As the 2016 election taught us all, probability is not certainty. Maybe those of us who love crunching numbers (I know, I’m an English teacher, but I was drawn more to math when I was younger because the assholes who were “teaching” me back then couldn’t mess with my grades when they had to be calculated objectively), and follow along with the websites and television talking heads that do the most in-depth analysis, just got used to the idea that those all-important percentages were all that mattered, and started thinking that whoever had more than a 50% probability of winning was all but guaranteed of victory. It seemed unfathomable to many of us that someone with only a 30% chance of winning — worse odds than rolling a one or a two on a six-sided die — would somehow beat the odds, even though we’d never blink if we got a one on that roll of the die.
I’ve certainly been paying far less attention to the “number nerds” heading into this election than I normally do, and not just because of all the personal and professional upheavals I’ve experienced this past year. From what I have read, even if there is a rough idea of what will happen when votes start being counted tomorrow night, all it would take is a hair’s breadth of a sway in either direction to throw the current models out of whack, and while I understand all the factors that are contributing to this state, just thinking about some of those factors is enough to make me physically ill. Judging by the conversations I’ve had with my students and co-workers and friends, I am far from alone in that regard.
Trying to extrapolate the likelihood of violence from the fears of violence expressed in that NPR poll would be folly, but there’s no getting around the fact that so many people are feeling a charge in the air for this election that just hasn’t been there in the past. The stakes have never felt higher for any midterm election I can remember, which would create enough tension in and of itself, but that doesn’t even take into account factors like extreme rhetoric and charges of election fraud. That last one may be the most important of all, because while it’s difficult enough for so many Americans to accept an election result that didn’t go their way, the possibility (which is starting to feel like a likelihood for many) of the other side winning only because of blatant cheating is exactly the kind of thing to create a spark that could ignite this powder keg of a country.
Just like it would be foolish to assume an election will turn out a certain way based solely on probability forecasts, it’s also a bad idea to predict that there will be violence on Tuesday night, or the days that follow, only because respondents to an NPR survey expressed their fear of that violence happening. However, it’s also unwise to look at everything that’s happening in America right now and not be concerned that there is, at the very least, a much higher possibility of violence in the aftermath of the coming election than we’ve had in most of our lifetimes. I don’t know how the election will turn out, and I have even less of an idea of what will happen in the days that follow, but what I can say, with almost complete certainty, is that America will continue being a very scary place to be.