Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Trump's Turn

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
--The Byrds

The swing felt similar to twelve years ago. As initial results began to trickle in on election night in 2004, polls and pundits were firmly in John Kerry's camp. A few early states were called in his favor. Prediction markets, as I recall, assigned a 90%+ probability of a Kerry victory.

I decided to go for a late evening jog. As my feet crunched leaves on the sidewalk beneath the streetlights, I remember thinking that Bush will need to pack his bags soon.

By the time I had returned, however, the entire race had flipped. W had unexpectedly won a couple of blue and battleground states, and the incoming vote tallies suggested that Bush's election night momentum was building.

I went to my computer to check out the prediction markets. The Bush and Kerry contracts had essentially traded places. It was now the Bush contract that was valued at 90%.

Just like that.

Last night Donald Trump was elected president of the United States with much the same election night dynamic. Polls, prediction markets, and pundits overwhelmingly favored a Hillary Clinton victory. Early election results did not offer much encouragement for Trump supporters. For example, in my home county considered central to 'battleground' Ohio, initial counts of early voter ballots spotted Hillary a 20% lead.

However, as ballots from Eastern Time Zone polls were being tallied, it became evident that support for Clinton in crucial states was weaker than expected. In fact, Trump was amassing sizable leads in many of these states.

Prediction markets and other odds-making sites such as the NYT forecasting site began to flip dramatically, with Trump moving from 20 to 50 to 70 percent odds of winning within a couple of hours-leaving many commentators flabbergasted. By the time battleground states such as North Carolina, Ohio, and Florida began to be called for Trump, his chances of winning had increased to 75 - 90%.

Trump subsequently crossed the 270 electoral vote mark early Wednesday morning.

Just like that.

How did all of the prognosticators get it so wrong? That question will occupy analysts for some time. My sense is that, similar to 2004, the "had enough" factor was significant. Many people have had enough with status quo politics, and they view Donald Trump as an outsider, albeit a 'wildcard' one, with capacity to make change.

Many onlookers also perceived a lack of procedural fairness in how Trump was being treated by the media et al during the course of the campaign. At some point those onlookers had enough of the biased treatment and acted at the ballot box to express their displeasure.

The "had enough" factor brought people out of the woodwork to vote for Trump who otherwise would not have. Pollsters did not adequately account for this factor in their models.

Trump's entire campaign, including his dramatic turnaround on election night, will go down as one of the biggest stories (and case studies) in modern American politics. Where his term as president goes may be as unpredictable as was his path to the White House.

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