How One Young Black Man Supporting Trump Massively Skews The LA Times Presidential Poll

from the poll-position dept

Let’s jump right into this, because this post is going to be a bit on the wonky side. It’s presidential silly season, as we have said before, and this iteration of it is particularly bad, like a dumpster fire that suddenly has a thousand gallons of gasoline dropped onto it from a crop-duster flown by a blind zombie. Which, of course, makes it quite fascinating to watch for those of us with an independent persuasion. Chiefly interesting for myself is watching how the polls shift and change with each landmark on this sad, sad journey. It makes poll aggregating groups, such as the excellent Project FiveThirtyEight, quite useful in getting a ten-thousand foot view as to how the public is reacting to the news of the day.

But sites like that obviously rely on individual polls in order to generate their aggregate outlooks, which makes understanding, at least at a high level, just how these political polls get their results interesting as well. And, if you watch these things like I do, you have probably been curious about one particular poll, the U.S.C. Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Daybreak poll, commonly shortened to the USC/LAT poll, which has consistently put out results on the Presidential race that differ significantly from other major polls. That difference has generally amounted to wider support for Donald Trump in the race, with specific differences in support for Trump among certain demographics. To the credit of those that run the poll, they have been exceptionally transparent about how they generate their numbers, which led the New York Times to dig in and try to figure out the reason for the skewed results. It seems an answer was found and it’s gloriously absurd.

There is a 19-year-old black man in Illinois who has no idea of the role he is playing in this election. He is sure he is going to vote for Donald Trump. Despite falling behind by double digits in some national surveys, Mr. Trump has generally led in the USC/LAT poll. He held the lead for a full month until Wednesday, when Hillary Clinton took the nominal lead. Our Trump-supporting friend in Illinois is a surprisingly big part of the reason. In some polls, he’s weighted as much as 30 times more than the average respondent, and as much as 300 times more than the least-weighted respondent.

Alone, he has been enough to put Mr. Trump in double digits of support among black voters. He can improve Mr. Trump’s margin by 1 point in the national survey, even though he is one of around 3,000 panelists.

So, how does one person manage to skew a major national political poll in favor of one candidate to the tune of entire percentage points? Well, it turns out that a confluence of factors that include who is included on the poll and how often, how the poll respondents are weighted, and how this one particular voter fits into the demographic weighting converged to pretty much mess everything up. Let’s start with the weighting.

The USC/LAT poll does things a bit differently than the other national polls. All polls rate respondents by demographics to correct for voting tendencies. The math can get gory and the NYT post does a good job of going through it, but you can think of it like this, for a very imprecise example: a poll respondent from the 18-35 demographic will be weighted less than a respondent from the 36-55 demographic, because the latter demo is more likely to actually show up and vote than the former. There is indeed some subjectivity in this, but the large demographic weighting drives the error margin down for the most part. But the USC/LAT poll deviates from the large-demo weighting and instead weights at very small demographic levels.

The USC/LAT poll weights for many tiny categories: like 18-21 year old men, which the USC/LAT poll estimates make up around 3.3 percent of the adult citizen population. Weighting simply for 18-21 year olds would be pretty bold for a political survey; 18-21 year old men is really unusual…When you start considering the competing demands across multiple categories, it can quickly become necessary to give an astonishing amount of extra weight to particularly underrepresented voters — like 18-21 year old black men.

Which is how our single friend in Illinois became the poll’s most weighted voter, being a 19 year old black man. The heavy weighting on tiny demographic categories caught him several times and, since he is voting for Trump, despite his demographic generally not voting for Trump, his heavily-weighted response skews things wildly. But that isn’t all.

The USC/LAT poll does something else that’s really unusual: it weights the sample according to how people said they voted in the 2012 election. The big problem is that people don’t report their past vote very accurately. They tend to over-report three things: voting, voting for the winner and voting for some other candidate. They underreport voting for the loser. By emphasizing past vote, they might significantly underweight those who claim to have voted for Mr. Obama and give much more weight to people who say they didn’t vote.

Which, again, catches our friend from Illinois. At nineteen, he obviously didn’t vote in the last election. So his response is weighted even more. Using the poll’s own data, the New York Times re-ran the poll using the same broad categories most other major polls used. When done, Hillary Clinton led in every single one of the iterations except for the one immediately proceeding the GOP convention. The difference between the poll’s results as reported and what they would be with the normal weighted categories and the omission of the past vote weighting ranged form 1-4 points. In a political poll, that’s enormous.

