I have seen numerous people say that Clinton lost because the polls convinced many of her supporters to not bother voting since she was guaranteed to win anyways. The argument is that in many districts, it was actually much closer than the polls suggested and that their laziness swung the election in Trump's favor.

Is there any concrete evidence for this? Maybe post-election polling of Clinton supporters to see how many actually didn't vote?

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    Her supporters showed up, by definition. It's more the swing voters who tend democratic but didn't bother that year, as it didn't matter anyway, who doomed her.
    – dandavis
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 11:07
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    The numbers at this post imply it was Democrats hopping to Other, as opposed to not voting.
    – joe snyder
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 16:20
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    It's very rare that a significant event like this can be attributed unequivocally to a single cause. Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 19:53
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    To say user's DJClayworth in other terms, there were a number of factors which contributed to Clinton's loss. If any of those factors had been reversed then Clinton could have won.
    – MaxW
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 20:32
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    A better way to ask this question might be "If the people who didn't vote because they believed Clinton's victory was inevitable, had, in fact, voted, would she have won?" As worded, it invites answerers to point out that there were multiple contributing factors, which I suspect most rational people could intuit for themselves. Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 21:04

5 Answers 5


It's probably better to say Hillary Clinton's campaign thought she was going to do well in some key states she lost. Most notably Michigan

[Service Employees International Union(SEIU)] — which had wanted to go to Michigan from the beginning, but been ordered not to — dialed Clinton’s top campaign aides to tell them about the new plan [to canvas Michigan]. According to several people familiar with the call, [Clinton's Brooklyn HQ] was furious.

Turn that bus around, the Clinton team ordered SEIU. Those volunteers needed to stay in Iowa to fool Donald Trump into competing there, not drive to Michigan, where the Democrat’s models projected a 5-point win through the morning of Election Day.

And on Election Day

On the morning of Election Day, internal Clinton campaign numbers had her winning Michigan by 5 points. By 1 p.m., an aide on the ground called headquarters; the voter turnout tracking system they’d built themselves in defiance of orders — Brooklyn had told operatives in the state they didn’t care about those numbers, and specifically told them not to use any resources to get them — showed urban precincts down 25 percent. Maybe they should get worried, the Michigan operatives said.

Nope, they were told. She was going to win by 5. All Brooklyn’s data said so.

Clinton would lose Michigan by 10,704 votes, in a state with 4.8M ballots cast. (source) Other stunners for there were Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which also narrowly went Trump (by less than 1%). That's 46 electoral votes that typically go Democratic on presidential elections.

Although it's hard to lay any victory or loss at the feet of any one event, the conventional wisdom is that Clinton ignored states she might have been able to win had she spent more time and resources there. Any voter turnout issues weren't helped by that.

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    Ref "electoral votes that typically go Democratic" that might be overstating Wisconsin's voting history a little : fivethirtyeight.com/features/…
    – Evargalo
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 13:12
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    The last Republican to win Wisconsin prior to Trump was Ronald Reagan in 1984.
    – Machavity
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 13:19
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    @Machavity You know that's included in the link Evargalo posted? You're both just framing it differently. I think the point was that some of those 7-in-a-row won by democrats were very close, and the house elections and entire history of the state's presidential voting does indeed frame it as a swing state.I guess 30 years is everything though...
    – TCooper
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 20:52
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    "Although it's hard to lay any victory or loss at the feet of any one event," this is the only real answer.
    – eps
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 21:13
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    @TCooper For modern politics, data from before Reagan is indeed pretty much irrelevant. In 1980, California, Massachusetts, and New York voted for a Republican President, while Georgia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin did not. The parties (and political landscapes of the states) have changed a lot in 40 years. In the election before that, the entire South voted for Carter, while the entire West Coast voted for Ford.
    – reirab
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 6:26


Did Hillary Clinton actually lose because supporters thought she would win in a landslide?


No, Hillary Clinton lost because her campaign divided the Democratic party and thus suppressed Democratic turn out. Beyond that she never resonated with voters, never grew her support beyond what she started her campaign with. In other words Clinton lost because she was a Bad candidate, with a bad message, and ran a bad campaign.

President Trump was not a strong candidate in 2016. He had tremendous vulnerabilities. Many political pundits believed he was unelectable. Clinton was just worse.

Bad Candidate She had high negatives, she was unappealing on the stump, she was hard to watch doing interviews or during the debates. Even having the town hall and debate questions ahead of time didn't help.

She had a great resume and had tremendous name recognition; but lacked any real accomplishments. Even her supporters couldn't name her accomplishments in office, beyond obtaining office, because she didn't have many. She had been first lady who offended half the country and blew an early chance as universal healthcare. She was a secretary of state best known for having traveled more than any other Sec State previously. Her one accomplishment being sanctions on Iran which drove them to the peace treaty, but otherwise nothing. As a senator she was unexceptional, writing no bills other than renaming highways or federal buildings in her district. She lent her name to many bills as a co-sponsor. But being 1 of 10,20,30 co-sponsors isn't leadership, nor is it an accomplishment.

