It’s been a pretty devastating week of global news for anyone even slightly to the left of the political spectrum. Donald Trump has, extraordinarily made the full transition from celebrity businessman to world leader, despite demonstrating some very questionable leadership qualities throughout his campaign. As weeks of analysis begin all around the world, some startling statistics have already begun to appear.
81% of evangelical Christians voted for Trump, as opposed to just 16% who supported Clinton. A majority of white women (53%) chose to support him too, even in spite of allegations of sexual impropriety and damning recordings of his sexually-demeaning comments. And in the most poignant statistical anomaly of all, Hillary Clinton actually won more votes over all – the popular vote, as they call it – yet managed to lose the election by some distance thanks to the electoral college system.
However, there’s one stat which has already begun to give cause for some long-term optimism. It appears to show how America’s youngest eligible voters – the 18-25 age group – cast their support for Hillary Clinton in huge numbers, to the point that an electoral college adjusted purely to that age range would have been won by Clinton by 504 votes to 23.
The stat, created by US-based research firm SurveyMonkey, has been shared hundreds of thousands of times on social media, and has been cited both as a cause for hope, and a damning indictment on the prejudices of older voters. But unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. In fact, the statistic isn’t quite what it appears to be at all. First of all, the map is not new – it was created two weeks before the election. And as a result, the graphic only shows how some younger voters said they were intending to vote, two weeks out. Of course this is highly indicative, but it doesn’t take into account those who were ashamed or embarrassed about their true intentions (likely to be an increased factor in the young), or those who didn’t end up turning out at all.
Yes, the graph can still inspire hope for those who are dismayed by a Trump victory, and yes, it does suggest a brighter future for the Democrats. But data around who actually voted for whom doesn’t exist – the election is private, and voter’s final decisions aren’t formally recorded anywhere. We’ll never know exactly how accurate that picture really is.
So of course there’s a strong indication that younger voters lean left, but there’s also a lesson here for any of us who like share stats like this. Beware the impressive infographic, and the compelling voice on social media which shares it. We all have to make sure we interrogate our data (and how it has been obtained) a little more carefully before swallowing the top line that’s being presented.