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Features – FiveThirtyEight

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight uses statistical analysis — hard numbers — to tell compelling stories about politics, sports, science, economics and culture.

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The 2010s Were A Complicated Decade For Democrats And White Voters

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-10 19:40

There’s an aphorism I like, that we are entirely new people from one day to the next, let alone a year or a decade. Whether, say, a novelist writes their critical scene on Tuesday or Wednesday could make a world of difference. Our minds change by absorbing images and things people say. We float back and forth between what choices are best — the human race wears a shade of gray most of the time.

That piece of wisdom has come to top of mind lately as I cover the 2020 presidential race. The beginning of this decade was also the still-early days of the tenure of America’s first black president. Barack Obama’s victory was made possible in large part by winning the Iowa caucuses; by clinching an early victory in the lily white state, his campaign proved to the rest of the party, and to black voters in particular, that white America was ready to vote for a black man. The decade is ending as a Democratic presidential primary begins, and though the field has been historically diverse, the contest looks more and more likely to produce a white nominee. Democrats seem to have changed their minds about something in the last decade. They absorbed new words and images (often pretty ugly ones) that made them think the country isn’t in the place to have a person of color in the White House. (Or at least none running in 2020.)

In the summer of 2017, seven months after President Trump was sworn into office, I wrote about something I’d observed among Democrats since his election. While there was talk about promoting candidates that share the life experiences of the voters of color who anchor the Democratic base, the politicians who were actually seeing real momentum were youngish white men. Among the rising stars that I singled out was the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, who had made waves with his run for DNC chair in the months following Trump’s election. There seemed to be two distinct sides to the debate over how to win back the presidency: appeal to whites who voted for Obama and later Trump, or turn out those who stayed home in 2016, namely black voters. The former strategy seemed to be winning out, given the “safeness” of the young male candidates. They had fashioned themselves rhetorically after Obama, but their whiteness made them inherently less threatening to Trump voters. For what it’s worth, black turnout in the 2018 midterm elections was up 11 points from where it was in the 2014 midterms.

Two years later, it strikes me that Democrats are in the midst of an even deeper moment of preoccupation with white America. The party’s voters have expressed a preference for the most “electable” candidate, which has become a euphemism for a moderate who could win back Obama-Trump voters, many of whom are white. And you can see why.

Wisconsin, the tipping point state in the 2016 election, is 86 percent white. Whites make up over 76 percent of the country’s total population. And the Democratic Party bled white voters during the Obama years: In 2007, Pew Research found that whites were just as likely to identity as Democrats as they were to identify as Republicans. By 2010, a year into Obama’s tenure, whites were 12 points more likely to call themselves Republicans. The inflection point is hard to miss. Democrats have looked to states with large minority populations like Georgia and Arizona as a way to change their Electoral College fortunes, but forging a new path is never a sure bet; the old “blue wall” states filled with white voters must seem within grasp to many Democrats, if only they could find the right candidate with the right kind of campaign.

Sen. Kamala Harris was not that candidate and did not have that campaign. Her exit from the race last week was met with some surprise; in the wake of her announcement, Sen. Cory Booker and Julián Castro, imperiled but still in the running, raised the alarm about the potential for an all-white field.

In other words, it’s been another moment to talk about electability and who the best candidate to beat Trump might be. The good feelings about diversity and social progress that the initial field evoked — more women than ever before, more nonwhite faces — have soured. Candidates of color have struggled in the field, including with voters of color. Perhaps that’s because Democrats are worried that candidates of color might put off white swing voters.

And yet, as New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie pointed out last week, there has been a narrative that “wokeness” — often pejoratively used these days to mean an excessive focus on political correctness — rules the roost of the Democratic electorate. Candidates of color, with their very presence, seem to evoke this sentiment. By Bouie’s judgement, though, the “wokest” candidates have left the race (Sen Kirsten Gillibrand, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, now Harris) and the left-leaning Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders focus their progressivism on economic justice rather than social justice.

That the woke narrative has taken hold is unsurprising, though. First and foremost, there has been an actual movement of activists on the left seeking to shove the party to align with more progressive values on race, immigration and all manner of social reform. But there’s perhaps another reason for all the attention paid to wokeness, and it might have to do with another shifting political aspect of white identity: the increasingly leftward tilt of college-educated whites. And not just any college-educated whites — the ones that dominate the media.

A year into the primary race is as good a point as any to pause and reflect on the surprise we in the media have seemed to express about the strong showings of moderates like former Vice President Biden and Buttigieg. The media was prepped for a new kind of candidate — a woman or a person of color perhaps — but Democratic voters seem consistently behind white men. (Though Warren has seen her own strong showing at times in the race.)

Perhaps that’s because the media is so white — and so well educated. In 2018, Pew Research found that 77 percent of newsroom employees across newspapers and digital outlets were white. The overwhelmingly white industry is also largely college educated (though poorly paid).

If we use education as a proxy for social class (even though class is far more complicated than that), white Americans are in the midst of a radical political realignment along class lines. The conventional wisdom for much of the 20th century was that whites with a college education were more apt to vote Republican, and whites without a college education were more apt to be Democrats. But things have changed. Pew Research surveys show that as recently as 2009, white voters with a high school degree or less were evenly divided between Democratic and Republican affiliation. But in 2017, that same group was 58 percent Republican, 35 percent Democratic.

That realignment is discussed in “Identity Crisis,” John Sides, Michael Tesler and Lynn Vavrek’s book about the 2016 election. In it, they talk about the shifts of white America and argue it was informed by a greater awareness of the Democratic and Republican parties’ views on race. Trump’s campaign, which centered around nationalistic immigration views, only helped accelerate white Americans’ ideas of which party their views on race fit into. Pew Research shows that in the past decade, white Democrats are far more likely to call themselves liberal than black Democrats, and that whites in general have rapidly gotten more liberal on issues of race. They got woke, in the non-pejorative, original sense of the phrase: They were awakened to the way racial disparities play out in American life.

Add all these factors together, and the media’s surprise at the prominence of moderate white candidates in the race seems to make more sense; the changing world views of college-educated whites hold outsized sway because they occupy positions of power.

The 2020 Democratic primary won’t be the end of voters’ and the media’s preoccupation with what appeals to white Americans. The shifting racial consciousness of white Americans will perhaps dominate the next couple of decades of American political life. This may not be the 2020 primary that many in the Democratic establishment wanted, but it is the one that their voters have presented them with. A lot has changed since 2008.


Where Americans Stand On The Democrats’ Impeachment Charges

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-10 18:13

After months of investigation and public testimony, the impeachment train has officially left the station. On Tuesday, Democrats introduced two articles of impeachment against President Trump: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. And the House Judiciary Committee is now expected to vote on the charges against Trump later this week.

It’s clear from the charges that Democrats have adopted a relatively focused approach to impeachment. Rather than expanding their inquiry to fold in additional allegations from the Mueller report, like obstruction of justice, as some Democrats pushed for, both articles of impeachment specifically revolve around Trump’s conduct in the Ukraine scandal.

And even those charges were narrower than many had anticipated. Democrats, for instance, didn’t opt for a separate article of impeachment on bribery. Instead, they have decided to zoom in on the question of whether Trump abused his power by acting in a way that damaged national security, undermined the integrity of the next election, and violated his oath of office by pressuring Ukraine’s government to open an investigation into the Bidens. They’re also contending that his total refusal to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry constitutes an impeachable offense, arguing that he placed himself above the rule of law and violated the constitutional separation of powers by blocking key witnesses from testifying.

So where do Americans stand on the questions at the heart of Democrats’ charges? Overall, our tracker of impeachment polls shows that public opinion remains divided, with 48 percent of Americans in favor of impeaching Trump and 44 percent opposed.

But to assess how Americans might feel about the specific allegations that Democrats have included in the articles of impeachment, we looked at several months of polls that asked Americans whether they felt Trump had abused his power when it came to Ukraine, and whether they thought Trump should cooperate with the impeachment inquiry by turning over documents and allowing witnesses to testify.

On the first charge — abuse of power — there’s a fairly clear consensus. In an average of eight high-quality polls conducted between late September, when the Ukraine allegations against Trump first became public, and late November, we found that 54 percent of Americans believe Trump either abused his power or acted in his own self-interest, while 39 percent said he had not. That’s basically in line with the share of Americans who believe Trump committed an impeachable offense, according to our own polling with Ipsos.

Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry also appears to be unpopular, according to several polls that have come out in the months since the impeachment process began. For instance, in a Suffolk poll conducted in late October, 66 percent of Americans agreed that the White House has an obligation to comply with subpoenas from the House committees demanding testimony and documents. A Quinnipiac poll released about a month later found that 76 percent of the public thought Trump should comply fully with the impeachment inquiry. But, of course, it’s unclear how many Americans actually consider the administration’s lack of cooperation an impeachable offense. Two Economist/YouGov polls conducted in late November and early December suggested that there may be some disagreement in the extent to which Trump was perceived to be obstructing Congress’s inquiry — just 48 percent and 49 percent, respectively, disapproved of the Trump administration’s decision not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. This was still more than the 33 percent and 35 percent who approved, but it’s still not an overwhelming majority. And a sizeable percentage of respondents were undecided in both surveys.

There’s another reason why Democrats might have wanted to focus narrowly on obstruction of Congress, rather than including evidence from the Mueller report. It was the Ukraine scandal — not the findings from the Mueller report — that changed the conversation on impeachment. Americans weren’t supportive of impeaching Trump after the release of the Mueller report, and, in fact, they remained largely divided on one of the report’s core questions: Did Trump’s behavior in the Russia investigation amount to obstruction of justice? In an average of polls conducted between late April, when the Mueller report was released, and late July, when Mueller testified before Congress, we found that just under half (49 percent) of Americans agreed that Trump’s behavior in response to the Mueller investigation amounted to obstruction of justice, while 40 percent thought it didn’t, and 11 percent were unsure.

While that’s not necessarily a sign that including an obstruction of justice charge would have been a big political risk, it’s also not a sign of overwhelming support for obstruction of justice either. And because a broader obstruction of justice article was reportedly unpopular with moderates, the decision to push forward with a narrower case on obstruction of Congress may have also been designed to ensure a clean party-line vote on both articles, with as few moderate Democrat defections as possible. These narrow articles seem likely to preserve party unity as the impeachment process speeds ahead — even if they don’t increase the likelihood that Republicans will cross the aisle to vote for them.

Mary Radcliffe contributed research


Significant Digits for Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-10 12:00

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news. Today’s number is two, for the number of Olympics Russia has been banned from as punishment for its state-sponsored doping program.


1 in 5 university students

Despite significant improvements in the gender ratio at elite universities in China, Singapore and South Korea, the situation in Japan has remained deeply unequal at institutions like the University of Tokyo, where the number of female university students has been stuck at 1 in 5 for nearly the past 20 years. The New York Times reports on how a degree from Todai, as the school is known, is considered crucial to accessing opportunities in politics, business, law and science. But a larger culture that emphasizes marriage and life as a housewife over a high-powered education for women, along with an admissions process that relies heavily on the results of a single entrance exam, may be reducing the number of women in the applicant pool. [The New York Times]


13.4 percent of Louisiana’s prison population

Hayward Jones has mentored and taught hundreds of other Louisiana inmates about skills like self development and anger management since he was arrested more than two decades ago. But Jones is among the 4,700 people serving life sentences without parole in the state — 13.4 percent of its total prison population, the highest percentage in the country. The most common conviction for this group is second-degree murder, which can be applied to accomplices like getaway drivers and lookouts who participated in a crime that led to a death, even if they didn’t intend for anyone to die. [The Advocate]


5 quadruple jumps

Nathan Chen continues to build his case for being the world’s best figure skater, landing five quadruple jumps and winning his third straight Grand Prix Final title. Chen is a two-time reigning world champ who beat Yuzuru Hanyu, the two-time Olympic champion, by 43.87 points on Saturday. Chen landed two quad toe loops, a quad flip, quad Lutz and quad Salchow with no major errors. It was his fifth straight win over Hanyu. [NBC Sports]


1,422 shots fired by accident

An investigation by the Associated Press found that law enforcement officers’ guns had gone off unintentionally at least 1,422 times across 258 agencies since 2012. Because these incidents are not systematically tracked, there’s no way of knowing how many other cases might not have been turned up in the investigation, which collected information by reviewing media reports and surveying law enforcement agencies. The AP found 21 cases where people died in accidental shootings by police, as well as almost 200 cases where the officer injured themselves or another officer. One accidental shooting killed 34-year-old Autumn Steele, whose family would later file a wrongful death suit against the city and the officer who shot her, resulting in a $2 million settlement in 2018. [Associated Press]


Up to 20,000 Ring cameras

Thousands of Ring cameras have been sold under the promise of greater security for users and video footage that can be useful for law enforcement. But a new report at Gizmodo says reporters were able to locate the precise locations of up to 20,000 Ring cameras, revealing the extent to which video surveillance is now a major presence in several major U.S. cities, as well as the privacy risks that could arise from the surveillance systems themselves. Ring’s crime-alert app, Neighbors, offers access to hundreds of video posts from places like Washington, D.C., which are encoded with geographic data “accurate enough to pinpoint roughly a square inch of ground.” Ring was acquired by Amazon last year for $1 billion. [Gizmodo]


70,000 ties sold each month

Neckties might no longer be trendy or necessary in many North American offices, but the silk symbols of business dress codes are finding new lives on platforms like Etsy, Instagram and TheRealReal. Ties, especially from high-end designer brands like Hermès, Tom Ford and Ralph Lauren, are still popular among businessmen in Asia, who buy them for up to $75. The auction website eBay also sells approximately 70,000 ties each month. [The Wall Street Journal]



Why Aren’t More Women Breaking Out In The Democratic Primary?

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-10 11:30

Six months can make a big difference in a presidential race — even if no actual votes have been cast. Back in June, when the primary was still getting off the ground, there were six women in the first Democratic debate, including four senators who all seemed like promising contenders for the nomination. Now, as the Iowa caucuses loom, two of the senators — Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand — are out of the race. And it seems very likely that only Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar will make it into this month’s debate.

All in all, it’s not an especially bright picture for the female candidates as the year draws to a close. And the fact that there’s only one woman in the upper tier of candidates hasn’t been lost on Klobuchar, who has repeatedly said that voters hold women to a double standard — drawing a particularly pointed contrast with Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who Klobuchar said wouldn’t be taken seriously in a presidential race if he were female.

Of course, it’s not just women who have had trouble breaking out in this race. Not one candidate of color who’s still in the primary is currently polling above 3 percent nationally. And the fact that Warren is still among the top four candidates makes it hard to argue that Klobuchar’s single-digit support is due mostly to sexism. That doesn’t mean, though, that gender isn’t playing a role.

Several experts told me that the research does suggest that Klobuchar’s claim — voters hold women to a higher standard than men — holds up. A number of studies have found that voters don’t easily move past women’s stumbles, and are less likely to view women as qualified or competent to begin with. And women’s qualifications can even be turned into liabilities.

The precise effect of these attitudes is hard to pin down, but gender biases and stereotypes are a kind of headwind blowing against female candidates — a force that can be overcome but constantly threatens to slow women’s momentum. “Even in a Democratic primary, when they’re faced with two equally qualified men and women, many voters will default to the man,” said Nichole Bauer, a political science professor at Louisiana State University who studies gender and politics. “It’s a challenge for women to break even with their male rivals, much less win.”

Voters are likelier to punish women’s mistakes

Harris’s campaign had a lot of problems, as my colleague Perry Bacon Jr. has explored at length. Some of those were outside her control — she had strong competition, for instance. But she also struggled at several key moments to explain why she was running for president and made several missteps along the way. Her peak in the polls came after the first debate, when she took on former Vice President Joe Biden for his stance on school integration. But her support quickly receded to its pre-debate levels — perhaps because the attack backfired, or because she couldn’t offer a proposal of her own on the issue. Additionally, months of confusing messaging on health care culminated in a much-criticized rollout of her health care plan, which was assailed by rivals on both her left and right. By the end of the summer, Harris was polling in the single digits, and she never really recovered.

It’s hard to know how those mistakes would have played out if she were male. But there is evidence that voters are much less forgiving of female candidates when they stumble, which may have meant that Harris’s missteps had more sticking power. Amanda Hunter, the research and communications director of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, a nonprofit group that researches gender bias and elections, said that voters assume that women candidates are more ethical and honest than men, which can be a bonus until women candidates do something that makes them seem like they have something to hide. “Because voters expect women to be more virtuous and straightforward, they’re more likely to hold it against female candidates when their honesty is questioned,” Hunter said. That “pedestal effect,” she added, may have hurt Harris when she was attacked for going back and forth on issues like health care.

Research indicates there’s also a narrower band of acceptable behavior for female candidates, who have to navigate conflicting expectations for women and for leaders. This adds another layer of difficulty, because on top of the fact that there’s less room for mistakes, voters are also more likely to punish female candidates for failing to strike the right balance between the stereotypically feminine behavior that’s expected of women and the stereotypically masculine behavior that’s expected of political leaders.

For instance, voters often want a leader who is perceived as aggressive, but aggression in women can also be perceived as threatening. Harris was known for her direct, prosecutorial style and Bauer said that her identity as a woman of color may have put her in an even tighter bind. “Black women are often stereotyped as angry or militant,” Bauer said. It’s hard to isolate exactly why Harris’s plunge in the polls was so dramatic and decisive, she added, but “if there was a negative reaction to her attack on Biden at the debate, those stereotypes may have played a role.”

Women’s qualifications can become liabilities

Whether or not gender is holding back Klobuchar or the other female candidates, several experts told me she’s correct that a woman with Buttigieg’s background would be much less likely to be taken seriously in a presidential race. Bauer’s newest study showed that voters generally hold female candidates to a higher standard than men, which reinforces other work indicating that although women do tend to win at the same rate as men, they’re often more qualified than their male counterparts.

That’s because our internal sense of what a political leader looks and sounds like can overshadow the content of a candidate’s resume, or even change how his or her political accomplishments are perceived. For instance, a study by Tessa Ditonto, a political scientist at the University of Durham, showed that when participants received a piece of information indicating a woman was less competent, her support fell dramatically — but there was no similar impact for men. “It speaks to the idea that voters tend to be more uncertain about women candidates,” Ditonto said.

So a long list of accomplishments and experience is pretty much mandatory for a female candidate, especially one running for executive office. But an impressive track record can also lead to even more negative scrutiny.

Think back to when Buttigieg announced his candidacy last spring. He flew under the radar for a bit, but then received an avalanche of positive media coverage, echoing the glowing profiles written about former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, another relative newcomer. Harris and Klobuchar, meanwhile, were greeted almost immediately with critical articles highlighting their backgrounds as prosecutors or — in Klobuchar’s case — mistreatment of staff. “For women to get the right kind of experience to be taken seriously, they have to behave like men,” Bauer said. “But then that behavior is often scrutinized and criticized more harshly than it would be in a man, because it runs counter to what our stereotypes of a woman should be.”

In theory, these aren’t insurmountable barriers, but Ditonto said that it’s likely that even Warren is being held back by a slew of gender bias and stereotypes, particularly in a race where primary voters are laser-focused on nominating a candidate who can beat President Trump. According to two polls by the left-leaning group Avalanche Strategy, for instance, Warren is more popular when voters are asked to pick which candidate would be their favorite if they could magically bypass the general election, which suggests that some voters still have concerns about her viability despite her rise.

And those doubts, too, could be shaded by gender. “Competence and qualifications are often closely linked to viability in voters’ minds,” Ditonto said. “So even though Warren has been doing better than the other women in the race so far, that uncertainty voters seem to feel about female candidates could still be hurting her.”


College Football Doesn’t Give Black Coaches Many Chances

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-10 11:00

Where Willie Taggart goes, so goes history. The 43-year-old — whose parents worked in migrant fields — landed head-coaching gigs at Oregon and Florida State, two of the most coveted jobs in college football, at a relatively young age. At each of his four stops as a head coach,1 Taggart was the first African American to hold the position on a noninterim basis.

Taggart was fired Nov. 3 after a mostly disastrous 21-game stint as the Seminoles’ coach — which resulted in the second-largest buyout ever paid out. Though Florida State was applauded in 2017 when it hired Taggart — becoming the first university since Stanford in 2012 to employ an African American athletic director, head basketball coach and head football coach — the odds were never high that Taggart would be replaced by another black man, given historical precedence.2

“Black coaches in college football do not get any measure of patience,” ESPN’s Bomani Jones said after Taggart’s firing. “When it’s time to fire the black coach, when it starts looking shaky, people typically don’t waste much time before they do it.”

From 2008 to 2018, there were 250 head-coaching transitions at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.3 Only 2 percent of those transitions saw one black head coach hand the keys over to another black head coach. Fifteen percent of the transitions involved a coach who did not identify as African American being replaced by someone who did, and 12 percent involved a coach who identified as African American being replaced by someone who didn’t. More than 70 percent of transitions involved two coaches who aren’t African American. Put a different way, an FBS program that switched head coaches from 2008 to 2018 was 68 percentage points more likely to have a coaching change that involved two men who didn’t identify as African American than to have one involving two African American men. And if a black coach either was fired or left to take another opportunity, there was less than a 1 in 5 chance that his successor was also black.

“Sports is a reflection of our society,” Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards said. “When you see men of color that become coaches, assistant coaches, quarterbacks, it becomes normal. Are we still a little bit behind the times, as far as the practices of hiring and opportunity? Yeah.”

Just seven times in NCAA history has a Division I program replaced one African American head coach with another noninterim African American head coach. Nearly all of those instances involved the predecessor willingly leaving for another gig,4 and only one came after the former coach was fired.5

Since Willie Jeffries became the first African American head football coach at the Division I level in 1979, 68 Division I programs have hired an African American head coach. At the Power Five level, only Colorado has fired a black head coach and later hired another. In a century and a half, Tyrone Willingham is the only African American college football head coach to be fired and land at a program of similar caliber in the same role.

Since 1975, I could find only seven instances of an African American head coach being fired and receiving a second opportunity as a head coach.6

“I was never given a reason why I was fired,” former Colorado head coach Jon Embree said in 2012. “My answer is and will always be, we don’t get second chances.”

Embree understood the reality. From 2008 to 2018, just three of the 18 (16.6 percent) black head coaches who left their position at a Power Five school found another head-coaching opportunity at the same level.7 Conversely, 20 of the 92 (22 percent) head coaches who didn’t identify as African American and left their position landed in the Power Five.8 Some were even embroiled in scandals when they were hired elsewhere.9 This doesn’t even account for the numerous white head coaches who retired after lengthy careers over that stretch,10 nor does it account for the white head coaches who were subsequently elevated to head-coaching jobs in the NFL.11

For as long as there have been college athletics, there has been a lack of minority representation in positions of power. Until this year, there hadn’t been a nonwhite Power Five commissioner,12 and the 2018 Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport’s (TIDES) College Sport Racial and Gender Report Card found that 85.4 percent of FBS university presidents are white. More than 90 percent of all football head-coaching positions during the 2017-18 season were held by white men. “College sport continues to have some of the lowest grades for racial hiring practices and gender hiring practices among all of the college and professional sports covered by the respective Racial and Gender Report Cards,” wrote Richard Lapchick, Director of TIDES.

From 2008 to 2018, there were 152 Power Five head coaches. Only 21 identified as African American.

The 2019 FBS season began with 14 African American head coaches. Northern Illinois head coach Thomas Hammock is one of the newest. He told me this offseason that a number of assistant coaches across the country reached out to him after he was named the first black head coach in program history. “Obviously it’s a great responsibility,” he said. “I want to make sure guys behind me have the same opportunity, so I need to maximize my opportunity and win a bunch of games.”

Ascending to the title of head coach in sports is often equated with climbing a ladder. For black men in Division I college football, it seems that a more appropriate analogy would be hiking up a mountain wearing scuba gear. Not only is the current landscape awash in systemic barriers that often render equal hiring practices impossible, there’s a considerable disparity in job security once those positions are obtained. And for African American men, should that first opportunity fall through, there’s a very low likelihood of receiving a second.

Stanford head coach David Shaw told me this offseason, “Being a head coach in major college football right now, there’s so much that isn’t X’s and O’s, that isn’t recruiting.” This much, we know.


Politics Podcast: The Democratic Primary, According To The Early States

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-09 23:15

In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew previews the official FiveThirtyEight polling averages for the 2020 Democratic primary, including how the race looks nationally and in the early states. Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders have both been incredibly steady in the polls, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Pete Buttigieg have moved in opposite directions. The team also looks back at the 2017 article “14 Versions Of Trump’s Presidency, From #MAGA To Impeachment” in order to gauge how President Trump’s tenure is going.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Monday evenings, with additional episodes throughout the week. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.


Brady Looks Bad, The Niners Look Great, And The AFC South Is A Mess

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-09 19:40

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): Week 14 of the NFL season brought us a couple of marquee matchups between top contenders — along with a few head-scratchers. Let’s start with the thrilling game between New Orleans and San Francisco.

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Amazing game.

Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): It’s probably good for the Niners that the offense and Jimmy Garoppolo had to win the key game of the season on the road because, of course, offense wins championships. But I’m sure the Niners are very worried about their defense today — and especially their pass defense, since that was their signature strength.

joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): It was really interesting to watch the Saints march down the field and score on their first four drives of the game. It was even more remarkable that the Niners led at the half.

sara.ziegler: You know you’re having a good day when one of your wideouts catches a touchdown pass and throws one.

Salfino: Both teams were throwing haymakers right from the start of the game. But I agree that the Niners going into halftime with the lead was stunning. The one thing people questioned was whether San Francisco could win a game in which their defense failed, and this was the most extreme version of that in one of the toughest places in football to play.

neil: Brees had the best game of Week 14 according to our Elo QB metric (+406 Elo points above an average starter). That’s part of a trend where the Niners’ pass defense has looked a bit less dominant in recent weeks — they’ve allowed very good games to Kyler Murray (twice), Lamar Jackson and now Brees over the past six games.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Expected points added per play agrees:

sara.ziegler: Though those are pretty decent quarterbacks…

neil: True, Sara. And one thing that’s helped offset it is that Jimmy G is playing much better recently.

Salfino: I actually thought that the Niners defense figured it out against the Ravens in the second half of that game, but they never figured anything out on Sunday.

neil: I wonder whether we’re going to look back at this game as an NFC championship preview in about six weeks.

sara.ziegler: It does seem like that, doesn’t it?

neil: These feel like the two best NFC teams, and it’s not particularly close.

sara.ziegler: (I’m glad I took them both in the Hot Takedown Super Bowl draft.)

Salfino: Garoppolo still has only 23 career starts. He’s 19-4 with a yards per attempt over 8.0. The only other quarterbacks to have matched or tied both of those marks are Kurt Warner, Ben Roethlisberger and Dan Marino. And he’s seventh since the 1970 merger in YPA in his first 23 starts, minimum 500 attempts.

So I think we underrate Garoppolo. I’m not saying he’s a Hall of Famer in the making, but he’s a legit franchise quarterback.

sara.ziegler: I’m not sure it’s underrating as much as just not knowing what he can do. He had been wildly inconsistent this year before turning it on in his past four games.

Salfino: He was inconsistent, but in fairness, his receiving corps had yet to emerge. Deebo Samuel is a rookie and is a totally different player now than he was at the start of the season. They traded for Emmanuel Sanders. George Kittle is a great receiver, and he drives the running game with his blocking, but he’s been hurt.

Kittle made probably the signature play of the season so far:

(Ironically, the 49ers were once on the receiving end of a tight end making a play like this in December on the way to a Super Bowl.)

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think the question with Jimmy is: Is he capable of putting the team on his shoulders week in and week out, or is Kyle Shanahan protecting him? Shanny schemed the second-most outside-the-pocket play-action plays for him across the league this week, and he dialed up a couple of trick plays, as well.

Salfino: And remember, his signature achievement before yesterday was completely turning around a clearly bad 49ers team in 2017. So when you bookend these two things, I think it’s fair to say he’s very good.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Any QB is hugely dependent upon the system he’s asked to run, and how well it meshes with his skill set (look at Jackson), so it’s not a knock. But I still think that Shanahan is the big driver of the Niners’ success.

Salfino: I do think it’s fair to give Shanahan a lot of credit, but you could say that even about Drew Brees with Sean Payton. It’s very hard to separate the QB and the coach.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Agreed.

sara.ziegler: What about the Saints? Should they be worried that they couldn’t close out that game?

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think officiating didn’t help. They scored the same number of TDs and field goals as the Niners, and they closed out the game with back-to-back TD drives. I don’t think anything is wrong with NO.

Salfino: I thought the Saints defense was just another unit before Sunday. I was shocked by how explosive they were on offense even with Alvin Kamara again doing basically nothing. It’s funny that after Teddy Bridgewater started several games, the feeling was, “This is a real team now that doesn’t need Brees!” and now they still need Brees to bail them out. And Brees is the king of bailing them out late and losing anyway.

neil: And it felt like one of those ones where whoever got the ball last would win.

Tough to lose, but essentially a toss-up.

Salfino: Payton has got to stop talking about the officiating though. Don’t expect the refs to bail you out on a fake punt.

sara.ziegler: Also, the officiating is bad for everyone right now.

joshua.hermsmeyer: So true.

Salfino: The Patriots can’t catch a break from the officials!

sara.ziegler: LOL

joshua.hermsmeyer: You hate to see it.

neil: Yes, won’t someone please think of the Patriots.

(I do think they got screwed a few times in that game. Lol.)

sara.ziegler: The challenge system is so ridiculous. A call looks wrong so you challenge, but it isn’t overturned. Then you challenge another call, and it is overturned. Then, if there’s another bad call later, because you were unsuccessful with your first call, you don’t get to challenge it. You’re essentially counting on the refs to not make an even worse call later, which is just not a good situation to be in.

Salfino: Out of challenges? A scoring play is automatically reviewed but not a play that actually should have been a scoring play? Coaches get a second challenge after an unsuccessful one sometimes but not all the time? The entire replay system is a mess. Just. Kill. The. Beast.

neil: Bad calls or not, Brady looks very mortal right now.

sara.ziegler: But he can run!

LOL

neil: I do like a fired-up Brady after a run-n-slide.

joshua.hermsmeyer: He did a half-hearted first down arm thing, which was very on-brand.

Salfino: The officiating is good for the Patriots in a way because it takes the focus off of the only ways they can score now: blocked punts, gadget plays.

sara.ziegler: Are they leading the league in trick plays for touchdowns??

neil: Feels like they try that flea flicker about once a game. (And it usually works.)

Salfino: In his last seven games, Brady’s yards per attempt is 5.8. There have only been 31 QB seasons this century with a yards per attempt of 5.8 or worse. You don’t want to be on this list.

neil: Is this Brady’s 2015 Peyton Manning season?

This is the first time he’s had a below-average QB Elo rating since that infamous KC game in 2014, when Jimmy G came on in relief.

(Ironically, they are moving on to Cincinnati again this time.)

joshua.hermsmeyer: Brady has probably declined some, but would we notice if he still had Rob Gronkowski?

I think probably not so much.

neil: That’s the eternal question of this season — is it Brady’s age or lack of weapons?

But at this point it kinda doesn’t matter. The Pats have who they have.

Salfino: Brady the inner-circle Hall of Fame QB would have elevated this supporting cast. But he can’t do that anymore. The talk in Boston is that he’s going to leave via free agency. The question is, who would want him?

joshua.hermsmeyer: Yeah, go where? Chicago? Washington?

Salfino: Josh, Trubisky had 32 fantasy points on Thursday. Show some respect.

sara.ziegler: Go live on the beach and stop eating so much kale, Tom.

