Marginal errors

The ground shook at 10:25 Tuesday night. There were still a number of battleground states with incomplete results and polls remained open on the West Coast but the presidential race had a significant development at that point despite no clear winner emerging yet.

That’s when the estimable Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog crossed the line and gave Donald Trump his first lead as the favorite with a 55 percent chance to win the Electoral College. Just one minute before, the prognosticator was still giving Hillary Clinton a 51 percent chance to capture the majority of electoral votes. But it was a number on a swift and steep decline, one that had hit more than 90 percent in some forecasts just a couple weeks ago.

That Trump’s victory is a stunner is without question but who is it stunning and why? FiveThirtyEight, the New York Times The Upshot, CNN’s “poll of polls,” and any other number of forecast models showed Clinton with more than 1,200 paths to electoral victory over the last few months. They insisted Trump had a rigid trail that required sweeping battleground states such as Florida, North Carolina, and New Hampshire, as well as flipping a few states won by President Obama in 2012 in order to breach the “blue wall” constructed by Democrats. Even as late as 10:20 p.m., The Upshot, using a football analogy, said the chances of a Trump victory were about the same as a kicker missing a 37-yard field goal, about a 15 percent probability. The result? Wide right.

There will be much introspection, recrimination, and gnashing of teeth in newsrooms and among pollsters as to how projections were so far off-base. Was it the models? Was it respondents failing to tell the truth? Was it pundits dismissing a Brexit-like fervor to justify a “can’t happen here” mindset? Yes to all.

Polls, as any numbers-cruncher will tell you, are a best-guess snapshot of a moment in time. That they were near-universal in their results that Clinton had it all but locked up (before FBI Director James Comey’s October shocker) gave journalists cover to go with the consensus narrative and dismiss Trump and his backers who were saying states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan were in play. “What are they seeing that we’re not,” was a recurring question of many a reporter and analyst who questioned Trump’s forays into those Democratic strongholds in the final hours.

While many Clinton supporters will blame Comey’s intrusion as the turning point, a result of this magnitude was much longer in the making and much deeper held. The polling numbers for Clinton before and after the Comey announcements showed a closing of the gap but not an appreciable decline in her support. She was between 45 and 48 percent in most polls and held that ground in subsequent surveys, with many on both sides saying the disclosure of the email investigation wasn’t going to change their mind.

What happened was Trump began to gain strength and the pre-election crosstabs weren’t reflecting what the exit polls said Tuesday. Most pollsters said Clinton’s strength was with blacks, Hispanics, college-educated white voters, and especially women. But the exit polls showed those safety nets weren’t as strong as perceived or as deep as she needed.

Men supported Trump by 12 points, with non-college educated white males voting for the billionaire by a nearly 3-1 margin and those with college degrees favoring him by 15 points. But women didn’t hold the line, with barely more than half of college-educated white women pulling the lever for Clinton while non-college educated white female voters sided with Trump by a 2-1 margin. No amount of minority support was going to overcome those numbers, but Clinton failed to perform to expectations there, with Trump getting 8 percent of the black vote and 29 percent of the Latino vote, according to the exit polls. Those numbers fell far behind Obama’s tally in 2012 and far above pre-election forecasts, which projected strong Clinton support because of the early voting by Hispanics. It’s a fair question to ask how pollsters will adjust their models for 2020.

But the one thing numbers can’t measure, no matter how hard pollsters try, is passion. Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan said journalists focused on the messenger and the poll numbers to create a narrative that didn’t reflect what they couldn’t hear. She quoted billionaire Peter Thiel, a Trump supporter, saying, “The media is always taking Trump literally. It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally.”

“Journalists wanted to know exactly how he would deport that many undocumented immigrants, or exactly how Trump would rid the world of the Islamic State. We wanted details,” Sullivan wrote. “But a lot of voters think the opposite way: They take Trump seriously but not literally.”

He’s literally being taken seriously now.

JACK SULLIVAN

ELECTION ANALYSIS

The headline of David Remnick’s piece in the New Yorker: “An American Tragedy.”

James Aloisi says the Electoral College must go. (CommonWealth)

Evan Falchuk, founder of the United Independent Party, says third parties are a dead end. (CommonWealth)

Joanna Weiss makes a lot of sense as she tries to make sense of what happened. (WBUR)

“Trump looks like a disaster in the making; all Americans can do now is pray that he proves his skeptics wrong,” declares a Globe editorial.

A Herald editorial said “the most narcissistic, ill-informed, and undisciplined candidate ever to head a major party ticket continued to wrack up electoral votes in places no Republican was ever expected to win.”

