Trump’s victory ‘one of the biggest political upsets in history’

After a con­tentious and polar­izing pres­i­den­tial race, Repub­lican Donald J. Trump defied the odds and the polls and surged to vic­tory over Demo­crat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 elec­tion on Tuesday. It’s an out­come William Crotty, pro­fessor emer­itus of polit­ical sci­ence at North­eastern, called “one of the biggest polit­ical upsets in history.”

He has no expe­ri­ence, and he oper­ates on impulse and one-man rule,” said Crotty, an expert on Amer­ican polit­ical par­ties and elec­tions. “Yet his strength was that he com­mu­ni­cated that he was against the polit­ical estab­lish­ment and he was the agent of change, and he did it in a very angry way. Clearly it took hold.”

Elec­tion Day drama

Elec­tion Day trans­formed into a wild elec­tion night, as throughout the evening momentum swung dra­mat­i­cally in Trump’s favor as he col­lected key bat­tle­ground states including Florida and Ohio. His path to vic­tory widened, and news out­lets began calling the elec­tion for Trump shortly after 2:30 a.m. He began his vic­tory speech by con­grat­u­lating Clinton on a hard fought cam­paign and then turning his atten­tion to bringing the country together—a country deeply divided in this election.

Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of divi­sion,” Trump said, pledging to be “pres­i­dent for all Americans.”

This was an elec­tion Clinton should’ve won, Crotty said. On one hand her oppo­nent, Trump, “is igno­rant of policy issues” and led a cam­paign filled with insults, he said. And despite the pri­vate email server scandal, Crotty said Clinton had detailed policy pro­posals and was a com­mitted, tough can­di­date. But, he noted, “the idea of change and reacting to what you see in the elec­torate is not one of her strengths.”

His strength was that he com­mu­ni­cated that he was against the polit­ical estab­lish­ment and he was the agent of change, and he did it in a very angry way. Clearly it took hold.
— William Crotty, on Donald Trump

‘A mys­ti­fying failure of polling’

Still, the election’s out­come was a “sig­nif­i­cant sur­prise” given polling leading up to Elec­tion Day, said Nick Beauchamp, assis­tant pro­fessor of polit­ical sci­ence. “Most pre­dic­tive models gave Clinton a very high prob­a­bility to win, and of course all were about equally wrong in that,” he said.

On the one hand, this is a mys­ti­fying failure of polling that will be occu­pying polit­ical sci­en­tists for some time to come,” said Beauchamp, a core fac­ulty member of the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Net­works, Northeastern’s center for dig­ital human­i­ties and com­pu­ta­tional social sci­ence. “On the other hand, it will sound familiar to many. In addi­tion to the infa­mous Brexit polling failure, the 2015 U.K. gen­eral elec­tion polls also erred in under­es­ti­mating the true con­ser­v­a­tive vote, and in the 2014 U.S. midterm elec­tions, many of the Senate polls mis­tak­enly under­es­ti­mated the Repub­lican vote by four or more points.”

Beauchamp said much more still needs to be under­stood, though he noted the­o­ries such as prob­lems with polling tech­nology and voters’ will­ing­ness to respond to polls. “What­ever the cause, though, clearly we need to fix this major problem with polling as soon as pos­sible to avoid these sorts of sur­prises in the future,” he said.

Crotty offered his own analysis on the turn­around from poll pro­jec­tions to elec­tion night results: the news that broke Friday night that the FBI would review new emails related to the inves­ti­ga­tion into Clinton’s use of a pri­vate email server. Crotty said Clinton had been ham­mered on this throughout the race, and this late devel­op­ment “worked nicely for the Trump campaign.”

Con­gres­sional races

Repub­li­cans also retained con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and Senate on elec­tion night. Beauchamp said this out­come along with Trump’s pres­i­dency mean that Repub­li­cans should now have four years of fairly unob­structed policy-making.

So those who have been wishing for less grid­lock in Wash­ington may get their wish, for some time to come,” he said.


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