Bad Message, She really had no message, she basically adopted watered down ideas from her rivals during the primaries and then adopted her rivals platforms after winning the primary. It was hard for anybody but her most diehard supporters to believe she would support her own platform given she had just spent a year trashing the ideas she was now claiming as her desired objectives.

Historically Bad Campaign, Her campaign was really a horror story which offended half the party causing an internal civil war among Democrats.

  • Campagne begins with DNC (Clinton supporters) being successfully sued for sabotaging Clinton's rivals.
  • Floor Protests at the National Convention
  • Nevada Convention,
  • Clinton relied on a massive lead in super delegates to win the nomination, not popular support. Is it any wonder she lacked votes in the General given how she won the nomination?

How Hillary Clinton took the Democratic nomination

  • Clinton's campaign controlled the Democratic party before the first Democratic Party Primary. This resulted in the DNC's partisan support for the Clinton Campaign at the expense of other popular candidates. Which alienated and suppressed democratic turnout in the general election.

    a. Control of the Democratic party

According to Donna Brazil Chairman of the DNC in 2016. The Clinton Campaign was in control of the DNC a year before she declared her nomination. That the Clinton Campaign not only used the DNC to crush Clinton's Democratic rivals, control the debates, suppress her competitors fundraising, but they also illegally (against FCC campaign rules) used the DNC as a clearing house to funnel money donated to congressional and senatorial races into the Clinton Campaign.

Inside Hillary Clinton’s Secret Takeover of the DNC When I was asked to run the Democratic Party after the Russians hacked our emails, I stumbled onto a shocking truth about the Clinton campaign. Gary (Gensler, the chief financial officer of Clinton’s campaign) said. He described the party as fully under the control of Clinton’s campaign, which seemed to confirm the suspicions of the Bernie camp. The campaign had the DNC on life support, giving it money every month to meet its basic expenses, while the campaign was using the party as a fund-raising clearinghouse. Under FEC law, an individual can contribute a maximum of $2,700 directly to a presidential campaign. But the limits are much higher for contributions to state parties and a party’s national committee.

Individuals who had maxed out their $2,700 contribution limit to the campaign could write an additional check for $353,400 to the Clinton Victory Fund—that figure represented $10,000 to each of the 32 states’ parties who were part of the Victory Fund agreement—$320,000—and $33,400 to the DNC. The money would be deposited in the states first, and transferred to the DNC shortly after that. Money in the battleground states usually stayed in that state, but all the other states funneled that money directly to the DNC, which quickly transferred the money to Brooklyn (Clinton’s headquarters was in Brooklyn).

    b. DNC's partisan support for the Clinton Campaign
  • The Campaign Starts with Bernie Sanders suing the DNC for cutting him off from DNC data which was supposed to be open to all candidates. The Courts reversed the DNC position, Sander's campaign manager termed this a death sentence for any campaign if it were to stand.
  • chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, resigns after being partisan favoring the Clinton Campaign.

Was the Democratic primary rigged?
Democrats made a big mistake in the 2016 primary.
Even for the Democratic Party, the past few weeks have been bizarre. First, Donna Brazile, the former chair of the Democratic National Committee, published excerpts of a forthcoming book in which she says that after she took over the Democratic National Committee, she investigated “whether Hillary Clinton’s team had rigged the nomination process” through the DNC, and discovered evidence that they did. “I had found my proof and it broke my heart,” she wrote.

Clinton Campaign Had Additional Signed Agreement With DNC In 2015

Clinton's strong armed tactics in suppressing other campaigns, and advantage her campaign through her clandestined control of the DNC; alienated the left. Alienated the millions of democratic voters with most of the energy, ideas and passion in the party. That ultimately cost her in the primary.

Some likely democratic voters reacted to Clinton's campaign by voting for Trump. Sanders voters helped Trump win the White House. Could they do it again?

Still more just didn't turn out.

  • The Democratic Debates - While the Republicans were having wide open debates generating record viewership, the Democratic Party (which Clinton's campaign controlled) was running a coordination. They scheduled debates opposite sweet 16 basketball games, opposite with NFL Monday night football games or days of the week guaranteed to suppress viewership, so the campaigns would not detract from Clinton's "inevitability". They also employed debate formats which stifled Clinton's opponents and minimized candidate's ability to directly challenge Clinton. The Democratic Debates in 2015 turned out to be clinton stump speeches, with a few words from her challengers.

Democratic primary debate schedule criticized as Clinton 'coronation'

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JJJ
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 15:45
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    This answer can be well-supported by looking at popular vote percentage turnouts: per wikipedia, Clinton received the lowest percentage of the popular vote for any candidate from her party in 24 years (since her husband in 1992 in a highly competitive three-way race). Specific reasons for that aside, it is clear that she was an extremely unpopular candidate.
    – Tiercelet
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 16:09

Hillary Clinton lost due to a confluence of multiple factors, and this question as written suffers from the fallacy of the single cause.

