Losers Who Won't Lose: What Are The Odds Of A Successful Hillary Recount?

Submitted by Salil Mehta via Statistical Ideas blog,

President-elect Trump won 306 electoral votes versus Hillary Clinton's 232 (24% less electoral votes).  Similar to 2000, the surrendering party then reversed course and put the nation through a recount, just for the sake of it.  What are the odds that such an exercise here would yield successful for Ms. Clinton?  Based on statistical randomness of re-assessing voter intent, the chance of Hillary emerging as the victor is far less than 10%

Anything can happen, but these lean odds do not rise to the level of putting our peaceful democracy into the hands of a temptuous recount scheme every time a stung party loses (let alone misleadingly blame it on something else from Russia's Putin, to sexism, to "in hindsight the popular vote would be reasonable", to FBI Director Comey).  All Americans should instead focus on how the 6 states that flipped this election, were all economically ignored and all flipped to Donald Trump

The only viable path for a Hillary Clinton victory at this stage is to astoundingly uncover a wide-spread (across three states) fraud.  And that's equally unlikely, since the basis for the voting aberrations occurred in less populated counties and anyway the three states employ three different voting mechanisms, so the fraud would have had to somehow occur through different transmission vehicles (paper voting, and electronic voting) and we would require a speedy judicial resolution for states such as Pennsylvania that sidestepped back-up recordings from their direct voting equipment.

We should note the following statistical facts about the electoral vote in the three recount states:

  • 10 votes, Wisconsin (Trump leads by 0.9 percentage points)
  • 20 votes, Pennsylvania (Trump leads by 1.1 percentage points)
  • 16 votes, Michigan (Trump leads by 0.2 percentage points)

Given that Mr. Trump won by 74 electoral votes, Ms. Clinton would need to flip all three states noted above, in order to liquidate this deficit (i.e., >74/2 = >37 votes).  The leads described above however, among 4.4 million voters from these three states, is highly statistically significant on a state-level (and certainly when all three states are combined).  It would be remarkably unlikely (>5? event) that we would arbitrarily second-guess every one of these millions of voters' intents and, convert any (certainly let alone all) of these three states.

Hillary must be cognizant of this improbability, and so is piggy-backing off of the second most reasonable recount rationale: not that errors in intent occurred, but rather straight-fraud on such a scale that would flip most of these states.  While tempting for true Democrat supporters, this fraud scenario is of course dubious.  Because for it to work, we would need to suppose that such fraud occurred in three different ways at once:

  • Michigan is a paper-ballot state (no electronic voter equipment hacking) so fraud is virtually unlikely to show at all
  • Wisconsin does have paper back-ups recorded though the counties that are most heterogeneous, are lesser-populated and not so wildly-off probabilistically
  • Pennsylvania has similar issues to Wisconsin, except they haven't recorded all of their votes in an auditable back-up so judicial hurdles must be overcome

The bottom line is everything must go right here, in all three state recounts (between proving fraud and getting mathematical help from wide-spread voter intent errors), in order to better align towards a Donald Trump downfall.  And even if this all occurred, accounting for all of these statistical adjustments, the probability of a Hillary Clinton triumph is still quite low. 

Lower than the odds that comic Nate Silver and all of the other "pollsters" gave to Mr. Trump throughout this election season.  It is these same pollsters and juvenile campaign "scientists" who completely mis-forecasted Ms. Clinton's path, who are now gasping for a recount phenomenon.  This was nicely articulated in a recent Bloomberg article here: