No doubt about it, most mainstream pollsters thought the vote totals that rolled in during Election Night 2016 were intriguing, then stunning and, as dawn approached, almost unimaginable.
How did the chattering-class insiders miss what was clearly widespread heartland support for New York billionaire Donald Trump?
But there was one surprise left in the details of the early exit polls. In a race packed with soap-opera conflict and fiery rhetoric about personal ethics, morality and even faith, the experts looked at the role that religion played in 2016 and discovered -- to their shock -- that it was a rather normal modern election year.
"Actually, that's astonishing news," said Gregory A. Smith, who helps coordinate religion polling at the Pew Research Center. "If you consider all of the tumultuous events during this election year and how much tension there has been and all of the other stuff that's been up in the air, it's amazing that things were so steady" in terms of religion and voting, with "only a few numbers up or down a bit.
"Religious groups that have consistently supported the Republicans gave every indication they would back Donald Trump and that's how things turned out. The religious groups that traditionally back Democrats did so, but the turnout was down a bit. The religious groups that are usually divided were divided."
The so-called "God gap" (also known as the "pew gap") held steady, with religious believers who claimed weekly worship attendance backing Trump over Hillary Clinton, 56 percent to 40 percent. Voters who said they never attend religious services backed Clinton by a 31-point margin, 62 percent to 31 percent.
As always, headlines focused on white evangelical Protestants and early exit polls showed that 81 percent of them voted either to support the thrive-married and often profane Trump or to oppose Hillary Clinton. Earlier Pew Research Center polling found that 51 percent of white evangelicals who said that they would vote for Trump indicated that they were actually taking a stand against Clinton.
Smith said learning how many evangelicals actually supported Trump -- including Hispanics and African-Americans -- is a question many hope to answer with future waves of exit-poll numbers. Trump's support from white evangelicals wasn't all that unusual in comparison with the three previous White House races, in which white evangelicals backed GOP candidates to the tune of 78, 74 and 78 percent.
Meanwhile, white Catholics supported Trump by a 23-point margin -- 60 percent to 37 percent -- compared with Mitt Romney's 19-point victory in that crucial swing-vote niche. Hispanic Catholics supported Clinton by a 41-point margin, 67 percent to 26 percent.
Clinton also drew overwhelming support from the growing coalition of Americans who are religious liberals, unbelievers or among the so-called "nones," people with no ties to any religious tradition. In the end, nearly 70 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans voted for Clinton, compared with 26 percent for Trump.
The percentage of religiously unaffiliated Americans continues to rise in the population, especially among young adults, said Smith. However, pollsters are curious whether higher numbers of young "nones" will eventually begin voting. There was early evidence that "nones" voted in higher numbers in Democratic primaries, supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders, than in the general election.
"What we have here is a large group of potential voters," he said. "We have to see if they turn into actual voters."
Clearly, this coalition of unbelievers and "nones" has become a major force in Democratic Party life, said John Green of the University of Akron, a veteran researcher on faith and public life. Pollsters will be searching in the deeper pools of unreleased exit-poll numbers to see if that reality is affecting the party's historically broad coalition.
For example, asked Green, it's logical to ask if a "drift to the left on cultural issues" -- especially conflicts affecting religious liberty -- caused tensions with working-class Catholic voters in pivotal "Rust Belt" states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
"A Democratic Party that heavily depends on unreligious voters for support may find it harder and harder to run campaigns that appeal to constituency groups in the party that are intensely religious," he said. "That would include working-class Catholics, but there eventually could be tensions with evangelical Hispanics, with African-American churches and others. We will see."