Just about everyone who follows American politics is treated to a regular dose of poll numbers. These are the surveys taken by the people on the other end of the line when “toll free caller” or “unknown name” pops up on the caller ID. Only on landlines, though. At least that’s what the polling industry standard is. And they poll just registered people in their systems. Weighted usually toward the Democrat. Usually likely voters.
For years, the polling industry was off from time to time – like 1980 when Ronald Reagan inspired the silent majority to vote for him – but for the most part in recent history, the polls would steer the American people in the popularity contest known as “The Presidential Election.” After all, nobody wants to back a loser, so the designated candidate, the one who had the least dirt in his or her background and made the least number of political insider identified mistakes would usually win since he or she would be seen as “more favorable.”
In 2016, the enthusiasm seen on the ground doesn’t match the old-fashioned polls. The ones that alternately say while Hillary Clinton is ahead, Donald Trump is making up ground. Maybe. So long as he doesn’t insult anybody. Oops, now he’s ahead, but it’s within the margin of error…when he is drawing YUGE, flag waving crowds for his rallies and speeches in venues that seat thousands, when she…she can’t draw more than a few hundred for a photo op.
(Given the health issues, yada yada yada, her campaign will insist that the events are designed that way. Really?)
Something just doesn’t seem right and it can’t simply be that Trump supporters don’t have landlines. Into that reality jumps a start-up analytical business that looks at online traffic and searches to make poll like predictions.
[Predata is a] two-year-old New York company … founded by Jim Shinn, a veteran of the CIA and an assistant secretary for East Asia at the U.S. Department of Defense, and Andre Choi, his former student at Princeton. The mission was to harness the web’s metadata to put a number on the likelihood of a real world event occurring.
According to them, the 2016 election is Trump’s to lose – so long as there is not a significant misstep on his part. There are a lot of reasons why, and it has to do with the digital footprint Americans leave behind when searching the web. A bad gaffe would negatively effect that.
For the US election, Predata is computing “campaign scores” for Trump and Clinton by measuring the correlation of engagement with each campaign’s message online—comments on YouTube videos, edits to Wikipedia articles and followers of Twitter accounts—to engagement with general election-related material online. If a campaign’s message tracks well with the overall digital conversation, that score approaches 100%. If a campaign’s message seems unrelated to the overall digital conversation, the score approaches 0%.
On Friday, Predata gave Trump a digital campaign score of 89.3% compared to Hillary Clinton’s 15.8%. In fact, except for a brief period in August, during which Donald Trump feuded with Gold Star father Khizr Khan, Trump’s campaign has been dominant, with a campaign score as high as 94.66% in mid-July.
The graph of all that activity looks like this.
That graph in no way resembles the polls touted on the evening news.
But it does reflect the web traffic that the Predata program collects regarding the popularity of politically related posting at any one time. Specifically, the surges that occur when any one post out there – or several simultaneously – begin to surge with traffic.
Predata’s campaign score algorithm puts a greater emphasis on trends as opposed to volume. For example, if a campaign video lies dormant on YouTube, then suddenly experiences an uptick in views, those views will boost the campaign score more than views of a more recently posted video. It’s expected that a video will have many views in the days immediately after it is posted, explained John Urbanik, Predata’s Lead Data Engineer. Instead, unexpected accelerations are what Timms and Urbanik are looking for.
In the case of Trump, these unexpected accelerations show that his campaign has continued to benefit from his performance at the Commander in Chief forum as well as his from his now frequent policy speeches, according to Timms. “Trump is out there giving a policy speech a day now,” Timms said. “That’s a lot of fresh material being thrown out into the digital universe. That’s more stuff for people to engage with and it appears they are. That’s an advantage.”
Which is completely different from the politics of obligation and guilt that Hillary Clinton is pressing along with her former boss Barack Obama.
Could it be, possibly, that old-fashioned polls are just, so last century, and gathering internet user data is far more accurate when it comes to predicting world events like elections? We shall see. This method, though, very much reflects what We the People see on the ground that is contradicting the “established” polling methodology. If that is the case, Trump is out in front, full steam ahead.