CONGRESS/NATIONAL

Republicans retained their hold on both the House and Senate. With Trump’s election, they will have, at least on paper, a unified government for two years. (Reuters)

Voters in California, Colorado, Missouri, and North Dakota voted on cigarette tax increases, but only Californians approved their measure. (Governing)

Nebraska voters restored the death penalty after state lawmakers voted last year to eliminate it. (Time)

Arizona conservative lightning rod Sheriff Joe Arpaio lost in his bid for a 7th term. (New York Times)

BALLOT QUESTIONS

Massachusetts voters legalized marijuana by a wide margin, despite the opposition of a phalanx of high-profile political figures, raising a long list of thorny regulatory issues for state leaders to sort out. (Boston Globe) Similar measures passed in California and Nevada. Maine voters also seemed headed that way. Only Arizona voters rejected marijuana legalization. (Governing)

A proposal to expand charter schools in Massachusetts was crushed by a huge margin, delivering a big blow to those who said the schools offered a promising alternative for low-income families and a victory to teachers union who funded the opposition and a broader coalition that said it was important to focus on funding district schools. (Boston Globe)

Boston voters approved the Community Preservation Act, adding 1 percent to property tax bills to fund affordable housing, historic preservation, and open space projects. (Boston Herald, Boston Globe) East Bridgewater voters turned down a question to adopt the CPA (The Enterprise), while Holyoke voters passed it. (MassLive)

Big pharma wins big in California, blocking a bid to require drug manufacturers to offer states the same discounts they offer veterans. (Governing)

MASSACHUSETTS AND NEW ENGLAND

Gov. Charlie Baker, who sat out the presidential election and dismissed Trump as lacking the temperament to lead the country, issued a statement Wednesday morning saying he was eager to partner with the president-elect. (MassLive) Baker took a double hit, landing on the losing side of both the charter school and marijuana questions, but it’s not clear that it hurts his presumed reelection bid in 2018, with some analysts even seeing a silver lining for him in both contests. (Boston Globe)

Not much changed, party-wise, in the heavily Democratic Massachusetts Legislature. With  Hillary Clinton scoring a lopsided win in the Bay State, Republicans didn’t add to their ranks on Beacon Hill but they didn’t lose ground.

In the Senate, three seats vacated by Democrats were filled by new Democrats. Julian Cyr of Truro will become the youngest senator next term after defeating his Republican opponent, retired Brig. Gen. Anthony Schiavi, in the race for the seat being vacated by Sen. Dan Wolf. Democrat Adam Hinds handily won the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Ben Downing. (Berkshire Eagle) And Rep. Walter Timilty claimed the seat being vacated by Sen. Brian Joyce. Sens. Eric Lesser and Barbara L’Italien both held off challengers.

On the House side, Republican Rep. Jim Lyons of Andover declared himself a victor. (Eagle-Tribune) Democrat incumbent Rep. Cory Atkins of Concord was  ahead in the vote count, but her Republican opponent Helen Brady refused to concede. (Lowell Sun)

In the Worcester area, Republican incumbent Rep. Kate Campanale held off Democrat Moses Dixon to retain her seat, Democrat Rep. Daniel Donahue defeated United Independent Party candidate John Fresolo, and Democrat Natalie Higgins won her race for a Leominster House seat.

Republican Will Crocker defeated 21-year-old Democrat Aaron Kanzer for the open 2nd Barnstable District seat. Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings handily won reelection over Democratic challenger Randy Azzato in a nasty battle. (Cape Cod Times)

Former Hull selectman Joan Meschino won the race for the seat held by departed state representative Garrett Bradley. (Patriot Ledger)

Democrat Jack Lewis of Framingham used an overwhelming total in his hometown to capture the seat held by retiring state Rep. Tom Sannicandro of Ashland. (MetroWest Daily News)

Lynn Police Chief Kevin Coppinger wins Essex County sheriff’s race. (Gloucester Times)

In New Hampshire, Republican Chris Sununu is elected governor, defeating Democrat Colin Van Ostern. (Associated Press)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Paul Krugman is forecasting a global recession after Donald Trump’s victory. (New York Times)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Despite natural gas supply constraints, Eversource says its basic service price for electricity will fall 8 percent this winter. (CommonWealth)

CASINOS

Rhode Island voters statewide approved a casino in Tiverton but in that city on the Massachusetts border, where the question must pass in order for the casino to proceed, the referendum is leading by less than 300 votes with 800 mail-in ballots still to be counted. (Herald News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A state trooper was acquitted of motor vehicle manslaughter in the deaths of a mother and daughter from Carver in 2013 but the jury found him guilty of drunken driving and carrying a loaded weapon while intoxicated. (Patriot Ledger)

MEDIA

What we’ve learned about the media industry in this election. (New York Times)

Slate staffers disclose who they voted for: It was 59 for Hillary Clinton, one for 1 for Evan McMullin, and 1 for Jill Stein. None voted for Donald Trump.