Current Events and the Psychology of Politics

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Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (Photo credit: AP)

As polls opened on Election Day 2016, conventional election-forecasting models based on public opinion polling were unanimous in predicting a decisive victory for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College — generally more than 300 electoral votes and a better than 70 percent probability of winning the election.

That is at variance with the Presidential/Personal Electability Index (PEI) developed at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics, which has accurately predicted the outcome of every presidential election since 1996, before Super Tuesday — 8 months prior to the presidential election.

The Personal Electability Index projected in August 2015 that Donald Trump would win the Republican primary and go on to beat either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential election.

The PEI heuristic model employs candidate personality traits, as publicly perceived, to predict which contender will resonate most favorably with independent and unaffiliated voters who base their voting choice primarily on the candidate’s personal qualities as publicly displayed rather than on party-political affiliation or allegiance.

Based on those criteria, here are the PEI projections for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump formally released on February 29, 2016:

Donald Trump (PEI = 62; 45 corrected score)
Hillary Clinton (PEI = 39; 29 corrected score)

The PEI model’s predictive utility in recent presidential election cycles appears to derive from the practically even division of the nation into reliably Republican and Democratic voting blocks, essentially yielding the balance of power to politically independent and unaffiliated voters comprising as much as one-third of the electorate.

The PEI model assumes that candidates have been vetted by means of prior election to high-level public office and that they have the near-unanimous support of their political base and party establishment, so Trump’s candidacy violates the model’s fundamental assumptions. Consequently, the PEI may not be sufficiently robust to weather Trump’s unconventional candidacy.

November 9, 2016 update: Turns out the Presidential Electability Index is sufficiently robust.



Summary of conventional election-outcome projections as polls opened on Election Day

New York Times (‘The Upshot’)



Princeton Election Consortium (Sam Wang)


Rothenburg & Gonzales Political Report


Sabato’s Crystal Ball


FiveThirtyEight (Nate Silver)



Cook Political Report






Personal Electability Index data set

The Political Personality of 2016 Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton (PDF, 34 pp.)

The Political Personality of 2016 Republican Presidential Nominee Donald J. Trump (PDF, 31 pp.)

5 Responses to “Clinton vs. Trump: Predicting the 2016 Presidential Election Results”
  1. Aubrey Immelman Says:

    Excerpts from an email (dated August 20, 2015) to St. Cloud Times opinion page editor Randy Krebs in which Aubrey Immelman first raised the possibility of Donald Trump winning the Republican primary and the 2016 presidential election, based purely on Trump’s psychological profile.

    From: Immelman, Aubrey
    Sent: Thursday, August 20, 2015 2:20 PM
    To: Krebs, Randy
    Subject: Re: Presidential candidate occasional series


    The 5 p.m. deadline sounds good. […]

    Trump is a fascinating phenom from my psychological perspective. Prior to his PEI score of 62 the most personally talented candidates I’ve studied were:

    Bill Clinton 37
    Michele Bachmann 32
    George W. Bush 31
    Barack Obama 28

    I said in the kicker, a lot can change in the next year, but at this point I won’t be completely shocked if Trump wins it all.



  2. Aubrey Immelman Says:

    Cross-posted from “Democrats need to focus on the gut, not the head” (Fareed Zakaria, Washington Post, Dec. 1, 2016) »

    “And how do voters pick their favorite politicians? It is a gut decision that is more emotional than rational. Mostly it hinges on whether they identify with a politician in the social and psychological senses.”

    That explains, in part, why the personal psychology-based Presidential Election Index (PEI) predicted as early as August 2015 that Donald Trump would win the Republican nomination and go on to defeat Hillary Clinton in the general election »

  3. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » Projecting the Winner of the 2016 Presidential Election: The Personal Electability Index Says:

    […] Clinton vs. Trump: Predicting the 2016 Presidential Election Results (Nov. 8, 2016) […]

  4. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » Presidential Electability Index Predicted Donald Trump Win Says:

    […] Clinton vs. Trump: Predicting the 2016 Presidential Election Results (Nov. 8, 2016) […]

  5. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » Would Barack Obama Beat Donald Trump in a Hypothetical Matchup? Says:

    […] Clinton vs. Trump: Predicting the 2016 Presidential Election Results (Nov. 8, 2016) […]

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