Going into today’s election, many races appeared to be very close: 12 state-level Presidential races were within five percentage points. But the polls were off, massively. And so we face the likelihood of an electoral win by Donald Trump. At the same time, Hillary Clinton appears likely to win the popular vote. The Upshot’s model currently projects a Clinton lead of more than 1 percentage point. If that lead lasts, it means that more American voters preferred her to Trump.
At the moment, the NYT is projecting Trump leads of less than 1 percentage point in Pennsylvania and Michigan. Even without these states, Trump has at least 268 electoral votes (depending on some districts in Maine and Nebraska). We will see in the morning how these last few states and districts will be resolved.
In addition to the enormous polling error, I did not correctly estimate the size of the correlated error (also known as the systematic error) by a factor of five. As I wrote before, that five-fold difference accounted for the difference between the 99% probability here and the lower probabilities at other sites. We all estimated the Clinton win at being probable, but I was most extreme. It goes to show that even if the estimation problem is reduced to one parameter, it’s still essential to do a good job with that one parameter. Polls failed, and I amplified that failure.
This election is about to create shock waves that will make the last year of campaigning look mild. We are about to see both houses of Congress under Republican control, quite possibly with a President Donald Trump. This comes in the face of a reasonably growing economy and a popular Democratic President about to exit the White House. It is difficult to reconcile these different facts.
Thinkpieces that have been written in the last few weeks have to be re-examined in a new light. Ezra Klein at Vox has written about the weakness in U.S. democracy, in which a weak Republican Party could nominate Trump, and partisan polarization gave him a shot at the Presidency. This one-two punch appears to have landed, hard. I was correct in documenting Trump’s rise in the primaries, an easier task for polling analysis because there, his lead was considerable.
I have written about the role of partisan polarization in getting voters to choose up sides, to the exclusion of even considering a vote for the other side. The chickens have now come home to roost. Exit polls showed that most voters felt that Trump lacked the temperament to be President, and that Clinton was seen as more qualified. Yet Trump seems to have rallied enough support to get overcome these factors. All Presidential nominees have had lower and lower approval ratings, and Clinton was no exception to the pattern.
Now we see where that long trend has led. One consequence is that more voters refused to support either major candidate. Neither Trump nor Clinton is headed for winning a majority of voters in Pennyslvania or Michigan. In Pennsylvania, the NYT projects that over 3% of voters cast their ballots for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. In Michigan, the minor-party total was over 4%. In both cases, these numbers are considerably greater than the Trump-Clinton margin.
The coming years will be disruptive ones, to say the least. Whether you are Democrat, Republican, or neither, it’s going to be a challenging time ahead. It’s Donald Trump’s Republican Party, and maybe his Presidency too. The nation belongs to all of us. Good night.