Gelman lectures on 2016 presidential election


On Thursday, Feb. 8, Dow Visiting Scholar Andrew Gelman gave a lecture on the 2016 presidential election in Curtiss Hall.

Gelman is a professor of political science and statistics and the director of the applied statistics center at Columbia University. The American Statistical Association awarded him the Outstanding Statistical Application award three different times for articles he has published in the American Political Science Review.

Gelman presented his research article during a presentation titled “19 Things We Learned about the 2016 Election.”

Gelman originally wrote the article in December 2016. A few months later, Julia Azari, associate professor of political science at Marquette University, wrote a response article titled “Women Also Know Stuff about the 2016 Election,” which highlighted the important research women had conducted in the recent months.

Gelman said he unintentionally cited only male researchers in his original article. He had overlooked the work of prominent female scholars such as Jennifer Nicoll Victor, Rachel Blum and Katherine Cramer.

“I was missing half the literature,” Gelman said.

He worked with Azari on an ASA Journal of Statistics and Public Policy article.

Gelman incorporated the research from the article into his lecture. He discussed the 2016 election and how it related to previous presidential elections.

Although the 2016 election shocked many voters, Donald Trump’s victory was not a huge shock to many political scientists. Gelman recounted the 1976 election, when Jimmy Carter defeated incumbent Gerald Ford. Gelman explained that Carter only won by two percentage points despite Ford’s negative reputation and Carter’s positive trajectory. Based on polls and surveys, Carter would have been expected to win in a landslide.

In the 1980 election, Gelman said that neither candidate seemed especially qualified. Carter had fallen from favor in the eyes of the public, but Ronald Reagan seemed an uncertain choice as well. Still, Reagan won in a landslide that year.

It is clear to political scientists that polls and surveys do not provide clear indicators as to who will win the election. Though Trump boasted of favorable polls during the primary elections, a slew of surveys and polls predicted Clinton to win instead.

Business management sophomore Daniel Evard gained a new perspective from the lecture.

“I don’t get too politically involved,” Evard said. “I’ve always voted based on what I grew up knowing, so this opened my eyes to the political environment here in America.”

One way that Gelman believed the 2016 election results were unexpected was the extremism of both candidates. In the past, when one party has been in power for long periods of time, the other becomes more moderate. This explains why a Republican era ensued after the Civil War and the Democrats were in power for a long stretch after the New Deal of the 1930s. In both of these cases, the president to break the opposing party’s streak was fairly moderate – Grover Cleveland for the former and Dwight Eisenhower for the latter.

Business management junior Andrew Lienau said that the lecture opened his eyes to a different aspect of the election.

“I thought it was really interesting,” Lienau said. “It brought up a lot of topics I don’t normally think about, and for someone who isn’t a political science major, it was interesting to hear (Gelman’s) predictions.”