Election Feature That 'Triggered' Dems Is Gone

America can say goodbye to 'the Needle'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 24, 2020 3:00 PM CDT
One Election Night Feature Is Now History
In this Friday Nov. 9, 2012 file photo, Nate Silver, statistician, unabashed numbers geek, author and creator of the much-read FiveThirtyEight blog at The New York Times, sits on the stairs at Allegro hotel in downtown Chicago.   (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

The one thing most likely to conjure nightmares of the 2016 election night for opponents of President Trump is the Needle, the AP reports. A graphic on the New York Times' website, the Needle measured in real time the probability of victory for Trump or Hillary Clinton as votes were counted. Its steady movement triggered anxiety for Clinton supporters, who repeatedly refreshed the page, and elation for Trump fans. The Needle won't be making a reappearance on Nov. 3, one change in the world of election probability gurus following the unexpected 2016 result. Nate Silver's influential FiveThirtyEight blog used a number, not a needle, for the same task four years ago but won't on election night 2020. Silver said the change wasn't prompted by any failures in 2016.

He said it had more to do with uncertainties created by the high volume of early voting this year. "I just think people need to be exceptionally careful," he said. At 8:02pm Eastern time on election night, the Needle pointed sharply to the left, and a "likely" Clinton win. It moved to the right as results came in. By 10pm, the pointer headed into the "toss-up" category and, less than two hours later, was "leaning Trump." You know how the story ended. In later mea culpas, pollsters noted they weren't far off in predicting Clinton's advantage in the popular vote. Crucial state polls in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin had been wrong, however, and that was enough for Trump to win the Electoral College. Nate Cohn of the Times later wrote, "We failed at explaining that an 85% chance is not 100%."

(More Election 2020 stories.)

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