Salfino: Peter King said that Denver was reportedly interested.

neil: That would be hilarious.

sara.ziegler: That would be ridiculous.

neil: Denver is where QB careers go to die.

I am much more curious about the post-Brady Pats with Belichick.

Salfino: The team that is positioned to win that needs Brady the most is … the Patriots. I mean, on paper anyway.

neil: Also, I want to note that we are basically looking ahead to next season and beyond for a team that still has a 9 percent chance to win the Super Bowl (and is the defending champion, with the best passing defense in the league).

So there’s still a lot of time for them to right the ship.

sara.ziegler: Always good to remember with New England.

And also, they were playing a really good team! The Chiefs looked excellent for a lot of that game.

Salfino: The Patriots could definitely win the AFC. But Sunday’s game was influenced significantly by Patrick Mahomes’s hand injury — he could not throw a spiral.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Exactly, Mike. Analysts seem to be pretty bearish on the Chiefs when Mahomes doesn’t pass for 400 yards and look like the best QB we’ve ever seen take the field. It looked like his hand was bothering him, and he took some shots during the game.

Salfino: The thing we don’t talk about with the Patriots is how bad Belichick has drafted. He took Sony Michel and N’Keal Harry in the first round the last two years,13 and neither guy could get on the field (though Harry did get the carry for the touchdown that never was).

neil: Michel has definitely had a sophomore slump. He’s down to 3.5 yards per carry this season, after posting 4.5 as a rookie.

Salfino: Belichick took Harry 19 picks ahead of A.J. Brown! Imagine the Patriots with that jet-propelled tank of a WR. But maybe Brady would have frozen him out for running the wrong route one time.

sara.ziegler: The other most notable games of the weekend for me were those in the AFC South.

neil: Houston refuses to just take command of this thing when it gets the chance.

Salfino: I think we talk about teams that a trapped with QBs that are not good enough but still good enough to win with. QB purgatory. The Texans are in coaching purgatory. Deshaun Watson is going to ensure they win enough to keep Bill O’Brien, but O’Brien is still a bad coach — or at least not a good enough coach to win a Super Bowl.

sara.ziegler: But why the difference in how the Texans played against New England vs. how they played against Denver? Is that really about the coach?

neil: Defensively, they let Drew Lock post a 136.0 QB rating.

Salfino: Think of how bad Brady must be to get shut down by the Texans defense that was gutted by Drew Freakin’ Lock.

neil: Yep.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Yeah, I don’t buy that loss to Denver is on the coach. They were looking past the Broncos.

Salfino: OK, but looking past a team is a failure of coaching, Josh.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Perhaps, but the entire team took the week off. That’s a team loss, not O’Brien in particular.

neil: Houston has been a bad defensive team after they lost J.J. Watt to an injury at midseason. And overall, they’re 31st in the league in QB Elo rating allowed per game.

Salfino: If they were looking past the Texans, I chalk that up 100 percent to the coach.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Good teams lose weird games every year.

In 1994, Steve Young was benched against the Eagles. Just embarrassed.

joshua.hermsmeyer: The Texans are fifth in EPA/play on offense. I don’t see how you can call them bad.

Salfino: But O’Brien is so obsessed with running Carlos Hyde that he doesn’t open the offense up in anticipation of his defense being bad. He has to lean into more offensive explosion with Watson and not play conventionally in “establishing the run.” His mindset every week should be that he needs to score 35 points. He has the horses to do this, IMO.

joshua.hermsmeyer: As for the Titans, Ryan Tannehill is either much better than we ever gave him credit for, or Mariota was playing so badly that he effectively sunk a pretty good team.

Salfino: Tannehill has been great. The throw to Brown on the 91-yard TD was fantastic. But Brown — like Samuel — has really emerged of late. He’s averaging 21 yards per TARGET the past three games.

Now the Titans play the Texans twice? That’s crazy. In a matter of weeks, the Titans have somehow gone from a team you dread watching to a fun team with explosive skill players. How did this happen?

sara.ziegler: With all of the weirdness this weekend, the Texans and the Titans are still more likely than not to make the playoffs — both have the edge over Pittsburgh.

So it looks to be a wild finish there.

Salfino: You always have a puncher’s chance with Watson. But the Texans are not a good team. Maybe not a bad one either — but a team that the rest of the AFC should hope makes the playoffs. I bet every playoff team in the AFC is rooting for Houston over Tennessee.

neil: Idk — I’d still rather face Tannehill than Watson in a playoff game.

Salfino: Yeah, that’s fair. Ironically, they both share the same weakness — sack rate.

neil: I am also stunned Tannehill has been as good as he’s been.

Remember when the joke was that, OK, next year, the Dolphins will break out with him — every year? For, like, six straight years?

This is that breakout I guess.

Salfino: And Tannehill has Derrick Henry, who played through a hamstring injury that sapped his speed, but he just ran over people instead. He had that hamstring wrapped, and his hamstring along looked like it weighed 100 pounds. Henry and Brown are two of the most unique skill players in the league, given their size. There is no prototype to compare them to. And Brown combines rare speed with a defensive end’s body.

sara.ziegler: Another big game for playoff chances was the Rams-Seahawks game Sunday night. Don’t look now, but the Rams are up to a 36 percent chance in our model (from 14 percent two weeks ago).

Which means I give the Vikings a 100 percent chance of missing the playoffs.

Salfino: Who would have thought that Tyler Higbee would end up being the player who would turn the Rams offense around.

neil: They also clamped down on Russell Wilson defensively, which was impressive.

Salfino: Wilson had nothing last night. I was shocked. The bag of tricks was empty.

joshua.hermsmeyer: The Rams are 2-0 since losing to Baltimore, so I think that qualifies as momentum, and they now must be considered one of the better teams in the league. Them’s the rules.

It would be something if Dallas were able to right the ship and beat L.A. — and save Jason Garrett’s job for another season.

sara.ziegler: Someone has to win the NFC East!

Check out our latest NFL predictions.


Does The Democrats’ Impeachment Timeline Still Make Sense?

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-09 19:27

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): We’ve heard from witnesses involved in U.S. and Ukraine diplomatic relations, and we’ve heard constitutional experts testify whether President Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine was an impeachable offense. Today, we heard both Republican and Democratic lawyers outline their cases for — and against — impeachment based on the evidence collected in the impeachment inquiry thus far.

First, let’s unpack those arguments a little. What do Democrats say the evidence collected in their 300-page report shows? What do Republicans say in their own 123-page report? Is the basic set of facts really at dispute here? Then, let’s turn to some of the thornier political issues raised in this inquiry, including the Democrats’ timeline and the scope of the charges as Democrats prepare to draft the articles of impeachment.

OK, Amelia, walk us through the Democratic and Republican arguments in broad strokes.

ameliatd (Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, senior writer): The Democrats’ case against Trump has basically coalesced around three main themes: 1) bribery, 2) abuse of power, and 3) obstruction of Congress and/or justice.

The bribery and abuse of power arguments both hinge on the idea that Trump used his official power as president to try to get a personal political benefit — i.e., an investigation into the Bidens. And then there’s Trump’s total refusal to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, including blocking key witnesses from testifying, which Democrats have also said is an impeachable offense because it violates the separation of powers.

Republicans, on the other hand, have tried out a number of different defenses of Trump over the past few weeks.

One is that Trump had legitimate reasons for being suspicious of Ukraine and for requesting the investigations, because of a debunked theory that Ukrainians interfered in the 2016 election.

Another is that the Democrats’ inquiry is going too quickly and was rigged against Trump from the start. (It’s pretty weird to argue that Democrats haven’t been aggressive enough in going after witnesses who have been blocked from testifying by Trump, but 🤷‍♀️.)

And then finally, Republicans have said there is no proof that Trump’s intent was bad when he asked for the investigations.

sarahf: Is it fair, Amelia, to say that both Democrats and Republicans are working from the same basic set of facts? Or is even that in dispute?

ameliatd: I’d say the facts aren’t really in dispute — but their meaning definitely is. Everyone seems to agree that Trump asked for the investigations on the July 25 call, for example. But while Democrats see that as evidence that Trump was applying pressure to Ukraine’s president, Republicans say there was nothing wrong with Trump “asking serious questions” about the Bidens or 2016 election interference. And while Democrats seem to think they’ve established there was a quid pro quo, where military aid and/or a White House meeting were conditioned on an announcement of the investigations, Republicans have argued that Democrats still haven’t decisively connected all of those dots to Trump (even though, to be clear, there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence pointing in that direction).

sarahf: Let’s turn to some of the political arguments then, since impeachment is inherently a political process. One question levied against the Democrats (largely by Republicans) is why are Democrats rushing the impeachment process? Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, made this a central part of his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last Wednesday, arguing that the Democrats could have a case for impeachment, but do not because the process had been so rushed.

Is that a fair criticism of the Democrats’ efforts at this point? Or strategically speaking, does it make sense that Democrats have moved at the speed they have?

ameliatd: Democrats have been in a really difficult position from the beginning, because Trump hasn’t cooperated and has kept key witnesses from testifying. Democrats could have gone to court to force people to testify — but the judicial system moves at a fairly glacial speed, so that would have meant delaying the ultimate impeachment vote for a long time. Trump, of course, knew that and has been benefiting from the slowness of the courts in a number of different legal cases, not just impeachment.

So an argument like Turley’s is honestly pretty brazen, since Trump is the reason these witnesses aren’t testifying. The Republicans are basically criticizing the Democrats for refusing to jump over the hurdles that the White House put in their way.

On the other hand, some folks on the left have also been arguing that Democrats are making a strategic mistake by not trying to get testimony from the people who really knew what was happening with these investigations and the aid. Part of the hope here is, I guess, that this could provide more evidence against Trump that shifts public opinion.

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): Right, there are some calls from the left to go slow — mainly from lefty writers/bloggers, etc. (Some non-partisan people are making this case too.) Their core argument is that impeachment is going to be handed over to the Senate soon, and Trump will be acquitted, so he wins. So instead, they’re pushing to keep the investigation going and look for things that really hurt Trump in terms of public opinion.

As Brian Beutler of Crooked Media, the media organization behind Pod Save America, wrote, “It is not actually possible that Pelosi’s impeachment timeline is good for Democrats and also good for Trump. Someone’s wrong.”

