By the slimmest of margins: How the October Surprise of 2016 caused Clinton to lose the election

Anthony Weiner’s Laptop

On October 28, 2016, FBI Director James Comey announced that the FBI, while combing through Anthony Weiner’s laptop computer, had discovered emails related to Hillary Clinton’s private server. Weiner was then the husband of Huma Abedin, Vice-Chairperson of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The FBI intended to investigate them quickly to see if they contained classified material and would let the public know the results. A search warrant was obtained on October 30, and on November 6, just two days before the election, the FBI said in a letter to Congress that, after reviewing all of Clinton’s emails from her tenure as Secretary of State which they found on Weiner’s laptop, it had not changed its conclusion reached in July, which had exonerated Clinton.

We believe that this event constitutes a successful “October Surprise” operation on Hillary Clinton. The intent of an October Surprise is to damage the opposition sufficiently close to the election date in such a manner that they cannot recover from the damage in time to recover lost ground and win the election. We suspect, but do not know, if outside forces talked or otherwise pressured Director Comey into making this announcement. We don’t know how long the FBI team searching Weiner’s laptop knew of the emails or when Director Comey learned of their presence, but the possibility that they sat on the announcement in order to get closer to the election date should be investigated. Comey could have chosen to investigate the emails without making any announcement. If they then discovered important evidence that must be made public, they could have made an announcement on November 6, rather than announce the investigation over with nothing new found. But they didn’t. The public announcement was made on October 28. On November 6 they said, in effect, “Oh, never mind.” By that time, Hillary Clinton had dropped 1.2% in the polls. She recovered slightly over the next day and a half, but not enough to win four crucial states: Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In our estimation, she would have won those four states had she not suffered the drop from Comey’s October Surprise.

It should be mentioned here that Pizzagate, simultaneously occurring, may also have been an element of the 2016 October Surprise; a one-two punch.

Nate Silver’s Election Predictions

Nate Silver had – until this election – an unparalleled record of predicting national elections. In 2012 he correctly predicted the allocation of all of the 538 Electoral College votes; in 2008 he missed only on Indiana and the 2nd Congressional District in Nebraska which awards it’s own electoral vote. We’ll use his predictions as representing the best prediction data available.

For the period 10/27-11/8/16, Nate Silver’s national predictions and actual results were as follows:

Nate Silver’s Predictions for 2016 Presidential Election
Date Chance of winning Electoral Votes Popular Vote Popular Vote Popular Vote
2016 Clinton Trump Clinton Trump Clinton Trump Johnson
10/27 82.2% 17.8% 328.3 208.5 49.5% 43.6% 6.9%
10/30 78.8% 21.1% 319.2 217.6 49.4% 44.2% 6.4%
11/02 67.7% 32.2% 295.7 241.1 48.5% 45.2% 6.3%
11/06 64.9% 35.0% 291.6 245.6 48.3% 45.4% 6.3%
11/07 70.9% 29.0% 301.6 235.5 48.6% 45.0% 6.4%
11/08 71.4% 28.6% 302.2 235 48.5% 44.9% 6.6%
Actual Results 227 304 48.2% 46.1% 5.7%
Actual Votes 65.9
million
63.0
million

For the period October 27 to November 8, Silver predicted that Clinton’s popular vote would drop 1% (49.5% to 48.5%). For the same period Silver predicted that Trump’s popular vote would rise 1.3% (43.6% to 44.9%). The post-election results show that Clinton dropped an additional 0.3% while Trump rose an additional 1.2%. Gary Johnson during the same period dropped 0.3% in prediction, and dropped an additional 0.9% in reality.

In our opinion, Clinton’s 1% predicted drop was the effect of the October Surprise, with her loss of votes going directly to Donald Trump’s gain. Her additional loss of 0.3% was the result of sampling inaccuracy, including people intentionally lying to pollsters about their how they planned to vote. It is impossible to determine the exact effect – if any – of the October Surprise on Johnson’s numbers. In order to be extremely conservative in our examination of the effect of this October Surprise on the outcome, we will assume that Johnson’s numbers were not affected by the October Surprise – that his numbers would be the same with or without this October Surprise – that his entire voter drop-off would have happened anyway, as people switched their allegiance to a candidate actually capable of winning. We will likewise assume that all of Trump’s gains, with the exception of the 1% gain from Clinton’s 1% loss, would also have happened anyway.

