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I Was Wrong About The U.S. Election

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Donald Trump shakes hands with Hillary Clinton at the conclusion of their first presidential debate (Photo: Reuters file photo)

I was wrong.

Though I'm sure there are quite a few other nouns that could be used to describe it, let's stick with 'wrong' and whatever adjective one feels appropriate to describe my column here of five months ago where I said there was no way Trump could win.

Turns out that it is possible to win the U.S. presidency with a 'focus on getting whites to the polls strategy.'

I've been mulling over why I was so wrong, besides the obvious answer generously offered by so many that I'm a nincompoop. (Yes, though eating crow -- a lot of crow -- there is still a sense of humour).

A couple of observations.

We had scientific polling by experts, we had focus groups by professionals, we had data. We spoke with equal measures of certainty and arrogance. And we were, I was, wrong.

First, those of us in the think tank business rely on data and analysis and both either let us down or we were too complacent in challenging our epistemology of the data point. We had scientific polling by experts, we had focus groups by professionals, we had data. We spoke with equal measures of certainty and arrogance.

And we were, I was, wrong.

My analysis was largely based on demographics; that rising numbers of African Americans, Latinos, college educated and others meant that you could not win without getting a significant number of those voters. This was the analysis of the Republican party after the 2012 election.

In its Growth and Opportunity Project (GOP), elements of the party laid out a vision for winning in 2016 based on a post mortem of what went wrong in 2012. The conclusion was to widen the tent, attract Latinos, push immigration reform, make a serious effort to reach out to non-traditional republicans. In essence to go with, not against, the U.S. demographic shift.

When Trump blew up the GOP's GOP it appeared that the game was over for the GOP.

It also appeared that way too many elements within the Republican party as evinced by the attempts to try and suppress turnout among African Americans, Latinos and other growing, democratic-leaning demographics.

Clinton... offered competence and an impressive CV. She probably would have been a good president, boring but solid. But that was just not enough to motivate enough people to come out for her.

Turns out that these efforts were not necessary.

The democrats, by putting forward Hillary Clinton, did a far better job of suppressing the votes they needed to win than the republicans ever could have hoped to do with draconian voter id laws and other measures.


And this leads to the major observation about this election.

More people voted for something than those who voted against something.

This is something that I knew as an old adage but missed or dismissed with this election. One might not like what Trump stood for, but a lot of people did, enough for him to become president. He had a vision that compelled people to come out, in record numbers, just as Obama's vision had done eight years earlier.

Clinton, on the other hand, offered competence and an impressive CV. She probably would have been a good president, boring but solid. But that was just not enough to motivate enough people to come out for her.

Couple of other points.

The Supreme Court never struck me as an issue during the campaign. I do not recall seeing much news coverage or time devoted to it on the network talk shows. But I did hear it mentioned by thoughtful friends who were voting for Trump. The future of the court seems to have motivated some on the right but not the left?

Progressives in the U.S. now face not just the spectre of four to eight years of Donald Trump and a GOP house and Senate, but beyond this they face decades, generations perhaps, of a very conservative Supreme Court.

So Bernie Sanders could win the next election and the one after that but you'll still have a Trump Supreme Court. I wonder if the realization of that reality would have made a difference in this election?

With so many analysts and pollsters getting it so horribly wrong, we need a major rethink of how we do our analysis

I do hope the victors are kind. That the country is divided is an understatement. Many especially African Americans are fearful of the Alt-Right and white nationalist undertones that they heard in the campaign. Whether Trump realizes those worries or follows through on his promise to be the best president that African Americans have ever had remains to be seen.

I am not saying that to give Trump credit nor am I saying it to give African Americans false hope. It's just that with Trump one can never discount any possibility no matter how counter-intuitive, remote or what the data points say. I made that mistake once and will not make it again.

Last point, with so many analysts and pollsters getting it so horribly wrong, we need a major rethink of how we do our analysis. I will continue to write and speak on these issues, with a great deal more humility. But I really do hope the media, especially the media in the U.S. meaning The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, PBS and others find a new crop of analysts and talking heads.

But, yes, I was wrong.

Wasn't the first time and won't be the last, but it's the biggest to date.

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