In other words, Trump seems to want the impeachment process to move quickly and so do a lot of Democrats. But this is an impeachment/removal fight, not a budget deal — both sides can’t really win here.

ameliatd: The issue with that strategy is that it’s risky! Democrats could end up fighting over these witnesses in court for months, and ultimately lose. And in the meantime, Republicans keep making the argument that the election is coming up and the voters will get to decide what happens to Trump.

sarahf: I hadn’t seen that argument to go slow emerge in Democratic circles until recently, Perry — and it’s an interesting one. You sort of described it in Slack as a zero-sum political game, which I think is spot on. It’s weird that both Trump and Pelosi are sort of advocating the same thing — a quick impeachment — albeit for very different reasons, right? One of them should stand to lose?

perry: A party-line impeachment vote in both chambers doesn’t really do anything useful for the Democrats. But their choices may be a party-line House impeachment vote in December … or in February/March. I just don’t see any pro-impeachment/removal GOP votes in Congress. There is a question of whether impeachment could be supported by 60 or 70 percent of Americans, which would mean it’s a real political winner for Democrats, even if Trump remains in office. But that would require basically all independents or some sizable number of Republicans to support it, and I just don’t see that happening under any scenario.

ameliatd: This is the issue, I think, Perry. It’s hard to imagine what evidence could emerge by February or March that would change a lot of people’s minds — either voters or Republicans in the Senate.

Our polling with Ipsos suggests that people’s views on impeachment are increasingly baked in — or they’re not really paying attention. So, it’s of course possible that if Democrats could get a big witness like former national security advisor John Bolton or acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to share what they know, that could shake things up. But it just seems really unlikely that they’d be able to get that evidence through a court battle in the next few months.

sarahf: So it seems as if we agree that an accelerated timeline with the evidence Democrats have seems like their best bet, but is it also true that this is the best scenario for Trump?

perry: I’m not sure. I just don’t think there is a good bet for anyone here. A party-line impeachment/removal process doesn’t really punish Trump or deter him from soliciting foreign help even later in the 2020 cycle. At the same time, being impeached is still quite bad — I’m not sure that there is a preferable way to be impeached. (Well, I guess a clear majority of the country opposed Clinton’s impeachment, so that’s somewhat better than what Trump is up against.)

ameliatd: Right — it’s hard to argue that what’s happening to Trump right now is a best-case anything for him, because no president wants to be impeached. But his approval rating hasn’t really taken a hit so far. And once the process moves to the Senate, the Republicans will have the reins. So I think Trump’s strategy of refusing to cooperate — and the fact that many key witnesses haven’t broken ranks — is definitely working to his advantage. Turns out total obstruction can be pretty dang effective.

sarahf: But OK, say the Democrats abandon their current timeline and go bigger. Part of what is embedded in that argument is Democrats would have to be much more expansive in their inquiry. Or they’d have to try to turn up more evidence in the current inquiry, which, given the lack of cooperation from the administration, seems futile. One way Democrats could go bigger is including special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election as part of the obstruction of Congress/justice charge. On the one hand, it arguably establishes a pattern of wrongdoing by the president. But on the other hand, it also invites a number of political risks?

perry: I actually don’t think there are any political risks for Democrats, no matter what their impeachment strategy is. The numbers seem pretty stable, about 48 percent for and 44 percent against impeachment.

But this hasn’t stopped some of the moderate Democrats from saying that people in their districts want them to move on to other issues. Hmm, sure? What exactly is passing in Washington right now and getting enacted that matters to people? The House passes bills all the time, but they often go nowhere and no one even covers them. For instance, the House passed a major voting rights bill last Friday, but given that all but one Republican voted against it, it’s likely dead upon arrival in the Senate. So while the moderate Democrats are spending a lot of time positioning themselves as left but not too left, the idea that voters in November 2020 will care if impeachment happens in February 2020 or December 2019 seems very far-fetched to me.

ameliatd: Democrats are trying to make the argument that Trump’s behavior is an ongoing threat. So as you mentioned, Sarah, arguably folding in other kinds of misconduct — the obstruction of justice allegations outlined in Mueller’s report, maybe his financial conflicts of interest — bolsters the contention that Ukraine wasn’t a one-off. One argument against that is that it makes the case much more complex than it is right now. And the Ukraine saga is already a complicated story. Another possible objection is that the Mueller report didn’t create broader momentum for impeachment — so why try to drag it back in now?

I guess I just wonder how much voters actually care about what’s in each individual article of impeachment. The basic contours of the Ukraine saga are pretty clear at this point. Maybe it’s risky to wade back into relitigating the Mueller report for the reasons I mentioned above and it probably won’t bring anyone new on board — but I also don’t think it will turn off voters who are already on Democrats’ side if there’s an obstruction of justice article plus an obstruction of Congress article.

sarahf: Right, and given that the Democrats will draft multiple articles of impeachment, is there a world in which the bribery charge could be very tailored and specific and the article on obstruction is broader so some more moderate Democratic members can vote against it to signal their independence?

Or do you think that it’s politically better that the Democrats have a party-line vote, without any dissent?

ameliatd: If moderate Democrats don’t like an article, they can vote against it — which might give them some political cred at home, if they want to argue they aren’t just rubber-stamping impeachment. It’s not like that would be unprecedented, either. Not all of the articles of impeachment against Nixon and Clinton made it out of the Judiciary Committee or the House, for instance.

perry: I happen to think everything about Trump is partisan. So Democrats should write whatever articles they think are accurate. They should include details from the Mueller investigation, since the Ukraine scandal is basically just a sped-up version of the Russia one (Trump pushes/welcomes/invites foreign interference in an American election, then limits investigations of it) and allow members to vote how they please. I am sure various moderate House Democrats will try to give speeches or take steps to convince people that they are independent-minded and weren’t just rushing to impeach Trump like their more liberal colleagues. But I don’t think any of this strategizing matters.

Maybe voters care if you opposed impeachment the whole time (so Reps. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Collin Peterson of Minnesota, who voted against the initial impeachment inquiry.) But my guess is even those votes will be drowned out by partisanship, with Van Drew and Peterson’s Republican opponents linking them to Democrats and Trump haters. The bottom line is: If you voted for the impeachment inquiry, it’s over. Voters will see you as anti-Trump, no matter if you vote for one article or all the articles.

ameliatd: Yeah, Perry, I think the votes on the specific charges matter much less than the ultimate outcome. Most people are not going to be parsing the distinction between various kinds of obstruction.

sarahf: So maybe there is an argument for Democrats to throw the kitchen sink at impeachment, as long as they do it under a condensed timeline?

ameliatd: And there’s a principled argument to be made that Democrats should include all of the conduct that they think is impeachable — this is their shot to get all of this in the record and the history books. So I’m not sure what’s to be gained by pulling punches now.

perry: That’s an argument, but it’s not a political one — I just think there is no reason to keep up the fiction that the Democrats impeached Trump ONLY because of what happening involving Ukraine, when the majority of Democrats were already for impeachment anyway, after the Mueller report. The politics here seem set, so I think Democrats can kind of do what they want. An impeachment in February or March or April that includes details from the Mueller probe (or a December impeachment about just Ukraine) will, I think, still have the same outcome — a president who remains in office who has still not really committed to not solicit foreign help in future elections.

ameliatd: If Democrats are not going to fight this out in the courts, I don’t see why they would delay an impeachment vote. Yes, it kicks things over to the Senate where Trump will have an advantage and seems very likely at this point to be acquitted. But Democrats also seem to have exhausted all of their avenues for getting new evidence without a court order telling new witnesses they have to testify. And without new evidence, we’re probably just going to be stuck in the same place we are now — where the evidence against Trump is bad, but the country is basically divided on impeachment, everything is partisan, nothing matters, endless repeat.


Fixing The Knicks Shouldn’t Be This Difficult

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-09 15:52

It didn’t take long for things to go sideways this season for the Knicks.

Just over a quarter of the way through the campaign, they own both the NBA’s worst record and worst net rating. And before suffering a both encouraging and frustrating 1-point loss to Indiana Saturday, the Knicks got drilled — by 44 points and 37 points — by the Bucks and Nuggets in back-to-back games, ones that sealed the fate of coach David Fizdale.

As this team’s coaching carousel continues to rotate like a fidget spinner,14 it’s only natural to ask who might be best to take on such a tough job after so many seasons of organizational failure. But the better question is what fixing the Knicks would look like on both a micro and macro level.

No one should be naive enough to think that this franchise is an overnight fix away from getting back on track after lying on its side for the better part of two decades. The team floated that thought at times last season — and then failed to land the player or two that would have made that level of contention possible — which has made this year more dismal than usual. Still, there’s a ton of real estate between being the worst team in the league and high-level contention, and it shouldn’t be nearly this difficult for New York to fall somewhere in the middle more often than it does.

What do most winning clubs have that the Knicks don’t? Perhaps the most obvious oversight from a roster standpoint the past few years: a starting-caliber, table-setting ball-handler, one who can break down defenses and create for himself while not losing sight of his younger teammates who are still learning how to play. (The trio of Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni from the 2012-13 season might have been the last time the team enjoyed consistently good guard play.) This year’s Phoenix Suns have illustrated the value in finding a smart, capable floor general who can get everyone involved.

By contrast, the Knicks have at times played lineups with no point guard, instead letting talented rookie R.J. Barrett handle the responsibility, or sometimes giving unreliable freight train Julius Randle the green light. Sometimes things work fine, and other times they don’t. But this trial by fire doesn’t always look sustainable or intentional, and that’s largely the problem. (While it likely isn’t the long-term answer, it seems worth trying Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. together more. Smith has struggled badly at times this season, but the skill sets of the two complement each other decently, and the duo has a positive net rating in very limited work — nothing to sneeze at, given how poorly the Knicks have played thus far.)

A more consistent player running the show would mercifully take the ball out of Randle’s hands, where it’s been far too often given the results to this point. The power forward, who joined New York as the club’s biggest free-agent signing this past summer, generally makes something happen. But he forces the action a lot more than he should, dribbling right into the teeth of the defense. Defenders know they can take capitalize on his loose handle in the paint, and Randle turns the ball over more frequently — and scores less frequently — on his isolations than any player who goes 1-on-1 at least three times per game, according to Synergy Sports.

The issues with Randle are symptomatic of many of the Knicks’ biggest problems: They obviously lack a No. 1 option who can both draw defensive attention away from teammates and make something out of nothing when the shot clock is winding down. Randle isn’t that player. Maybe Barrett will develop into it with more time. If not him, whoever the Knicks get with the high-level pick they’re sure to get in 2020 could become that guy.

But Kristaps Porziņģis was undeniably that player,15 and the club — essentially claiming it had no choice but to deal the hobbled star, given his unhappiness — dealt him away. Yes, the choice was likely helped along by the belief that Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving was on the way in free agency. And you could argue that those things were outside of the Knicks’ control. And if you make those arguments, you would be wrong.

