Those who’ve played the game even for a short while -- and who’ve paid attention enough to absorb some of the odds and probabilities and learn what is likely and what is not -- become accustomed to surprises. You know, kings cracking aces, the occasional one- or two-outer showing up on the river, or various runner-runner revelations that can make improbable winners of all-but-certain losers.
Of course, even when in possession of this knowledge, we still experience a certain level of surprise when such things happen. If we’re human, that is. Experiencing such emotion is part of what helps keep the game interesting to a lot of us. After all, in our “normal,” day-to-day lives, we rarely experience surprises, and indeed often try to map out our activities so as to avoid them.
Regardless of who you supported, the result of last night’s presidential election was more than likely not what you expected to happen.
Watching the coverage play out starting during the early evening when the first polls closed on the east coast, all the reporting emphasized the high likelihood of Hillary Clinton winning. In fact more than one outlet used a poker metaphor to describe Donald Trump’s needing to win several states in which Clinton was favored, saying his position was like “drawing to an inside straight.”
A couple of hours in, though, just after nine o’clock ET when another round of states’ polls closed and more projections and calls were delivered, the situation suddenly swung the other way. For Trump supporters, it was a delirously exciting 20-25 minutes or so; for those backing Clinton, it was a nightmarish sequence, occurring rapidly enough to make it hard to grasp fully the implications of what was happening.
The betting markets were slightly ahead of the game with their numbers last night. My friend Rich Ryan was tweeting out Pinnacle’s lines on a regular basis all night. Actually he’d been doing it for a week, with “HRC” the big favorite, climbing as high as -780 as things got going last night. In the space of an hour that figure dropped to -124, then after lingering there a while the sucker flipped to show “Trump/Other” at -122. An hour later Trump was up as high as Clinton had been, and by shortly after 11 p.m. here it already seemed all but certain there was no way Trump would lose.
I had CNN on, and sure enough Jake Tapper was revisiting that poker analogy not long after the flip had occurred. Recalling the earlier reference to Trump’s seemingly slim chances, he noted how the situation had been changed to Clinton being the one drawing not just to an inside straight, but to an inside straight flush, suggesting the need for a one-outer rather than a four-outer. (Am still hunting down the exact quote -- when I find it I’ll include it here.)
I was mentioning yesterday Nate Silver’s much-cited election forecast. He’d famously predicted 49 of 50 states plus D.C. correctly eight years ago, then got all 50 of them right along with D.C. in 2012. This time he (or his models) whiffed on five key states -- Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan -- all of which he had going Clinton’s way, and all of which Trump won.
Signing off from the coverage over on FiveThirtyEight last night, Silver actually wrote he wasn’t surprised by the outcome given that the polling had indicating the possibility of a competitive race. But he also admitted that “in a broader sense... it’s the most shocking political development of my lifetime.”
Yesterday I also brought up the analogy of picking NFL games, bringing up again that Pigskin Pick’em contest I’ve enjoyed over the last several years. Sometimes when writing about the contest I’ve alluded to those “Win Probability” graphs and how wild they sometimes appear in games that end with unlikely finishes where one team snatches victory away from the other following a final, surprising twist (or two or three).
The graph tracking last night’s developments was similarly dizzying. Just below is the one from The New York Times, which is pretty much identical to the ones created by other outlets overnight:
The reasons both for Trump’s win and for the failure of so many to see it coming are going to be discussed for some time. I have my own ideas, though don’t necessarily want to try to sort them out here just yet.
When a poker hand or football game gets all twisted around at the end, it’s usually easy enough to isolate the card(s) or play(s) that caused the outcome. This one is a lot more complicated, though still can be explained.
All of that effort will have the effect of lessening the shock of experiencing that head-spinning half-hour last night. When the blue and red graph lines unexpectedly dived upon one another, crossing paths in a sudden rush that literally turned the story they were telling upside down.
I mean, really... whatta river.