The final factor here is that the USC/LAT poll is a panel poll, which means that the same respondents are used each time the poll is run. So, our young black trump-voting man from Illinois got to skew these results nearly each and every time. The one time he failed to respond to the poll, Hillary Clinton suddenly led within it. As the NYT notes:

The USC/LAT poll had terrible luck: the single most overweighted person in the survey was unrepresentative of his demographic group. The people running the poll basically got stuck at the extreme of the added variance.

And, of course, the poll aggregators might include this poll, skewing the aggregate numbers as well. This isn’t to say that all polls are skewed in the same manner. They aren’t. The reason this is a story is because this poll is the outlier. But it is kind of fun to see how badly the sausage can be made if the methodology isn’t in tune.

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Companies: la times, usc

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Comments on “How One Young Black Man Supporting Trump Massively Skews The LA Times Presidential Poll”

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R.H. (profile) says:

How Could This Get Any Better?

The only way I see this getting any better is if this guy was purposely choosing Trump in these surveys just for the laughs without realizing what he was doing to polling at large.

On the topic of the USC/LAT pollsters math, I wonder what their polls would look like if they reduced the weighting (or simply used a weight of 1) for all the “voted in previous election” questions for people who would be under 22 years old as of election day. For Presidential elections, (for off-year federal elections use 20 years old) that should fix the, “he/she couldn’t possibly have voted in the last election” problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I just wish this election could go on forever...

Well the current prez could just cancel it for national security reasons or national emergency reasons (you know like faux war with Russia or China) and stay on until things settle down (which would be never) and become the first prez for life in the USA.

That way you wouldn’t get either of the major candidates but keep the current demagogue in power. He has already suggested this is a possible course of action for him (even though it was supposed to have been delivered as a joke).

Haywood (profile) says:

Polls are shit anyhow

The biggest variance is; private people don’t even participate. I get calls all the time (in spite of being on every no calling list) asking my opinion. I tell them that is none of their business and hang up. I’ll vote, and have already made up my mind which way, I just don’t see any reason to share. Trump voters, in general, are fed up with the whole process, and are less likely to respond to polls i the first place.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Here, let me help you.

So, our young black trump-voting man from Illinois got to skew these results nearly each and every time. The one time he failed to respond to the poll, Hillary Clinton suddenly led within it.


Todd Elliott Koger says:

Newly Released WikiLeaks . . . Hillary Clinton Claims Blacks are "Professional-Never-Do-Wells"

Now another Hillary Clinton email dumped by WikiLeaks . . . In a newly released email Hillary claims blacks are “professional-never-do-wells”. She makes a blatantly racist statements about blacks. She says “everyone else is successful” but blacks “fail irrespective of our circumstances!!!”

We already have Hillary Clinton’s emails showing she doesn’t support the “fight for $15” minimum wage . . . Something she keeps telling the black community. And in an additional email she suggested that people who supported the wage increase — were part of the Red Army, a name given to the Russian military during communist leadership.

They tell us every vote matters but that is plainly false. The aggregate of “all of our votes” matter but “each single” vote doesn’t matter. Looks like the “Red Army” in the black community is voting Donald Trump this year.

Donald Trump is the authentic symbol of change. We have the numbers, we are focused, and we will mobilize. It’s a war between the “outsiders” and the political establishment!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Newly Released WikiLeaks . . . Hillary Clinton Claims Blacks are "Professional-Never-Do-Wells"

I read at least a paragraph of that email, and there was nothing particularly explicit in there. It seemed to me she just as easily could have been arguing that black people don’t do as well in immigration because of racism rather than because of her race. But them I’m probably more willing to give Hillary the benefit of the doubt than those who chant “Hillary for Prison”

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Newly Released WikiLeaks . . . Hillary Clinton Claims Blacks are "Professional-Never-Do-Wells"

Now another Hillary Clinton email dumped by WikiLeaks . . . In a newly released email Hillary claims blacks are “professional-never-do-wells”. She makes a blatantly racist statements about blacks. She says “everyone else is successful” but blacks “fail irrespective of our circumstances!!!”

Except, of course, that’s not even close to true. I note you don’t link to the email in question. It’s here:

Note that it is not sent to or from Hillary. It’s sent by an anonymous emailer TO a whole bunch of people — mainly reporters for Politico and Huffington Post. One of the recipients is Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.

The full email is crazy rantings.

In other words, this is a spam message. It is not Hillary saying it. It’s a spam from a nutter who believes stuff off the internet, spamming a bunch of reporters and Podesta conspiracy theories.