These assumptions have the effect of minimizing Comey’s October Surprise portion of the changes between Nate Silver’s predicted outcome of October 27, one day prior to Comey’s announcement, and the actual outcome from the November 8, 2016 election. If we assumed otherwise than we do, the effect on our analysis would be to further decrease Clinton’s losses in both popular and electoral college votes, and likewise increase Trump’s losses.

The National Picture

We’ll now look at the effects of Comey’s October Surprise by adding back to Clinton’s popular vote the one percent she lost due to the October Surprise. All the actual votes for the following five charts came from Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. [Not long after we collected this data, Leip’s site apparently closed its door to unpaid investigations.]  We first look at the overall national numbers.

Per Uselectionatlas.org
U.S. NATIONAL
Clinton
Add Back
Results
Without
Electoral
Votes
 Actual vote Actual Pct. One Percent Oct. Surprise Change
Clinton   65,853,625 48.03% 49.03%   67,224,627 +75
Trump   62,985,106 45.94% 44.94%   61,614,104 -75
Other     8,261,498 6.03% 6.03%     8,261,498
Totals 137,100,229 100.00% 100.00%  137,100,229

Clinton’s increase of one percent translates to slightly over 1.37 million votes. But as we’ve already seen several times, it’s not the popular vote which wins the election, it’s the votes in the electoral college, and to determine the electoral college vote change, we must look at four critical “battleground” states. The above chart shows an increase in electoral votes for Clinton of 75 votes, and a corresponding decrease of 75 for Trump. These 75 votes are the total electoral college votes for the four major battleground states which we will now look at: Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Battleground States: Florida and Michigan

Rather than using the national October Surprise change of one percent from October 27 to November 8, as we did above for the nationwide results, our analysis for the four individual states will use Nate Silver’s Project 538 projections for each of those four individual states. We will use the same actual vote counts from USElectionatlas.org. The final results show that Hillary Clinton wins all four states.

October Surprise  Florida Florida  Michigan Michigan
Change per State  Clinton Trump  Clinton Trump
Projected Vote 10/27 48.7% 46.4% 49.4% 42.8%
Projected Vote 11/08 48.1% 47.5% 48.4% 44.2%
Oct Surprise pct
0.6% -0.6% 1.0% -1.0%
Poll Error pct 0.69% -1.09% 1.37% -3.05%
Actual Vote pct
47.41% 48.59% 47.03% 47.25%
Actual Vote Candidate
    4,504,975     4,617,886    2,268,839      2,279,543
Total Votes Cast     9,502,955     9,502,955    4,824,542      4,824,542
Remove Oct Surprise pct
48.01% 47.99% 48.03% 46.25%
Vote w/o Oct Surprise     4,561,993     4,560,868    2,317,084      2,231,298
Clinton Vict. Margin             1,124         85,787
Electoral vote change 29 -29 16 -16

Using the example of Florida for Clinton, as seen in the first column in the chart above, the projected vote percentage for October 27 (48.7%) and November 8 (48.1%) are from Nate Silver’s 538 projections for each state. October Surprise % (0.6%) is the difference between those two dates. Polling error percent (0.69%) is the 11/8 projected vote percentage (48.1%) less the actual result (47.41%). The actual vote percent (47.41%) is the actual vote for Clinton (4,504,975) divided by the total actual vote for all candidates (9,502,955). The Remove October Surprise percentage (48.01%) is the actual vote percentage (47.41%) plus the October Surprise percentage (0.6%). Vote without the October Surprise (4,561,993) is the total votes cast (9,502,955) times the Remove October Surprise percentage (48.01%).

Bottom Line for Florida: The tiny 0.6% increase in Clinton’s votes in Florida, which she lost because of the October Surprise, is enough to swing the vote to her with a final margin of 1,124, giving her Florida’s 29 electoral votes.

