Understanding The Election: Pollsters, Pundits And Principles

A young visitor takes a photo of a giant cutout of Republican candidate for president Donald Trump in front of the Trump House owned by Lisa Rossi in Youngstown, Pa, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
A young visitor takes a photo of a giant cutout of Republican candidate for president Donald Trump in front of the Trump House owned by Lisa Rossi in Youngstown, Pa, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Let the questions, second-guessing and recriminations begin.

• Pollsters are in for a period of introspection. The day of the election, the Huffington Post put the odds of a Clinton victory at 98 percent (which, come to think of it, are about the same odds as the sun rising tomorrow morning). The Reuters/Ipsos States of the Nation project gave her a 90 percent chance of winning. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight was more modest, but still put Clinton at 71 percent. To a degree, those failures are reminiscent of the 2008 real estate collapse, where mortgage-backed securities seems absolutely risk free but really were built on pillars of sand. For the pollsters, the sand was individual state polling. Get a couple wrong -- and that’s what happened -- and the whole edifice collapses.

• Pundits are in for a period of introspection as well. The journalistic class is largely urban based, mostly concentrated in two large swaths of America, the east and west coasts. Trump’s rise to the nomination flummoxed them. His win against Clinton left them in a state of disbelief. That speaks to the isolation of the coasts and to what passes for punditry these days: talking to your friends and thinking they represent all of America.

• Speaking as a white male, could you please stop blaming us men for Hillary’s loss? It turns out that white women didn’t vote for her either. Of course, if you want to blame white people in general -- yeah, guilty.

• The glib take on Trump is that his win proves Americans are sexist, racist and bigoted since Trump himself is sexist, racist and bigoted. Some Americans are, no doubt. But Trump, I think, won despite those qualities, not because of them. He was an imperfect messenger for a deeply desired message of change. And even though Clinton was not sexist, racist or bigoted, her fundamental message – “more of the same” – had little resonance.

• If you want to understand the Americans that voted for Donald Trump, you might want to read J.D. Vance’s "Hillbilly Elegy."

• In the wake of the election, Boston schools said they would be providing counseling and support for students upset by the outcome. If Clinton had won, do you think the Jackson, Mississippi, school system would be doing the same?

• Anticipating that they might be able to take control of the Senate, Democrats were saying they would get rid of the filibuster rule that allows a minority of senators to hold up Supreme Court nominees. I bet they don’t feel the same today.

• I wonder what James Comey gets for putting his finger on the scales. Can a president grant knighthood?

•  If there’s any solace liberals can take in Trump’s win, it’s that the man seems genuinely unprincipled – possessing no core beliefs. That gives hope that perhaps he would govern as a pragmatist, doing whatever works, trying to be a success as president. On the other hand, the folks he is talking about putting in his Cabinet -- Newt Gingrich for secretary of state, Ben Carson at Health and Human Services and Rudy Giuliani as attorney general -- do have principles. Not especially progressive principles, either. And they’ll be the ones doing all the work.

• In the run-up to the election, the talk was about the day of reckoning facing the Republican Party. Split by Donald Trump, suffering major losses in the House and Senate, it was going to have to figure out its purpose and destiny. It’s safe to say that the GOP’s day of reckoning is now on hold. The Democrats, however, now need their own reckoning. Being the party of the special interests clearly is not a winning path going forward.

• For what looks to be the fifth time, the winner of the popular vote lost the electoral college. Should we still have an electoral college? Probably not. But you’re not going to see an amendment to that effect pass by a two-thirds vote in the U.S. Congress.

• “Stunning” will continue as our most-used word for the next several days. But eventually people will calm down. Trump’s president, not dictator. The Constitution still stands.

• As returns were coming in and Trump’s chances of victory turned from unlikely to certain, the Canadian immigration website crashed. Ordinary citizens and celebrities had promised to leave the U.S. in the event of his win and it looks like they were thinking of making good on their plans. How many actually will? Very few, I suspect. And they shouldn’t. If you’re not happy with the government you have, you don’t run away. You stay and try to change it. The midterm elections are only 730 days away.


Tom Keane Cognoscenti contributor
Tom Keane is a Boston-based writer.



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