It’s always hazardous to try and predict what’s going to happen in politics. Every election cycle is filled with bad calls and questionable prognostications that end up looking downright silly months later. But this cycle has been uniquely disastrous on this front, because the worst presidential election predictions of 2016 weren’t the exception this time around; they were the rule.
It wasn’t just poorly-informed pundits or bloggers who screwed up; very respected election forecasters also dropped the ball this cycle, and did so repeatedly. The bad guessing wasn’t confined to journalists, either: For the better part of a year, political consultants, strategists, and even the candidates themselves all failed to foresee where this primary was going.
The point isn’t that these people deserve to be shamed or embarrassed. Everyone makes mistakes. The point is that occasionally, something happens in an election that even very smart people who follow and analyze politics for a living can’t foresee. Nobody could predict Donald Trump’s shocking success in the Republican primary, and that was largely because the sentiments of Republican voters themselves were poorly assessed by just about everyone.
In the name of learning from our mistakes, let’s take a look at 9 worst predictions from the 2016 primary.
1. Jeb Bush Will Benefit From Donald Trump
“In addition to the fact that Trump poses no threat to actually win the Republican nomination, the purported billionaire helpfully sucks up all the media oxygen so none of Bush's potentially more dangerous rivals can get any attention. Trump also presents a wonderful contrast for Bush — making him look tolerant, professional, and adult.
If Trump keeps catching fire, GOP insiders will break the emergency glass so he'll be extinguished. And that would be great news for the current leading alternative to Trump — Jeb Bush.”
—Andrew Prokop, 07/14/15
2. Republicans Will Like Marco Rubio Because He’s Hispanic
“Democrats tend to see the Hispanic vote as rightfully theirs, but that proposition has never been tested by a Hispanic presidential candidate. A lot of Republican primary voters interested in broadening the party’s base would like to see Rubio try."
—Zev Chafets, 05/20/15
3. Donald Trump Won’t Win, Guaranteed
“I can guarantee you Donald Trump is not going to be the nominee.”
—Jeb Bush, 12/09/15
4. Joe Biden Will Run For President, And Here’s How
“Prediction: Biden will announce [his presidential campaign] on September 7 after marching with cheering crowds in annual Wilmington AFL-CIO Labor Day parade.”
—Bill Kristol, 08/23/15
5. Donald Trump Can’t Win With Such A Small Plurality
“Yes, Trump leads all the national polls, and he keeps busting through what look like ceilings. But...he doesn’t lead in Iowa, and his ceiling there looks very stable: He’s been hovering around 25 percent since September, and he’s never broken 30 percent ... There is no credible scenario in which a consistent 30 percent of the vote will deliver the delegates required to be the Republican nominee.”
—Ross Douthat, 01/07/16
6. Scott Walker Will Win, Because Republicans Don’t Want Anger
“[Scott Walker] does not need to shout to get his point across like Trump or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Although both Trump and Christie’s style has its share of fans, it is an act that wears thin over time. Who wants to spend the next four years being yelled at by Trump, Christie or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton?
This isn’t to say that passion doesn’t have a place in politics or there aren’t occasions which warrant righteous anger. But there is a time and a place for such passion and righteous anger and Walker understands this as a matter of basic common sense.”
—Aaron Goldstein, 07/13/15
7. Marco Rubio Will Win His Home State
“We are going to win Florida. Period. Take it to the bank.”
—Rubio's strategist Todd Harris, 02/25/16. Rubio ultimately came in fourth place in the Florida primary.
8. Donald Trump Will Inevitably Collapse At Some Point
“The recent polling surge by Donald Trump has launched a thousand stories about Trump’s ‘unprecedented campaign.’ But it’s nothing all that unusual: Similar surges occurred for almost every Republican candidate four years ago, including Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich (twice).
History’s lesson isn’t necessarily that Trump’s candidacy will go bust tomorrow...The lesson, rather, is that Trump’s campaign will fail by one means or another. Like Cain, Bachmann and Gingrich, Buchanan, Huckabee and Forbes came nowhere close to winning the Republican nomination. If you want absurd specificity, I recently estimated Trump’s chance of becoming the GOP nominee at 2 percent.”
—Nate Silver, 08/16/15
9. Marco Rubio Is The Secret Frontrunner, Polls Bedamned
“In spite of what the polls at the moment say, which is that Trump and Carson are way out in front of Rubio, virtually everyone on the GOP side with political experience who does not have an axe to grind or ratings to boost will tell you, off the record, that they expect Rubio to win.
Whenever people are asked to put their actual money where their mouth is – either in terms of deciding the direction of a multi-million dollar campaign strategy or participating in the prediction markets, they are overwhelmingly putting it on Rubio. Which is a pretty good indicator of who the actual front runner in this campaign is right now.”
—Leon H. Wolf, 11/16/15
So there you have it, folks — proof that basically nobody (including professional political analysts) could predict the unexpected outcome of this year's presidential election. Perhaps if they could have seen Trump's eventual rise earlier in the election cycle they could have done more to stop him.