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Sometimes, the hurricane goes back out to sea.
Sometimes, the bubble bursts.
Sometimes, the Cubs win.
Today has been a day of deserved exaltation and no little amount of amazement for the supporters of President-elect Donald Trump.
And whether you agree with them or not, be of good cheer. Their success is proof that the game is not rigged. Millions of Americans, working together for a common purpose, pulled off the most remarkable victory in American political history. A frontal assault on the system validated the core principles of the system itself.
But Trump’s opponents probably aren’t ready to hear that right now. The shock of the thing is probably too great to fade in a single day. But they got a good push in the right direction from former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and President Obama who spoke lovingly of the country, the Constitution and the peaceful transition power.
Also shocked today are the data deacons whose models and maps are in tatters today.
Americans want algorithmic certainty when it comes to things big and small. We once asked “How’s the weather?” Now we want hourly probabilities for rainfall at 4 o’clock. We want to wrap ourselves in a blanket of decimal points and probabilities against the unavoidable uncertainties of life.
As we have discussed before, the polls are usually right in the large sense. And they were this time. But in narrowest space, they are always wrong. Public opinion polls are good at catching trends or large differences. Inside the small spaces of a very tight election, error is a thing.
The average of the five final credible national polls said Clinton led Trump by 3.4 points. She won the popular vote by a third of a point. That 3.1 point difference is smaller than the 3.3 points we saw in 2012 but larger than the 1.3 points we saw in 2004.
So, kind of normal.
But the expectations were different this time.
First, self-promoting data providers sell the concept that no sparrow can fall in the electorate without their knowing. Good pollsters and statisticians don’t do this, but the arrogant and reckless ones tell you that their methods can deliver precision.
In the end, this is shooting skeet, not shooting targets at a rifle range. You are tracking a moving target and trying to catch it in your scattershot. Polls caught the clay pigeon but missed the bullseye.
Second, Trump’s opponents were desperately frightened of what his victory would mean and therefore put more faith in data than they might normally. The psychology of confidence is a remarkable thing. The more you need something to be true, the less willing you are to consider other possibilities. Confidence intervals for elevator cables and shark cages are probably higher than the data would support, too.
They call it “the unthinkable” for a reason. And for Democrats, this was certainly unthinkable.
Boastful data providers and desperate consumers in media and the broader electorate combined to create some very unrealistic expectations for prognostication, especially on the state level. Infrequent, small-sample state polls, often of dubious methodology, have spotty records as predictors.
And, as Democrats have been painfully reminded for a fourth time in American history – 1876, 1888, 2000 and now 2016 – we don’t select our presidents by the national popular vote. Trump broke through the Big Blue wall and won the states he needed.
So how did that happen?
Like the financial sector that long succored her career, Clinton got caught in a big short of her own.
Pollsters, prognosticators and Democratic partisans assumed that electorate would look mostly like 2012 and that Trump’s deficiencies with ethnic minorities and college-educated suburbanites would ultimately block his path.
It was assumed that Obama’s coalition was somewhat durable and partially heritable and that the 2008 election had been a re-aligning event. What Clinton found was something closer to the experiences of John Kerry and Al Gore.
After eight years spent talking about the need to expand the Republican electorate, the GOP is taking back the presidency by shrinking the electorate. Trump will win with fewer votes than Mitt Romney lost. And he might even end up with fewer votes than John McCain.
There was a dispute among Republicans about how to proceed out of the 2012 wilderness. The consensus formed around expanding outreach to suburbanites and ethnic minorities in a bid to breach the Obama coalitions in states like Virginia, Colorado and Nevada.
But the other proposal was to intensify the pursuit of blue-collar voters in the upper Midwest. And boy did they.
Trump flipped some small-town Rust Belt counties by as much as 20 points while black turnout declined and became slightly less Democratic. Take Michigan. Obama got 44 percent of the white vote there in 2016 while Clinton reeled in just 36 percent this time. Obama got 95 percent of the black vote, Clinton got 92 percent.
Republicans turned up the volume with working-class white voters and enough black voters stayed away to tip states that had been narrowly but consistently Democratic the other way.
What’s the result?
This is the fourth time since 1992 that one of the two parties has taken control of both houses of Congress and the White House.
Depending on what Republicans decide to do about the “nuclear option” in the Senate, we could be in for a very consequential couple of years. Outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid unwisely threatened to peel-back the supermajority vote threshold in the Senate if his party was returned to power. We may see the Republican Senate decide the time has come to extend simple-majority thresholds to all votes, not just judicial appointments. We may see our system change dramatically yet again.
Because as much as we can usually predict what comes next in politics and life, even though history usually seems to take forever, sometimes…
I’LL TELL YOU WHAT: AFTER-ACTION REPORT
How did Trump do it? What happened to the polls? What comes next for defeated Democrats? Who will Trump tap for his administration? What was said on set during the commercial breaks on Fox News’ election coverage? Glad you asked! Listen to this piping-hot new installment of the podcast that turned into a TV show: “Perino & Stirewalt: I’ll Tell You What.” LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.