Who are the world’s great electoral expectation confounders?
1. Doug Jones versus Roy Moore
This Tuesday, the people of Alabama voted for their first Democratic Senator in over two decades. The campaign was dominated by controversy, with the BBC reporting that the Republican candidate Roy Moore had been accused of molesting young teenagers. Despite the accusations, the expectation was that in this deep red state, the Republicans would pull through, but in the end, the Democratic candidate Doug Jones won a plurality of the votes, turning the state blue for the first time in many years.
2. Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton
Trump’s victory at the tail-end of last year is certainly one of the biggest electoral upsets of modern times. Confounding critics and even Republican allies, Trump defeated Clinton on a wave of anti-establishment and populist rhetoric to become America’s 45th president. And this was after a Republican primary campaign where it was expected he would not win.
3. Emmanuel Macron
What’s not surprising about Macron’s political journey is that he defeated Marine Le Pen in the final round of France’s presidential election. Chances are all the other candidates would have done just the same. The big upset was getting to that position in the first place. The former Socialist government minister built a movement of support to win the first round, relegating the Republican and Socialist candidates to third and fifth place respectively. On top of that, two months later his En Marche! party secured a parliamentary majority, something which would have seemed impossible event months before.
4. Paul Wellstone
Who? Wellstone was an academic from Minnesota, who in 1990 came from nowhere to take a Senate seat from the Republicans. He was a member of the Democratic Farmer-Labor-Party and held the seat until his tragic death in 2002. According to the New York Times, despite being significantly outspent and outmatched, Wellstone’s “everyman” campaign turned him into a Senator.
Wellstone’s Republican predecessor had won the seat with 58% of the vote in 1984.
5. Alex Salmond and the SNP
After four years ruling as a minority administration, the SNP faced a new election in 2011. At the start of the contest, Labour led in the polls, with many commentators resultantly expecting a return to Labour rule, but the polls soon narrowed, and the SNP did the impossible. Scotland’s uses Additional Member Voting System, which results in a loosely proportional outcome. In the end, the SNP won almost half the vote, and subsequently secured a slim majority of the seats available, something previously claimed to have been an impossible task. This result shocked the entire country and was deeply consequential as it allowed the SNP to push forward with their plans for an independence referendum.
6. Truman versus Dewey
In 1948, after sixteen long years of Democratic rule – first by FDR then Harry Truman – it was widely expected that America was ready for change. In one of the biggest upsets in US presidential history, Truman emerged with 303 electoral college votes to Thomas E. Dewey’s 189. Storm Thurmond of the Dixiecrats secured 39 votes from four southern states.
7. Britain's snap election
Before Theresa May called for a snap election in April this year, her party was riding high in the polls. Jeremy Corbyn looked ineffective and weak, but as the campaign went on, the Conservatives U-turned, and Corbyn and his policies were heard by the country, Conservative support fell. Still, on the eve of poll very few commentators were predicting anything other than a moderate-large Tory majority.
Instead, Labour’s support rose by almost ten percentage points and the Conservatives lost their majority.
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