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Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa

A Commentary by Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Well, what can we say — we blew it.

We thought the signs pointed to Hillary Clinton winning the White House. We thought that even if she lost Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio, her Midwestern “firewall” of states that not only had voted for Barack Obama twice, but hadn’t voted for a Republican since the 1980s, would hold for her. It didn’t — Trump blew a hole in what we dubbed “Fortress Obama.” Remarkably, this all happened while Clinton was winning Virginia by a larger margin than Obama did in 2012 and almost certainly winning the national popular vote.

Every two years, we put out an update after the election asking, “How did we do?” Well, let’s see:


Do we really have to get into it? OK, fine.

We wrongly insisted for months that Clinton was always leading the race and never put her below 270 electoral votes. As of this writing, Trump won 279 electoral votes to Clinton’s 228, according to NBC News projections. We missed the following Leans Democratic states: Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. We had Wisconsin as Likely Democratic, yet Trump also carried it. Two other Leans Democratic states — Michigan (where Trump leads) and New Hampshire (where Clinton leads) — remain uncalled, as well as Arizona, where Trump leads and we rated as Leans Republican.


Our big miss was Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R) reelection in Wisconsin (we had him as an underdog for more than a year). Additionally, we did not pick Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) to hold on — Toomey won a close race and Ayotte is narrowly trailing and may be headed to a recount in New Hampshire with Gov. Maggie Hassan (D). We picked a 50-50 Senate; it will be 52-48 or 53-47 Republican. We picked the other 31 races correctly with New Hampshire outstanding.


Remarkably, Trump rolled in West Virginia and Clinton dominated Vermont, yet both states elected governors from the other party, as predicted here. We missed Indiana’s open seat race, where Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) will replace Vice President-elect Mike Pence (R), as well as New Hampshire’s open-seat contest, where Executive Councilor Chris Sununu (R) narrowly defeated fellow Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern (D). Overall, we got nine of 11 right, with one remaining uncalled race in North Carolina — we picked state Attorney General Roy Cooper (D), who is slightly ahead.


Given the size of the Republican victory nationally, we overshot on a Democratic gain of 13 seats. Currently Democrats have netted six seats, according to Politico, and several races remain uncalled in California, where votes will trickle in over the next several weeks. We’ll update the final tally in the coming weeks.


We heard for months from many of you, saying that we were underestimating the size of a potential hidden Trump vote and his ability to win. We didn’t believe it, and we were wrong. The Crystal Ball is shattered. We’ll pick up the pieces starting next week as we try to unpack what happened in this election, where there was so much dramatic change from just four years ago.

We have a lot to learn, and we must make sure the Crystal Ball never has another year like this. This team expects more of itself, and we apologize to our readers for our errors.

Larry J. Sabato is the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Kyle Kondik is a Political Analyst at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Geoffrey Skelley is the Associate Editor at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

See Other Political Commentary by Larry J. Sabato.

See Other Political Commentary by Kyle Kondik.

See Other Political Commentary by Geoffrey Skelley.

See Other Political Commentary.

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