Even if the rift with Porziņģis stemmed from his problems with former president Phil Jackson, it was owner James Dolan who opted to hire the Hall of Fame coach to a huge contract without any sort of front-office experience.16 (Dolan repeatedly made the point that he hired Jackson and then got out of his way, to stop from meddling. But that doesn’t insulate him from critique when the hire is that misguided.) And though the idea of coming up empty this summer sounded like an impossibility based on how everyone from Fizdale to Dolan himself spoke last season, it should go without saying that nothing is certain — particularly in this topsy-turvy league, with a team that’s struck out with the highest-level free agents for years.

So, yes: That Porziņģis trade, and the apparent free-agency miscalculation it was based on, were mistakes of the highest order, and they belong to team president Steve Mills, who now finds himself on the hottest of seats. None of this even gets into the front office’s failed hiring of Fizdale, who, for all his pedigree, rarely settled on a rotation or a style of play17 — especially on defense.

Case in point: The Knicks rank among the top five teams in surrendering the most 3-point attempts. But interestingly enough, the other four clubs in that group find themselves in the league’s top 10 in defensive efficiency, while New York ranks 24th on the defensive side of the ball. (If this keeps up, it would mark the 14th time in 18 years that the Knicks would finish in the bottom 10 on D.) What this seems to suggest is that some clubs are smart enough and disciplined enough to know which shooters they can sag off of from behind the arc, while New York is leaving too many shooters18 — and perhaps the wrong ones — all alone.

Fizdale’s shortcomings were on display for anyone who paid the slightest bit of attention. But in fairness to him, the team’s front office also pieced together a roster that was pretty obviously short on talent. Yes, there’s enough talent in New York to win more than this — and to win more than last season — but it’s still awkward, ill-fitting talent that requires some real thought to make lineups work productively. Nonetheless, the team’s brass has previously tried to sell fans on the idea that because free agents were signed to short-term deals, it wouldn’t put the club in a bad position for the future, like the Knicks have done so many times before19.

But that’s the problem here: The club seems to be operating under a false assumption — that doing the least, rather than doing far too much, will improve the franchise. In reality, simply being somewhere in the middle, like a normal NBA team, would be just fine for a change.

Check out our latest NBA predictions.


Significant Digits for Monday, Dec. 9, 2019

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-09 14:31

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news. Today’s number is 8-feet-2-inches, for the height of Big Bird, the beloved Sesame Street Workshop character played and voiced by puppeteer Caroll Spinney for almost five decades. Spinney died on Sunday at the age of 85.


30,000 Guatemalan adoptees

Many Guatemalan adoptees in the United States and Europe, now adults, are learning that they were separated from their birth families under fraudulent circumstances, including outright theft. Adoption laws in Guatamala, prior to 2007, turned adoptions into big business. The State Department estimates that 30,000 Guatemalan children were adopted in the U.S. alone between the 1990s and mid-2000s, including Osmin Tobar, who was separated from his parents without their consent and was later adopted by a family in Pennsylvania. It took 14 years for Tobar to reconnect with his biological family. [NBC News]


At least 43 dead

At least 43 people are dead because of a fire that broke out early Sunday at a factory in central New Delhi. Approximately 100 people, many of them migrants and most of them workers at a bag and garment factory inside the building, were asleep between shifts when the flames first began. CBS News reports that the cause of the fire was an electrical short circuit. Sixteen people were being treated for smoke inhalation or burns. [CBS News]


21 million Chinese influencers

The live-streaming hours might be long and the sales still represent a small fraction of the total e-commerce in China, but the number of internet “influencers” in the country grew to 21 million last year, according to a market research firm, and many of them are taking on advertising. Concerns about counterfeit merchandise and trust in online celebrities are driving brands to turn to influencers like Wang Xizi to sell their products. She produced dozens of videos before “Singles Day” (China’s Black Friday). [Wall Street Journal]


65 percent increase in overtime

The spate of wildfires in California has also exploded state spending on overtime pay for firefighters, according an analysis of state payroll records by the Los Angeles Times. Annual wages for firefighters now total almost $5 billion — an increase of 65 percent in the last decade. And the number of firefighters earning more than $100,000 in overtime — on top of their salaries — has gone from 41 in 2011 to 1,085 in 2018. [Los Angeles Times]


0 refunds for Unicorn scooters

If you’re considering purchasing something off a Facebook, Google or Instagram ad for a loved one this holiday season, an electric scooter company named Unicorn (I am not making this up) is a good example of why it’s worth being extra skeptical of startups. The Verge reports that the company spent too much money on advertising and marketing, sold just 350 of its $699 two-wheelers, can’t deliver any of them and does not have enough resources to give refunds. [The Verge]


2 sets of DNA

Chris Long had leukemia, received a bone marrow transplant, and then something strange happened four years later: His DNA changed. The DNA in Long’s blood, on his cheeks and even in his semen included, or was completely replaced by, the DNA of his donor: a German man who lived thousands of miles away. “Mr. Long had become a chimera, the technical term for the rare person with two sets of DNA,” The New York Times reports. [New York Times]



Who’s Leading The Democratic Primary In The First Four States?

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-09 11:15

More than just the four early states will decide the 2020 Democratic primary. After all, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina only make up about 4 percent of the total delegates awarded, whereas the 16 states and territories20 that vote next on Super Tuesday contribute more than a third. But because these four states vote first, they play an outsized role in winnowing the candidate field and setting the course for the primary. Understanding the state of play in each contest is crucial to understanding where the nomination race stands and where it could go.

Back in early October, I found that the polls varied a fair amount in the early states, but Sen. Elizabeth Warren was on the upswing in Iowa and New Hampshire, with narrow leads over former Vice President Joe Biden. Meanwhile, Biden had a slight edge in Nevada over Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders and a hefty lead in South Carolina. Now, roughly two months later, things have shifted: South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has supplanted Warren as the leader in Iowa while the four leading candidates are in a very tight race in New Hampshire. Meanwhile, Biden’s lead has increased in Nevada and has remained large and stable in South Carolina.

First up, Iowa, where even though Buttigieg has a lead, the top four candidates are within striking distance of one another. In an average of all Iowa polls taken in the last six weeks, Buttigieg leads Warren by about two points, 21 to 19 percent, but the top candidates are all within 5 points of each other. In New Hampshire, Buttigieg and Warren are essentially tied at roughly 18 percent, but the race is even closer as the top four candidates’ polling averages are within 2 points. For now, at least, the top four are in the same order in both states: Buttigieg, followed by Warren, then Sanders and Biden. (In the table below, we included anyone who made the November debate and is still running as of Dec. 6 — although, as you can see, they’ve all got some serious catching up to do.)

Buttigieg leads close races in Iowa and New Hampshire

Polling averages in Iowa and New Hampshire over the past six weeks for candidates who qualified for the November debate and are still running

Iowa New Hampshire
Candidate Average Candidate Average
Pete Buttigieg 21.4% Pete Buttigieg 18.3%
Elizabeth Warren 19.0 Elizabeth Warren 17.9
Bernie Sanders 17.2 Bernie Sanders 17.0
Joe Biden 16.4 Joe Biden 16.6
Amy Klobuchar 4.6 Tulsi Gabbard 4.2
Andrew Yang 2.9 Amy Klobuchar 3.1
Tom Steyer 2.6 Andrew Yang 3.1
Tulsi Gabbard 2.2 Tom Steyer 2.7
Cory Booker 1.4 Cory Booker 1.8

Averages based on polls of likely Democratic voters conducted between Oct. 28 and Dec. 6, which includes six polls of Iowa and five polls of New Hampshire.

Source: Polls

Buttigieg’s rise in Iowa and New Hampshire, which we started to see signs of in September and October, has now created a four-way race at the top of the polls in these states. So what’s helped catapult him into the lead? Although there isn’t evidence that rigid ideological “lanes” have developed in the primary so far, Buttigieg’s budding support from centrist and center-left Democrats probably has helped him rise to the top in Iowa and New Hampshire. And there’s evidence that it has come at the expense of Warren and Biden. In Monmouth University’s early November survey of likely Iowa caucusgoers, for instance, Buttigieg was tied with Biden for the lead among moderate or conservative Democrats (each with 26 percent) while also leading among somewhat liberal Democrats with 23 percent, ahead of Warren’s 20 percent. And in a late November survey of New Hampshire from the Boston Globe and Suffolk University, Buttigieg edged out Biden 17 percent to 16 percent among moderate Democratic primary voters; Buttigieg trailed among liberal voters but still attracted 12 percent of them to Warren’s 23 percent and Sanders’s 24 percent.

Still, if the actual results in Iowa and New Hampshire ultimately look like recent polls, that would be very unusual: Since 1992, no Democratic primary or caucus in any state has had four candidates win at least 15 percent of the vote statewide. Of course, there’s still roughly two months before Iowa votes on Feb. 3, so the field could shift once again; after all, Buttigieg’s lead in both states is very small. It would be a little unusual, too, if he or someone else won both Iowa and New Hampshire. Only twice in the past seven Democratic presidential contests has the same candidate carried the two together: Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.

But perhaps it’s not surprising that Iowa and New Hampshire polls mirror each other. After all, both have electorates that are close to 90 percent white, and the leading candidates save Biden predominantly appeal to white voters. That may help explain why Biden is having some difficulties in these very white states despite leading in the national polls. I’ve discussed how, because of their outsized influence early on, losing Iowa and New Hampshire could hamper Biden’s campaign, especially if the same person were to win both. However, it’s possible that a muddled outcome in which the four leading candidates run close together would be survivable, even if Biden does finish third or fourth in the first two states. Of course, the polls in these states are so tight that even if Biden doesn’t win, he could still outperform expectations in them, which might position him to roll through the rest of the primary, considering what the polls show in Nevada and South Carolina.

In the polling averages of these two more diverse states, Biden holds a solid 9-point advantage in Nevada and a massive 25-point edge in South Carolina. And should Biden’s leads hold up, the two later-voting early states could serve as a nice stepping stone going into Super Tuesday on March 3, when a number of states with sizable nonwhite electorates go to the polls.

Biden leads in both Nevada and South Carolina

Polling averages in Nevada and South Carolina over the past six weeks for candidates who qualified for the November debate and are still running

Nevada South Carolina
Candidate Average Candidate Average
Joe Biden 29.0% Joe Biden 38.0%
Elizabeth Warren 20.1 Elizabeth Warren 13.3
Bernie Sanders 19.7 Bernie Sanders 12.0
Pete Buttigieg 7.3 Pete Buttigieg 5.7
Tom Steyer 3.6 Tom Steyer 5.0
Andrew Yang 3.1 Cory Booker 2.0
Amy Klobuchar 1.8 Andrew Yang 1.7
Cory Booker 1.1 Tulsi Gabbard 1.0
Tulsi Gabbard 1.1 Amy Klobuchar 1.0

Averages based on polls of likely Democratic voters conducted between Oct. 28 and Dec. 6, which includes four polls of Nevada and three polls of South Carolina.

