Earlier this month we conducted the first annual survey of PB readers and Polling Matters listeners. 657 respondents took part and this post looks at some of the results and I give my own perspective too. We asked everyone about their winners and losers of 2016, biggest shocks, defining moments and the thorny issue of the ‘PB poster of the year’.
Biggest political shock of 2016?
Poll winner: Donald Trump wins US election
Keiran’s choice: UK votes for Brexit
To begin the survey we asked respondents to name their biggest political shock of 2016. Donald Trump’s election as US president was the runaway winner with 59% of the vote. The UK voting to leave the EU was second with 36%. No other individual event came close to matching these events as the chart below reflects.
I doubt that many will be surprised by these results. Few predicted Trump’s victory. For large portions of the primary season the talk was of brokered conventions and then the manner of his victory was something of a fluke. Clinton won the popular vote by more than two percentage points yet Trump achieved a solid Electoral College victory due to some razor thin victories in the American mid-west. I cannot claim to be one of those that saw Trump coming but from the summer onwards Funnily enough I did say Clinton would win by around two points. I just didn’t anticipate that such a margin would not deliver her the presidency.
For me the bigger shock was Brexit. I was guilty of believing the conventional wisdom that phone polls were more accurate than online and that ‘don’t knows’ would ultimately break Remain in the face of a sustained campaign by government and business that they should do so. What happened, a four point victory for Leave on turnout some seven points above that of the General Election the previous year, was astonishing.
Biggest winner of 2016
Poll winner: Donald Trump
Keiran’s choice: Donald Trump (with Theresa May a close second)
Continuing the theme above, Donald Trump was chosen as the ‘biggest winner of 2016’ with 50% of the vote. Nigel Farage was second with 28%. Other choices included Theresa May with 13% and Sadiq Khan with 6%.
It really is hard to argue with this. The US presidency remains THE prize in world politics and Trump won it against all the odds and breaking all of the so-called ‘rules of the game’. No one else can reasonably come close when we consider who the biggest winner of 2016 was. I just wish I could be impressed. For a rich man he won in a cheap way. Let’s see how he does.
There is an interesting debate to be had about the UK. It would be churlish not to acknowledge Nigel Farage as a big winner. Whatever you think of him he achieved his life’s work and secured his place in history – all without ever taking a seat in the House of Commons. Quite remarkable. However, for me the biggest winner in the UK was Theresa May. Having campaigned for Remain she managed to become Prime Minister and enjoys a commanding poll lead over Labour and strong personal ratings. My suspicion is that this will begin to change in 2017 but for now she is in something of an insurmountable position. Given where she started in January 2016 this is some change.
Biggest loser of 2016
Poll winner: Hillary Clinton
Keiran’s choice: David Cameron
For the less coveted ‘biggest loser of 2016’ award we see a continuation of our US theme with Hillary Clinton chosen by 45%. David Cameron was second with 35%. Other notable choices included Zac Goldsmith on 16% and Michael Gove on 6%. Those choosing ‘other’ often opted for ‘everyone’ or ‘the world’ whilst George Osborne was also mentioned. Make of that what you will.
The choice of Clinton continues our US dominated theme and so isn’t a surprise. Having come so close and seemingly finally broken that highest glass ceiling she fell at the final hurdle despite winning the popular vote. Many will say that this was all self-inflicted but it is hard not to feel a pang of sympathy – even if, like me, you had hoped that Joe Biden might get the nomination instead. What I would say is don’t underestimate how devastating her defeat was for good, ambitious women who looked to Clinton as a role model. As the husband of one, I can well understand the sadness, especially given who she lost to. We should remember that Clinton’s defeat isn’t just about Clinton herself.
Personally, I wouldn’t say Clinton was the biggest loser of 2016. I have gone back and forth on this given the spectacularly bad year Zac Goldsmith had but I have chosen David Cameron as my ‘biggest loser’ of 2016. He had taken on all-comers in 2015 and emerged victorious yet barely a year later he was out of office and defined forever by Brexit. He called a referendum he didn’t expect to have to deliver and thought he would win if he did. Perhaps Cameron was always lucky rather than good and in this case his luck finally ran out. I will leave that for others to decide.
Defining moment of 2016
Many were chosen but come on, there is only one isn’t there?
PB poster of 2016
Now for the reason you are all here. I tallied up 235 eligible votes and here are the top 4.
Mike Smithson (59 votes)
TSE (32 votes)
Sean T (29 votes)
Plato (26 votes)
Mike’s runaway victory may prompt cries of ‘fix’ in the comments section but it really was a runaway win (Mike – I will send you my bank details as agreed). On a more serious note, I am sure we will all extend our thanks to Mike and TSE for keeping the site going all these years. It really is appreciated. Other notable mentions (e.g. double figures) go David Herdson, Alastair Meeks, Cycle Free and yours truly. Sadly I couldn’t get my 11 votes to somehow make the top 4 which at least proves that sometimes pollsters just have to take the numbers as they are!
If I can be serious in closing I couldn’t do a review of 2016 without mentioning the tragic murder of Jo Cox. I wasn’t sure on the appropriate way to bring it up but I couldn’t ignore it and so hopefully I can do it justice. We should all remember, however animated politics makes us, that real people with real families are involved. Many will curse 2016 for the deaths of celebrities or because politics didn’t go their way (and there is nothing wrong with that) but we should remember that for the Cox family life will never be the same again. I can only wish them my heartfelt condolences and I am sure everyone on this site will want to do the same. Jo was a decent woman trying to make the world around her a better place and for all their faults we should remember that the overwhelming majority of politicians (and people in politics) are too.
Keiran Pedley tweets about public opinion and polling at @keiranpedley