of her laugh as a ‘cackle’, to that ancient archetype of malign female power, the witch.

Later in the campaign it was Trump’s gendered speech-style that attracted commentators’ attention. His recorded ‘locker room talk’ and his aggressive demeanour in the televised presidential debates (interrupting, prowling, looming over his opponent) were widely criticised, and clearly alienated some voters. But it was also suggested that his continuing appeal to a significant section of the public reflected his ability to combine these ‘masculine’ behaviours with a more personal and emotionally engaged ‘feminine’ rhetoric.

While the argument that Trump used a ‘feminine’ style has been challenged (the perception of his speech as more ‘personal’ probably has more to do with its informality), it’s true that male political speakers have more freedom to deploy a range of (what our culture defines as) gendered styles. For men there is less risk that forceful language will be judged over-aggressive, or that emotionally expressive language will be seen as weak.

It’s not impossible for a female politician to escape the double bind. One who seems to have managed it is Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, a very accomplished public speaker whose performance in the 2015 UK General Election debates brought her higher approval ratings than any other party leader. Sturgeon’s combination of approachability and combativeness (she interrupted and challenged other speakers more frequently than anyone else) prompted audiences to judge her as both authoritative and likeable. Sturgeon comes from a country where female leadership has become normalised (Scotland’s three main parties are all currently led by women). The 2016 presidential campaign showed just how un-normalised it remains in the USA.