Source: Polls

Throughout the primary, Biden’s continued support among nonwhite voters has given him a leg up in both Nevada and South Carolina. His strength among nonwhite Democrats is most apparent in South Carolina, where Biden hopes that the majority black primary electorate will serve as a firewall should the earlier elections go badly for him. And so far, so good: A mid-November survey from Quinnipiac University found Biden at 44 percent among black voters in South Carolina, way ahead of Sanders’s second-place mark of 10 percent. In Nevada, Biden has the lead among nonwhite voters, too, but it isn’t nearly as sizeable. A November poll by Fox News found Biden up just 28 percent to 26 percent over Sanders among nonwhites, which could be due to Sanders’s strength among Hispanic voters (Sanders led Biden 31 percent to 24 percent). So part of Biden’s strength in Nevada isn’t just an advantage among nonwhite voters; he’s also got a small advantage among white voters there, too, leading Warren 23 percent to 21 percent.

Unlike Biden, Buttigieg’s low to nonexistent support among nonwhite voters might make it tough for him to break through in Nevada and South Carolina. In that South Carolina Quinnipiac poll, Buttigieg polled at 6 percent overall but didn’t register any support among black voters. Similarly, that Fox News survey of Nevada found Buttigieg at 8 percent statewide but with only 2 percent support among nonwhite voters. Similarly, Warren has also struggled to win nonwhite support in either state, attracting only 8 percent of black voters in the South Carolina Quinnipiac poll and 12 percent of nonwhite voters in the Nevada Fox News survey.

Polling in the first four states has shifted quite a bit in the last month and a half as Buttigieg has moved up, but polling in Nevada and South Carolina underscores just how difficult it will be to dislodge Biden from the top of the field as long as he maintains strong support among nonwhite voters. And of course, there still could be a few more shifts in the early state polls between now and then. As past campaigns have shown, late surges aren’t unheard of — but neither are late slides. Democrats also aren’t locked in on who they plan to support. Two polls from November, for instance, found that a majority of Democrats hadn’t yet made up their minds. Voting might seem like it’s just around the corner, but there’s still a ways to go.


Who’s Leading The Democratic Primary In Super Tuesday States?

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-09 11:00

You’ve heard how South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is coming on strong in Iowa. You’ve heard how New Hampshire is a free-for-all. And you’ve heard about former Vice President Joe Biden’s firewall in Nevada and especially South Carolina.

But the Democratic primary won’t end after those four states, especially if no clear winner emerges from them. That means the 16 states and territories21 that vote on March 3 — Super Tuesday — could be critical to Democrats’ selection of a nominee; together they are estimated to be worth more than a third of Democrats’ pledged delegates.

Despite these places’ importance, though, there’s been relatively little coverage of which candidates might have an advantage there. Of course, plenty will probably change between now and Super Tuesday. In addition to the normal fluctuations in the horse race, the results in the first four states will likely winnow the field, too. But I still think it’s worthwhile checking in on the polling in some important March states to see what the race looks like now.22

Appropriately given its outsized number of delegates, California has been one of the most frequently polled states over the past two months:

Anyone’s race in California

Polling for the four leading Democratic presidential candidates, in public polls conducted since Oct. 1

Dates Pollster Biden Warren Sanders Buttigieg
Nov. 21-27 UC Berkeley 14% 22% 24% 12%
Nov. 20-22 SurveyUSA 28 13 18 8
Nov. 3-12 PPIC 24 23 17 7
Nov. 1-13 Capitol Weekly 18 27 21 14
Oct. 15-18 Change Research 19 28 24 9
Oct. 15-16 SurveyUSA 33 18 17 4
Oct. 1-15 Capitol Weekly 21 35 15 6
Average 22 24 19 9

Source: Polls

And the polls there have shown some stark disagreements: Some have given Biden a solid lead, while others find a decisive edge for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and the most recent found Sen. Bernie Sanders in a virtual tie for first. A simple polling average shows Warren at 24 percent, Biden at 22 percent and Sanders at 19 percent. If those are their final percentages in California, the state’s huge trove of 416 delegates (the most of any one primary or caucus) would be split three ways. But, again, it’s still early.

Notably, Buttigieg is only averaging 9 percent in California, which is another reason to believe, at least at this stage, that he might have trouble building on potential strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. And it’s not in the table, but home-state Sen. Kamala Harris averaged 8 percent across these seven polls before she dropped out, so whoever picks up her support in the Golden State could alter the shape of the race, too.

Texas has the second-biggest delegate haul (228) of both Super Tuesday and the entire primary calendar, but unlike California, signs point to a front-runner: Biden (although, with only two polls conducted in the state in the last two months, we don’t have the clearest picture of the race there).

Biden is ahead in Texas

Polling for the four leading Democratic presidential candidates, in public polls conducted since Oct. 1

Dates Pollster Biden Warren Sanders Buttigieg
Nov. 5-14 UT Tyler 28% 19% 18% 8%
Oct. 18-27 YouGov 23 18 12 6
Average 26 19 15 7

Source: Polls

After all, only the most recent poll — from the University of Texas at Tyler — was conducted after former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a native son of Texas, exited the race. And he got 14 percent in that YouGov poll, so a fair number of voters may still be up for grabs in the Lone Star State.

Continuing down the line, the third-most important Super Tuesday state in terms of delegates is North Carolina with 110.

Biden is strong in North Carolina, too

Polling for the four leading Democratic presidential candidates, in public polls conducted since Oct. 1

Dates Pollster Biden Warren Sanders Buttigieg
Nov. 10-13 Fox News 37% 15% 14% 6%
Nov. 1-7 High Point 33 13 18 4
Oct. 13-26 Siena/NYT Upshot 29 15 13 1
Oct. 2-9 East Carolina 29 17 19 4
Oct. 4-6 PPP 39 22 6 9
Average 33 16 14 5

Source: Polls

We’ve gotten several polls in the Tar Heel State in the last two months, with all five indicating that Biden has a healthy lead. This should come as no surprise in a state that, like South Carolina, has a large base of black voters. In 2016, the Democratic primary electorate was 38 percent nonwhite.

But beyond those three delegate-rich states, we don’t have a lot of recent Super Tuesday polling. In Virginia (99 delegates), the most recent poll was conducted almost three months ago. And while it showed Biden with a comfortable lead, demographically the state is also fertile ground for Warren or Buttigieg, given that college-educated whites constituted almost half of its 2016 Democratic primary electorate. Indeed, Massachusetts, Super Tuesday’s fifth-biggest prize with 91 delegates, has an even higher share of college-educated white voters, and Warren led there by 15 points in the most recent poll from mid-October. But of course, Massachusetts is also Warren’s home state, which could be a factor here as well. That said, she also took 25 percent and first place in the most recent poll of Minnesota (75 delegates), in which home-state Sen. Amy Klobuchar also received a respectable 15 percent.

Beyond that, Super Tuesday is a black box. There hasn’t been a survey of Colorado (67 delegates) since August. Tennessee (64 delegates), Alabama (52 delegates) and Oklahoma (37 delegates) haven’t been polled since July, although demographically the first two at least should be good fits for Biden. Meanwhile, Arkansas (31 delegates) and Utah (29 delegates) haven’t seen any polls.

October did bring us two surveys of Maine, but they disagreed as to whether Biden or Warren was leading, but considering only 24 delegates are at stake, it probably won’t be what makes or breaks Super Tuesday for a candidate. Same with Vermont (16 delegates), Democrats Abroad (13 delegates) and American Samoa (six delegates), where there are also zero polls — although we can probably be pretty confident that Sanders will win his home state. (He has a 65 percent approval rating there and won 86 percent there in the 2016 primary.)

In summary, it looks like Biden and to a lesser extent Warren would start out with the advantage on Super Tuesday. Biden leads in two of the three biggest states (Texas and North Carolina), plus probably multiple Southern states (Tennessee, Alabama, maybe Virginia and Arkansas). Warren likely leads in two mid-size states (Massachusetts and Minnesota) but also figures to amass a significant delegate haul from California, which currently looks like a jump ball. And while we can only say with confidence that Sanders is favored to win one state, he definitely has a chance to pick up plenty of delegates by finishing a respectable second or third in many other places.

The further out you go on the calendar, there’s even more good news for Biden. One week after Super Tuesday, Michigan (125 delegates) will be the big prize, and Biden leads in an average of the three polls taken there in the last two months23:

Biden has a small lead in Michigan

Polling for the four leading Democratic presidential candidates, in public polls conducted since Oct. 1

Dates Pollster Biden Warren Sanders Buttigieg
Oct. 31-Nov. 3 Emerson 34% 19% 28% 8%
Oct. 13-25 Siena/NYT Upshot 30 21 17 3
Sept. 23-Oct. 15 Kaiser Family Foundation 19 25 15 7
Average 28 22 20 6

Source: Polls

Beyond that, Biden is also ahead — for now — in Florida (219 delegates), Illinois (155 delegates), Ohio (136 delegates) and Arizona (67 delegates) for the March 17 primaries:

Biden is poised to dominate the March 17 primaries

Polling in Florida, Illinois, Ohio and Arizona for the four leading Democratic presidential candidates, in public polls conducted since Oct. 1

Florida
Dates Pollster Biden Warren Sanders Buttigieg
Oct. 13-26 Siena/NYT Upshot 27% 19% 13% 5%
Average 27 19 13 5
Illinois
Dates Pollster Biden Warren Sanders Buttigieg
Nov. 22-25 Victory Research 23% 17% 15% 16%
Average 23 17 15 16
Ohio
Dates Pollster Biden Warren Sanders Buttigieg
Oct. 1-7 Climate Nexus 32% 21% 13% 5%
Sept. 29-Oct. 2 Emerson 29 21 27 5
Average 31 21 20 5
Arizona
Dates Pollster Biden Warren Sanders Buttigieg
Oct. 31-Nov. 8 OH Predictive Insights 29% 18% 16% 9%
Oct. 25-28 Emerson 28 21 21 12
Oct. 13-25 Siena/NYT Upshot 24 15 16 5
Average 27 18 18 9

Source: Polls

Then, on March 24, Georgia (105 delegates) will vote, and Biden currently has a commanding lead there, too:

Biden has a large lead in Georgia

Polling for the four leading Democratic presidential candidates, in public polls conducted since Oct. 1

Dates Pollster Biden Warren Sanders Buttigieg
Nov. 15-18 SurveyUSA 36% 14% 17% 7%
Nov. 4-10 Climate Nexus 31 14 14 4
Average 34 14 16 6

