Election 2016: Hyped Startup VoteCastr’s Real-Time Polling Data Failed to Predict Trump Win in 5 of 7 States

Todd Spangler

Nearly every pre-election poll showed Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump heading into Tuesday — and even the Republic National Committee predicted Trump would fall 30 electoral votes short of winning the presidency.

Also getting the call drastically wrong: Controversial Silicon Valley startup VoteCastr, which claimed it was going to shake up the media biz by delivering real-time polling results in seven battleground states, defying the decades-long practice of news organizations holding off on those calls until polls close. The upstart partnered with Slate and Vice News to publish data collected from dozens of polling locations throughout the day on Nov. 8 with predictive models to provide minute-by-minute projections.

“For the first time in the modern political era, Americans will see what the network executives and campaign insiders have seen all along: the game as it unfolds,” the startup boasts on its website. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company was founded by political operative Ken Smukler, and its chief strategist is Sasha Issenberg, a contributor to Bloomberg Politics, former Slate columnist and author of “The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns.”

The problem: VoteCastr’s data ended up being wildly inaccurate — showing, wrongly, that Clinton would prevail in five of the seven states it was tracking. It’s unclear why the VoteCastr model failed, but ultimately its results proved to be less reliable than the traditional media’s polls the startup was angling to disrupt.

VoteCastr’s final estimated tallies, posted at 7:55 p.m. ET, incorrectly indicate that Clinton beat Trump in five states: Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The startup accurately reflected vote tallies in only two states: New Hampshire and Nevada.

That came after VoteCastr data earlier in the day suggested Clinton held a lead in several of the states, including Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. The closely watched experiment appears to have led some investors to have an overly optimistic expectation that Hillary Clinton would win the White House, with traders pushing up stocks based on the VoteCastr info, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Leading up to the election, media pundits had been critical of VoteCastr, arguing that the data could deter people from voting if they believed their candidate was leading — which is precisely the reason news orgs don’t report on polling data until voting closes.

VoteCastr also encountered a few snafus on Tuesday. At 2 p.m. ET, Slate said its data-visualization maps showed only early vote totals, which remained largely static throughout the morning, because of an unexpected technical delay in receiving real-time data from VoteCastr. Earlier, at around noon ET, VoteCastr said on Twitter that its Nevada projections had errantly included Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who was not on the ballot. “We messed up and we are correcting the Nevada results accordingly,” the company said.

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