Some didn't. No doubt they're feeling smug as others flail around in horror. But for the bulk of "us", the commentariat people spanning the academic pundits specialising in voting behaviour, the professional commentators paid for their opinion-forming opinions, and neither forgetting those weirdos who write about politics because they want to, Tuesday represented a unanimity of failure. That so few called it for Trump goes beyond bad analysis: it's a social phenomenon. How then did everyone get it wrong?
Well, for starters, we didn't. We were wrong, and yet we were right too. Not only did Hillary Clinton win the popular vote, she might surpass Trump's tally by some two million once all the ballots are counted. So yes, all the analyses were right that the GOP wouldn't out poll the Democrats - and the size of that margin could give Trump added extra legitimacy problems later on. Yet, despite knowing about the electoral college, too many of us treated the contest as if it was a simple popularity contest. The vagaries of this anti-democratic and archaic stitch-up system were rarely factored in.
The second point was polling. Most people writing about American politics, including Americans writing about politics, are removed from the action on the ground. You have to take what passes as evidence as your guide. And that, traditionally, has been opinion polling. While they were a bit all over the place, they favoured a Clinton outcome as per the final vote tally. Yet they also posted clear leads in the crucial battleground states, including Wisconsin where not a single poll put Trump on top. In Britain, the experience of the 2015 general election and Brexit should, by now, have taught us to treat polling with caution. On each occasion, they've been able to pick up movements in opinion but not the actual figures. Sucks to be them, sucks to be fooled by them.
And then there are the demographics. Asked about it in the lead up, like many others I couldn't see how Trump might win with such a coalition arrayed against him. Surely the bulk vote of America's ethnic and sexual minorities, allied to a sizeable chunk of white people would be enough to bury his chances? As we know, they weren't. The white middle class and well-to-do base of the GOP turned out in the states Trump needed them to turn out in, while the Democrat vote deflated. All the stars aligned for a Clinton win, and without anything else intervening we went with that.
Lastly, there's a strange sort of groupthink. In my bones, I felt we weren't going to win the general election, that Leave would put us on course for exiting the EU, and Trump was set to come out on top. But I ignored it, took Tony Blair's advice and had a heart transplant, substituting emotion for the cool analysis of hard numbers. This, however, was a conceit. The fear of the alternatives engendered a herd wisdom that appeared to have a close relationship to the simulated results of polling and extrapolations of demographics, but this was coincidental. In truth, commentators hostile to Trump right across the spectrum of opinion fooled themselves into think that he couldn't win because, well, he just couldn't. In the same way Britain just wouldn't leave the EU, how Labour wouldn't vote for Jeremy Corbyn (twice), how the Conservatives wouldn't be victorious in 2015. Being wedded to the established way of doing things, whether cheerleader or critic, meant projecting its assumptions onto a wider electorate. They couldn't possibly support ....
How to prevent this from happening again? Going in the opposite direction and forecasting doom and gloom is not an answer. Treating polling data more critically is the easy thing. Keeping a sociological imagination is necessary but not sufficient. One has to be alive to the play of tendencies and counter tendencies, their strength and weaknesses. But most importantly, and more difficult more difficult to accomplish is sustained self-criticism combined with the checking and rechecking of one's underlying assumptions, including acknowledging and allowing for your stakes in a issue and how that might colour your findings. It's not just fresh thinking that's needed now, but critical thinking and intellectual honesty. If that can be managed, then fewer in may be blindsided by so-called freak events in future.