How did the polls get the presidential election so wrong?

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Pollsters nationwide expected Hillary Clinton to rake in the votes and swiftly beat out Donald Trump in the race for the White House. But on Election Day, Trump had big wins in swing states like Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — a surprisingly strong performance that defied most expectations. Even Trump's own data team didn't forecast a win.

So how did we all get it so wrong?

A look back at the predictions

On Tuesday morning, Clinton had a 72% chance of winning the election, per FiveThirtyEight's model. The probabilities used by the website are based on "the historical accuracy of polls since 1972," FiveThirtyEight stated in its general elections forecast guide.

But at midnight on Tuesday, FiveThirtyEight gave Trump an 84% chance of taking the White House, Politico reported.

The New York Times also relied on statistical models and predicted Clinton would cruise to victory. On the morning of Election Day, it gave the Democratic candidate a 85% chance of winning. "Mrs. Clinton's chance of losing is about the same as the probability that an NFL kicker misses a 37-yard field goal," the New York Times noted.

On Tuesday night at around 9:30 p.m. Eastern, the New York Times changed its tune, too.

Here's what the polls overlooked

Many surveys may not have taken enough non-college-educated white people into account, Geoff Garin, a veteran Democratic pollster told Politico. Trump rode a tidal wave of support from this demographic, according to the New York Times.

Surveys may also have relied on outspoken and proud Clinton supporters.

The University of Southern California and Los Angeles Times tracking poll was one of the few polls that predicted a Trump win. On Oct. 26, 2016, the poll showed Trump edging out Clinton.

The Los Angeles Times noted that it adjusted polling data to weight it in a "best case scenario" for Trump, unlike other news outlets that may have underestimated Trump supporters.

The wave of Trump support could have also come down to voter psychology — and that could throw off polling data.

"There's some suggestion that Clinton supporters are more likely to say they're a Clinton supporter than Trump supporters are to say they're a Trump supporter," Arie Kapteyn, director of the University of Southern California's Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research, told USA Today.

Women respond to Hillary's stunning loss

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Clinton supporters are fleeing her election night party in tears
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Clinton supporters are fleeing her election night party in tears

A supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton watches and waits at her election night rally in New York, U.S., November 8, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

A Clinton supporter stands alone in the bleachers after Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's election night rally was canceled at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Supporters of U.S Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton react as a state is called in favour of her opponent, Republican candidate Donald Trump, during a watch party for the U.S. Presidential election, at the University of Sydney in Australia, November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Reed

A supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton watches and waits at her election night rally in New York, U.S., November 8, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Musician Lagy Gaga sits in her car after staging a protest against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump outside Trump Tower in New York City after midnight on election day November 9, 2016. Donald Trump stunned America and the world, riding a wave of populist resentment to defeat Hillary Clinton in the race to become the 45th president of the United States. The Republican mogul defeated his Democratic rival, plunging global markets into turmoil and casting the long-standing global political order, which hinges on Washington's leadership, into doubt.

(DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)

Guests react to election results as they appear on a large television monitor during Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's election night rally in the Jacob Javits Center glass enclosed lobby in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

A supporter uses his smartphone as others leave Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's election night rally in New York, U.S., November 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Supporters of Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton react at the election night rally in New York, U.S., November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

A person talks on the phone at Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's election night event at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center November 9, 2016 in New York City. Clinton is running against Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump to be the 45th President of the United States.

(Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Emily Benn stays in a seat at the end of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's election night rally at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

At attendee reacts while kneeling on the floor during an election night party for 2016 Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton at the Javits Center in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. 

(Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

An attendee reacts while sitting on the floor during an election night party for 2016 Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton at the Javits Center in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

(Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Matt Sanborn of Laconia, N.H., a Boston College student who volunteered for Democratic candidates including Hillary Clinton and New Hampshire Democratic Senate candidate, Gov. Maggie Hassan, rests his hands on the top of his head while watching election returns during an election night rally in Manchester, N.H., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

A woman weeps as election results are reported during Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's election night rally in the Jacob Javits Center glass enclosed lobby in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Wellesley College students and supporters of Hillary Clinton Kumari Devarajan, of Washington, left, and Diana Castillo, of Elgin, Ill,, right, wipe away tears as they watch televised election returns during a watch party on the campus of Wellesley College, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in Wellesley, Mass. Clinton graduated from Wellesley College in 1969.

(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

A supporter of U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton reacts at her election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A supporter of U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton reacts at her election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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Polling worldwide seems less reliable than ever before.

Polls in Britain didn't accurately predict Brexit, polls had trouble forecasting who would win the Republican presidential nomination earlier this election season, and polls missed the mark on the 2014 midterm elections.

The verdict: Numbers can mislead news sites and pundits. Maybe that means pollsters should move away from cold-calling random numbers and find another way to survey Americans — or that journalists should be more vigilant about contextualizing polling data, instead of accepting data when it aligns with their values. Whatever the case, it's clear America needs to take a hard look at how to keep a finger on this nation's pulse.

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