Battleground States: Pennsylvania and Wisconsin

This analysis is applied to the other three states. In all cases, we are conservative in our estimate of the effect of the October Surprise, using only the decline in projected votes between Oct. 27 and Nov. 8. All other changes are ascribed to polling projection errors, and are treated as if they would have remained unchanged had the October Surprise not occurred. If the polling projection error percentages were combined with the October Surprise percentages, Clinton’s margin of victory would be much larger. The percentage deducted from Trump’s votes is exactly the same as that added to Clinton’s votes.

October Surprise  Penn. Penn.  Wisc. Wisc.
Change per State  Clinton Trump  Clinton Trump
Projected Vote 10/27 50.2% 43.8% 50.0% 43.3%
Projected Vote 11/08 48.9% 45.2% 49.6% 44.3%
Oct Surprise pct 1.3% -1.3% 0.4% -0.4%
Actual Vote pct 47.46% 48.17% 46.45% 47.22%
Poll Error pct 1.44% -2.97% 3.15% -2.92%
Actual Vote Candidate
    2,926,441     2,970,733    1,382,536      1,405,284
Remove Oct Surprise pct 48.76% 46.87% 46.85% 46.82%
Total Votes Cast     6,166,710     6,166,710    2,976,150      2,976,150
Vote w/o Oct Surprise     3,006,608     2,890,566    1,394,441      1,393,379
Clinton Vict. Margin        116,042            1,061
Electoral vote change 20 -20 10 -10

The Electoral College

As shown in the previous chart for the U.S. National results, this swings the Electoral College vote as shown in the next chart, and Clinton wins the election by almost the same margin with which Trump won it.

Electoral Collage Results  Electoral Vote Results without
United States  Final Count Change October Surprise
Clinton 232 +75 307
Trump 306 -75 231
Total 538 0 538

Final Analysis

Clinton did not have to win all four of these states in order to win the Electoral College. She needed 270 Electoral Votes, or an increase of 38 votes from her 232, in order to win. She could have lost Florida and won the other three and still win the college. If she won Florida plus any one of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, she would still have won the college and the election. We maintain that these figures provide excellent support for the argument that Clinton would have won both the popular vote and the Electoral College if Comey’s October Surprise had not occurred.

This conservative analysis demonstrates that if Comey had not made his October 28 announcement, it is highly probable that Hillary Clinton would have won all four of these battleground states, and the additional 75 electoral votes would have given her the victory. The margins in Florida and Wisconsin were slim. They would have been greater if the nationwide October Surprise decrease of one percent had been used. [An alternative analysis was done, applying the nationwide decrease of one percent to the individual four states, but is not presented here. In this alternative, Clinton won Florida by 77,149 votes, Michigan by an unchanged 85,787, Pennsylvania by 79,042, Wisconsin by 36,775, and won the electoral college votes of all four states.]

We do not claim that these figures prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that Clinton would have won the election had not FBI Director James Comey given his October Surprise announcement, causing her popular vote figures to drop one percent, leaving her insufficient time to recover, and throwing the election to Trump. They do prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. Was this a true, planned October Surprise? If it walks and quacks like a duck, one ought to really carefully consider the strong possibility that one is truly looking at a duck. The timing of the discovery of Clinton emails on Weiner’s laptop, the timing of Comey’s announcements, and the results certainly look like an intentional and successful October Surprise.

The Need for Investigation

These figures point towards the necessity of a full investigation – perhaps not by the FBI and certainly not by the Republican-controlled Congress, but by an Independent Prosecutor – into the actions of FBI personnel involved and FBI Director James Comey. Was there an agreement, a quid pro quo, between Comey and Trump or Trump’s people? Were Russian moles in the FBI involved? Was Weiner’s computer hacked? Was there any connection to the Pizzagate frenzy, occurring at the same time? Are either of these events linked to the Russian email hacking, or to the secretive and conveniently forgotten meetings between members of Trump’s campaign team – especially Michael Flynn who helped spread the Pizzagate lie in his Tweets – and the Russians? We don’t know, but we need to take a good look and find out.

Editorial Note: The preceding was written in mid-2017. The voting data were in the historical record and have not changed, nor any analysis based upon those numbers. The final comments about the need for investigation – while partially out-of-date – are still largely valid. There are many dots as yet unconnected. The likelihood that Russian hacking was involved in this October Surprise has only increased since then.

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