Larry Sabato, Crystal Ball “blew it” on election

Outcome stuns polling groups, media outlets who got it wrong

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Sabato’s Crystal Ball provides analysis and predictions for presidential, Senate, House and gubernatorial elections.

Courtesy University of Virginia Center for Politics

“Well, what can we say — we blew it,” Politics Prof. Larry Sabato and other contributors said in a post on the University Center for Politics’ Crystal Ball website Nov. 9.

In an election outcome that shocked many media outlets and polling organizations, the Center for Politics was quick to respond to the results and what they meant about its coverage over the course of the past 18 months.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball provides analysis and predictions for presidential, Senate, House and gubernatorial elections.

All three contributors of the statement — Sabato, who is editor-in-chief of the Crystal Ball, Managing Editor Kyle Kondik and Associate Editor Geoffrey Skelley — discussed their incorrect prediction that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would defeat Republican Donald Trump in the presidential race.

“We wrongly insisted for months that Clinton was always leading the race and never put her below 270 electoral votes,” the post read. “As of this writing, Trump won 279 electoral votes to Clinton’s 228, according to NBC News projections.”

The team acknowledged they did not foresee the state turnovers that would occur for now President-elect Trump. This included the states Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania — all of which had been viewed as leaning Democratic. However, there were other states that the organization had as much better strongholds for Clinton.

“We had Wisconsin as ‘Likely Democratic,’ yet Trump also carried it,” the post read. “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.’”

Skelley said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily that this kind of posting is something the Crystal Ball always does, and that this was no exception in their practice.

“We always post an immediate review of how our picks went,” Skelley said. “This year we missed, and we were wrong. We weren't going to hide from that, because it was pretty obvious. We were just trying to be transparent about it.”

The goal of the post-election post was to urge the followers and readers of the political group to not feel betrayed by the Center’s inaccurate predictions.

“It is an academic institution, and one that prides itself on accuracy and presenting our readers, whether here or around the country, with the best possible analysis of what is happening in American politics,” Skelley said. “We felt like we needed to apologize to our readers because they may have felt like we mislead them which we did mislead them.”

Despite the public apology by the Center for Politics, some other political experts said the election results should not have been as big of a surprise as many people have called it to be.

One reason the results might not surprising is because polling is not as accurate as some people believe, Politics lecturer Carah Ong-Whaley said.

“There can be very low response rates, and pollsters try to make that up by weighting opinion. They are trying to make up for low responses,” Ong-Whaley said. “[By doing this,] you could end up overweighting certain demographics or underweighting other demographic groups.”

Cell phones and online polls have furthered the problem with relying on election predictions. Cell phones have made people more mobile, and a phone number may not match the geographic areas where the owner actually resides. In addition, online polls can be biased to certain voters.

The Crystal Ball’s contributors acknowledged they have a lot to learn from this election.

“The Crystal Ball is shattered,” the post read. “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.”

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