Clinton's loss was indeed partially caused by people who preferred Clinton over Trump but didn't vote because they thought Clinton's win was certain. However, this was probably not the primary cause of Clinton's loss.

Here is a December 2016 poll of 4183 Americans (full report PDF) of which 3799 were registered voters, of which 407 (~10%) said they didn't vote. Among those 407, 15% of them marked "I was pretty sure I knew who would win" as one of the reasons why they didn't vote (page 39/41 of the PDF). Unfortunately, the follow-up question "Who did you think would win the election?" had an insufficient sample size to report results. Nonetheless, I think it's safe to assume, given 2016 pre-election polling, that most people who thought they knew who would win, were thinking that it would be Clinton. Based on this poll, that would translate as "most" of 15% of ~10%, or somewhere around 1% of registered voters who did this.

In an election where three tipping-point states (WI, MI, and PA) went to Trump by less than 1%, a factor which explains the behavior of 1% of voters is important. However, it took 46% of voters voting for Trump (against 48% for Clinton) in order for Clinton to lose. This implies that there were many other important causes of Clinton's loss, particularly factors that caused 46% of voters to vote for Trump, and 6% to vote for others. Some of these other causes are explained in other answers.

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    But was that "I was pretty sure who was going to win my state" or "I was pretty sure who was going to the entire election." Clinton supporters staying at home in New York and California or Trump supporters staying at home in Tennessee or Alabama would have had exactly zero effect on the outcome of the overall election. Or, to phrase it in other words, how many of those 15% of voters who answered they were "pretty sure they knew who would win" were actually in swing states? I would guess that the distribution was highly uneven among states with far fewer in the actual swing states.
    – reirab
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 6:36
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    This is the only answer that addresses the question directly, in perspective, and with actual research about voters’ opinions. Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 10:41
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    @reirab Good point, the poll I found doesn't break down by states, although it does offer a different reason "I did not think my vote would matter". Anyway, I would agree with your hypothesis that voters wouldn't do this so much in swing states IF they knew their state was a swing state. However, before the election, most pundits and the Clinton campaign focused on their predicted swing states like VA, NH, NV / FL, OH, AZ, NC, etc. As a result, some people in WI, MI, and PA had no idea they would be the real swing states.
    – krubo
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 12:50

He wasn’t what I would call a “supporter,” but

  • In his book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, James Comey claims that he chose to make his last-minute announcement about the FBI’s discovery of potential new evidence in the Clinton e-mails case—which was unprecedented and indeed shortly turned out to be a false alarm—because he was so sure she was going to win, saying,

    It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls.

  • And per fivethirtyeight.com’s Nate Silver, that announcement constitutes a “but for” cause of Clinton’s loss in the election:

    Hillary Clinton would probably be president if FBI Director James Comey had not sent a letter to Congress on Oct. 28. The letter, which said the FBI had “learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” into the private email server that Clinton used as secretary of state, upended the news cycle and soon halved Clinton’s lead in the polls, imperiling her position in the Electoral College.

    The letter isn’t the only reason that Clinton lost. It does not excuse every decision the Clinton campaign made. Other factors may have played a larger role in her defeat, and it’s up to Democrats to examine those as they choose their strategy for 2018 and 2020.

    But the effect of those factors — say, Clinton’s decision to give paid speeches to investment banks, or her messaging on pocket-book issues, or the role that her gender played in the campaign — is hard to measure. The impact of Comey’s letter is comparatively easy to quantify, by contrast. At a maximum, it might have shifted the race by 3 or 4 percentage points toward Donald Trump, swinging Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida to him, perhaps along with North Carolina and Arizona. At a minimum, its impact might have been only a percentage point or so. Still, because Clinton lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by less than 1 point, the letter was probably enough to change the outcome of the Electoral College.

So yes, there is substantial evidence for saying that Hillary Clinton lost because of overconfidence in her victory, since at least one person’s decisions cost her the election and were predicated on assuming she would win.

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    +1, though 538 greatly overstates the ease of linking Comey to poll shifts. Maybe it was a huge effect maybe it's pure correlation = causation fallacy.
    – eps
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 21:16
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    I don't think "538 greatly overstates" is a claim with any merit. They're so well-renowned because they are so purely data-driven in their work.
    – TylerH
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 15:39

Two other factors to consider:

Her pro immigration stance.

This did not sit well with the traditional blue collar Democrat power base, as those immigrants would be competing for their jobs or lowering their wages, while Trump campaigned on tighter immigration and more focus on creating new jobs. The fact that traditional working class Democrat states like OH, MI, and PA went to Trump reflects the difference in campaign messages.

Disaffected Sanders supporters.

During fall 2015-spring 2016, the DNC appeared to be working behind the scenes to thwart Sanders. Debates at odd hours (limiting exposure), cutting off his access to national DNC voter databases...

Bernie is a charismatic campaigner, who produces strong feelings in his supporters. His less than honorable treatment by the party powers may have led a number of his supporters to simply not vote at all in the fall.

  • This doesn’t really address the question. It may be accurate, but you’re just musing off-topic
    – divibisan
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 2:39

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