Six months after Election Day, pollsters, Democrats, and much of the press are still trying to figure out what went wrong. How did Donald Trump outperform the polls in enough swing states to swipe an electoral victory Hillary Clinton appeared to have safely in hand? On Tuesday, the Nation offered the latest theory in a never-ending string of them, this one focused on what was by some metrics the single biggest surprise of the election: Trump’s victory in Wisconsin, where he trailed in polls by an average of 6.5 points ahead of Nov. 8, 2016. According to new research conducted by data science firm Civis Analytics for liberal super PAC Priorities USA, strict voter-ID laws significantly depressed the turnout of black and Democratic-leaning voters in a number of states, chief among them the Badger State. “Wisconsin’s voter-ID law reduced turnout by 200,000 votes, according to the new analysis,” wrote the Nation’s Ari Berman. “Donald Trump won the state by only 22,748 votes.” The unstated but implicit conclusion here is that Hillary Clinton would have claimed Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes if it weren’t for a state law requiring residents to present a driver’s license or another form of government-issued ID to cast a non-provisional ballot.
While Berman was careful to offer the necessary caveats—the study was conducted by progressives with a partisan interest, the analysis has not been peer-reviewed, etc.—such nuance didn’t make its way to social media.
… But the Nation headline doesn’t say it all—not even close, as a number of political scientists and polling experts were quick to point out. One of the first to arrive on the scene with a big bucket of cold water was Eitan Hersh, an assistant professor of political science at Yale University who has studied the effect of voter ID laws.
The most glaring problem with the report and how it’s being interpreted, Hersh told me by phone, is that the firm behind the analysis decided to operate at a surface level when they almost certainly had the data and expertise to dig much deeper. “Civis presents itself as a very sophisticated analytics shop,” Hersh said, “and yet the analysis they’re offering here is rather blunt.”