It really does not help your cause to not even do basic due diligence.

timmaguire42 (profile) says:

Ehh, probably true, but this sort of thing is true of every poll. This particular “anomaly” has been singled out because certain people in certain quarters don’t like how he votes. That’s why we give more weight to 538’s “10,000 foot view” (to coin a cliche) than any particular poll.

You don’t get to selectively filter out the anomalies you don’t like.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

your kinda missing the point. we have a poll which seems to significantly disagree with other polls from both sides of the aisle. and we find that the reason of the poll is that, an isolated individual’s opinion is being used to establish the opinion of an entire specifc voting block. voting blocks are normally not that specific, because the sample size is normally too small to draw accurate conclusions. This single individual changed polling numbers by 4-5% in favor of trump, and no single opinion should shift a scientifically run poll that much. every other poll suggests that he is not representive of his demographic.

he is not being singled out because he votes for trump. The poll is being singled out for overweighting his opinion such that the poll result drastically changes when he isn’t included. The LA poll suggests that there has been a massive shift in opinion towards Clinton, when in fact the biggest change is a single trump supporter not answering his phone.

Trump supporters should be angry about this. This past week has been full of stories about trump’s falling poll numbers. And that meta analysis comes to a far more dire conclusion because of this poll.

Anonymous Coward says:

Without post poll validation, it is unreasonable to expect ANY validity whatsoever

My expectation is that the trunk numbers for the polling companies are known to the carrier, and as such ANY number the poller dials can be redirected to a bank of controlled recipients.

And considering their snooping of web traffic, they have all the demographics data they need to spoof most recipients.

So my expectation is there is a room in India with about 20 people answering the phone in the disorganized American style, reading a demographic profile off a screen to find out roughly who the real recipient SHOULD be, and then giving modified answers.

Since the polls are sample based, they only have to answer a small number of calls to queer the numbers. Which makes detection extremely difficult. IOW, the polls are complete B.S.. And without post poll validation of 90% or better, the pollers are unlikely to reliably detect tampering.

Which is yet another reason why content and carrier MUST be separate if we are to return to a Constitutional Democracy. And it is yet another reason why the Tom Wheelers privacy recommendations are likely to be complete bunk.

It isn’t about how much they intrude. The fact that they intrude AT ALL is a crime against the Constitution.

Kathy says:

All the Negative Ads about Trump and I think it is great that one young man sees through The Clinton Junk!!

One great young man standing up for what he believes in!! I also believe that the Clintons paid those women to bring false allegations against Trump. People need to do the research on Hillary and who she really is and what she stands for. She is not for children as she says otherwise why would she have defended a child rapist and get him off knowing that he raped them. Js

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: All the Negative Ads about Trump and I think it is great that one young man sees through The Clinton Junk!!

Why would she have defended him? How about because she was a lawyer, she was appointed to, and she swore an oath to do her job as best as possible? As a lawyer, it’s your job to defend people accused of rape when appointed to do so. It doesn’t matter whether you suspect they’re guilty. That’s how our adversarial legal system works.

us1jacck (profile) says:

This poll was an outlier for Obama in 2012 at 3.32%. The actual result was 3.85%. They have tried to capture a different electorate to the 2012 electorate. Time will tell if they have predicted accurately a massive poll fail, like 2016 Brexit referendum vote and the 2015 UK general election – both 6 -8 out. It’s possible this year than men including young black men will vote Trump. It’s a nuance of the populist Trump that could see voting patterns scrambled a bit. Also, you might see men generally not voting for an older woman. The LA Times poll is creative. They will be geniuses if they are right or they will look very silly if they are wrong. It’s clear that at Trump +4 or more in this poll, Trump is likely tied or leading. The poll has been Trump +7 until the 1st debate and sex tape, etc and is now a tie. It has moved like all polls. The question up for grabs is who has the right level. This poll or all the others. The other polls do appear more volatile, producing unbelievable short term swings. This poll has never done that. This poll is currently Trump + 0.1%.,it has been Clinton +4.7 in early August. If it slips back to Trump up and not further toward Clinton post allegations of groping by Trump, I’d be a tad eerily perturbed if I was a Clinton supporter. This poll may have missed this time trying to capture something different but it got it seriously right almost on it’s own in 2012.

walter sivigny says:


I am no tech guy, but how do you explain the close results to the actual that this poll got in 2012?
Other polls are so skewed by their media generators as to be worthless. The trending is what I see and that is more important as we all know elections break in the last two weeks if they are at all competitive. The corruption and bigotry of the Clinton campaign will doom her. I know of many people this turned toward Trump. They didn’t much care about Bill’s crap at the time and same now. Clinton camp touts stocks up economy up, but wages down jobs poor. They blew it.

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