The New Consumer Survey Contains a Big Hint That Clinton Will Win the Election

Popular opinion polls ask the wrong question.

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Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Source: Bloomberg

A new question added to the University of Michigan's Survey of Consumers could turn out to be more accurate than ordinary opinion polls in predicting the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

In June and July, respondents to the monthly survey were asked who they expected to become the next president — rather than who they intended to vote for. The results belie the horse-race nature of the campaign that's being implied by most polls of voter intent.

58 percent of the households surveyed by the University of Michigan said they thought Hillary Clinton would emerge victorious, relative to just 37 percent for the real estate and reality TV mogul Trump. That presents a very different picture to aggregations of voter intention; as is shown by Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight, which has Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the presidency at 53.3 percent versus Donald Trump at 46.7 percent.

A report published by Ludwig Maximilians University Research Fellow Andreas Graefe in 2014 found that asking voters who they think will win has proved a better crystal ball than asking them which candidate they themselves are likely to support.

"Across the last 100 days prior to each of the seven U.S. presidential elections from 1988 to 2012, expectations provided more accurate forecasts of election winners and the final vote shares," he wrote, relative to benchmark methods like intention polls, prediction markets, expert judgments, and quantitative models. "Gains in accuracy were particularly large compared to intention polls: on average, expectations reduced the error of intentions by more than half."

Graefe explained that expectations-based surveys offer insight on both an individual's own voting intention, but also incorporate the information that person has on how other people in their family or social circles are likely to vote.

Richard Curtin, director of the Michigan survey of consumers, indicated that respondents who saw a Clinton victory as more likely had a "significantly higher" Expectations Index (+9.7 points).

However, respondents were generally agnostic as to which candidate would be better for their personal finances or the economy as a whole, despite immense differences in their platforms and rhetoric.

According to the report, when it comes to personal finances, most people said it shouldn't make a difference who ends up winning in November. While 25 percent said Clinton would be better and 26 percent said Trump, 48 percent thought there was little difference. The same goes for the economy as a whole, with 31 percent saying Clinton would be preferable and 30 percent naming Trump, while a higher share said they didn't see either having a significantly more positive impact than the other. 

It should be noted that most existing polling on the candidates predates this week's Democratic National Convention, whose effect on voter sentiment has yet to be fully assessed.

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