Source: Polls

As for the states that will vote in April or later, most of them have seen no recent polling — and arguably, this is pretty justifiable, since the race is so unpredictable that deep into the calendar. It’s quite possible Biden or another candidate will have sewn up the nomination by this point anyway. But if not, look for a few states to be the differentiators. For example, Wisconsin (77 delegates) is set to vote on April 7, and recent polls show a very unsettled race there:

A nail-biter in Wisconsin

Polling for the four leading Democratic presidential candidates, in public polls conducted since Oct. 1

Dates Pollster Biden Warren Sanders Buttigieg
Nov. 13-17 Marquette 30% 15% 17% 13%
Oct. 13-26 Siena/NYT Upshot 23 25 20 5
Oct. 13-17 Marquette 31 24 17 7
Sept. 23-Oct. 15 Kaiser Family Foundation 17 22 10 6
Sept. 29-Oct. 2 Change Research 11 34 25 6
Sept. 29-Oct. 2 Fox News 28 22 17 7
Average 23 24 18 7

Source: Polls

The last big delegate haul of the primary will be on April 28, when New York (224 delegates) and Pennsylvania (153 delegates) go to the polls, and if trends hold steady, this day could be a shot in the arm for Biden: He had a 10-point lead over Warren in New York per a Siena College poll from mid-November, and he has an 11-point lead over her in an average of Pennsylvania polls conducted entirely or in part since Oct. 1:

Biden ahead in Pennsylvania

Polling for the four leading Democratic presidential candidates, in public polls conducted since Oct. 1

Dates Pollster Biden Warren Sanders Buttigieg
Oct. 21-27 Franklin & Marshall 30% 18% 12% 8%
Oct. 13-25 Siena/NYT Upshot 28 16 14 4
Sept. 23-Oct. 15 Kaiser Family Foundation 27 18 14 3
Sept. 30-Oct. 6 Susquehanna 17 9 6 8
Average 26 15 12 6

Source: Polls

Of course, by this point in the race, I’d be surprised if there are more than two candidates left standing, so there may be a chance for, say, Warren to consolidate anti-Biden support and win these states, too. Like a real-life choose-your-own-adventure book, the primary could still unfold along hundreds of paths. But it’s also important to remember there are several massive states still to vote after Iowa (41 delegates), New Hampshire (24 delegates), Nevada (36 delegates) and South Carolina (54 delegates) — and right now, Biden has far more delegates waiting for him in those states than any candidate is likely to amass in February.


Teams Are Excelling When Their QBs Leave The Pocket. Can That Continue?

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-06 19:24

In Kansas City’s Oct. 6 game against Indianapolis, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes faced a third and 18 from the Colts 27-yard line. Perhaps a bit skittish after an 8-yard sack on the previous play, Mahomes vacated the pocket early despite good protection from his line. Retreating backward, Mahomes faked left, then spun around and sprinted to the right sideline. He turned upfield at the boundary, and before crossing the line of scrimmage, he threw the ball approximately 35 yards across his body to wide receiver Byron Pringle in the end zone.

Mahomes is perhaps best known for his rocket arm and improbable no-look passes, but his ability to salvage plays like this — scrambling outside the pocket when the intended play design fails — is also off the charts. Mahomes has quickly become exhibit A when coaches talk about the value of a QB who can create out of structure. Throws outside the pocket have been on the rise across the league in recent years, including plays that are explicitly designed to put the QB on the move. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has even said that scheming movement for his quarterback is what makes his offense go.

This season, it seems to be paying dividends for teams that are proficient at it. With some notable exceptions, NFL teams that are successful on dropbacks outside the pocket have tended to win more games.

The Chiefs, 49ers and Patriots are all likely playoff teams that have taken different approaches to moving their quarterbacks.

The Chiefs have eight wins and rank fifth in the NFL in expected points added per play on dropbacks outside the pocket. I looked at all 60 plays that Kansas City has run outside, and I determined that half were improvised — plays made when the original call in the huddle broke down. On those improvised plays, Mahomes and the Chiefs averaged 0.39 EPA per play24 — 0.27 EPA per play better than the schemed plays designed by Reid.

San Francisco’s similar success to Kansas City belies a profound difference in approach. The 49ers are tied for the league lead in wins with 10 and are first in the NFL in EPA per play on outside dropbacks (0.51). But the Niners have run the second-fewest outside dropbacks in the league (28), and while the Chiefs have been reliant on the improvisational brilliance of their superstar QB, San Francisco has leaned heavily on head coach Kyle Shanahan. Nearly two-thirds of the 49ers’ plays outside the pocket in 2019 have been schemed, and Shanahan’s offense has been brilliant on those 18 occasions, earning 1.2 EPA per play. But when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been asked to improvise outside the pocket, he’s been a liability, accruing -0.43 EPA per play.

Similarly, the Patriots seldom ask Tom Brady to leave the pocket. The Patriots rank just above the 49ers in outside dropbacks on the year with 32, third-fewest in the league. Perhaps one reason is that when the 42-year-old Brady does move outside, it’s generally been a disaster: 62.5 percent of Brady’s plays outside the pocket have been improvised, and New England has an EPA per play of -0.70 on those scrambles. That’s far worse than the team’s work on schemed plays, which have generated 0.0 EPA per play.

Which approach is most likely to succeed? To answer that, we need to know if we should expect outside-the-pocket performance to continue. And if it does, which flavor of outside-the-pocket performance is most likely to persist: the improvisational approach exemplified by Mahomes and Kansas City, or the scheme-based approach of Shanahan and San Francisco?

To try to answer these questions, I tested the year-to-year stability of EPA per play both inside and outside the pocket.25 The results were somewhat surprising. It turns out that a quarterback’s performance inside the pocket has a 96 percent chance of being more stable than their performance outside the pocket. That is, a QB’s performance inside the pocket is a better predictor of future success (and future struggles) than the plays he runs outside of structure. This aligns generally with the work of Eric Eager at Pro Football Focus, who found that QB play from a clean pocket is a more consistent measurement of quarterback performance, relative to QB play under pressure. Moreover, the evidence suggests that performance on schemed plays outside the pocket — specifically play-action — is almost completely unstable, further driving home that we can’t infer much about a quarterback’s success on outside the pocket.

None of this is to say that outside-the-pocket performance doesn’t matter. It’s simply unpredictable. Fumbles have an enormous impact on the outcome of a game, but they’re basically random events. Just because a team has had good or bad fumble luck throughout a season doesn’t mean future fumbles are more or less likely to occur.

We can use this information to set reasonable expectations for the rest of the season and into the postseason. Kansas City relies on Mahomes’s out-of-pocket exploits to a large degree: They’ve run nearly as many plays outside as San Francisco and New England have combined. And while outside-the-pocket performance is generally unstable across years, the type of plays Mahomes makes out of structure tend to be the most steady. Mahomes is also impressive throwing from the pocket. Among healthy, qualifying QBs, Mahomes ranks second in in-the-pocket QBR, behind only Lamar Jackson. It’s reasonable to conclude that his performance has a good chance to continue.

Mahomes has performed well in and out of the pocket

Quarterback rating in plays inside and outside the pocket for QBs this season with a minimum of 100 passing attempts, through Week 13

QBR
player Team games out of pocket in pocket TOTAL
Matthew Stafford* DET 8 15.1 82.7 68.5
Lamar Jackson BAL 12 72.1 76.9 81.6
Patrick Mahomes KC 10 75.2 74.6 76.6
Drew Brees NO 7 8.6 72.8 61.0
Dak Prescott DAL 12 81.1 70.8 72.9
Deshaun Watson HOU 12 84.7 68.0 71.9
Derek Carr OAK 12 55.3 67.7 56.3
Kirk Cousins MIN 12 66.5 66.7 60.5
Kyler Murray ARI 12 23.7 64.0 59.6
Jimmy Garoppolo SF 12 87.5 63.8 58.4
Russell Wilson SEA 12 92.8 63.4 72.1
Jacoby Brissett IND 11 18.4 59.5 48.2
Teddy Bridgewater NO 7 18.0 58.2 47.8
Matt Ryan ATL 11 28.3 58.0 54.5
Carson Wentz PHI 12 94.4 57.9 64.3
Ryan Fitzpatrick MIA 11 58.5 57.7 64.1
Aaron Rodgers GB 12 66.1 55.5 55.9
Philip Rivers LAC 12 12.0 55.1 46.2
Tom Brady NE 12 12.1 54.4 52.5
Josh Allen BUF 12 18.1 54.2 47.3
Jared Goff LA 12 46.0 50.3 42.1
Ryan Tannehill TEN 8 18.3 49.8 52.9
Sam Darnold NYJ 9 36.2 48.7 43.3
Joe Flacco* DEN 8 35.7 48.0 48.3
Case Keenum WSH 8 72.0 47.1 47.2
Baker Mayfield CLE 12 30.8 46.9 51.8
Daniel Jones* NYG 11 28.4 46.7 51.4
Jameis Winston TB 12 92.1 46.0 52.0
Mitchell Trubisky CHI 11 39.0 44.1 38.8
Andy Dalton CIN 9 7.3 42.7 39.5
Kyle Allen CAR 10 43.6 41.4 38.3
Nick Foles JAC 4 5.9 40.0 34.3
Gardner Minshew JAC 10 66.6 38.1 43.3
Marcus Mariota TEN 6 16.7 33.1 33.0
Mason Rudolph PIT 9 65.2 32.7 32.9
Jeff Driskel DET 3 45.6 30.8 48.8
Josh Rosen MIA 6 13.3 21.5 19.7
Dwayne Haskins WSH 6 10.2 13.0 14.2

*Quarterbacks sidelined with injuries coming into Week 14.

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

The performances of Garoppolo and Brady outside the pocket, however, take on less importance. Garoppolo likely won’t be as good in the future on outside plays — since most of them were schemed play-action — and there’s a chance that Brady won’t be as bad moving forward. We should probably temper our expectations on that count, though, since it’s unlikely that Brady will grow new legs at age 42. Perhaps the poor out-of-pocket numbers are here to stay for New England. More concerning is Brady’s very average in-the-pocket QBR of 54.4 through 13 weeks. If that number doesn’t improve, the Patriots’ path through the postseason could end up being one of the toughest, despite their gaudy regular-season win total.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.


How Fast Can You Skip To Your Favorite Song?

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-06 13:00

Welcome to The Riddler. Every week, I offer up problems related to the things we hold dear around here: math, logic and probability. Two puzzles are presented each week: the Riddler Express for those of you who want something bite-size and the Riddler Classic for those of you in the slow-puzzle movement. Submit a correct answer for either,win 👏, I need to receive your correct answer before 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on Monday. Have a great weekend!</p> ">26 and you may get a shoutout in next week’s column. If you need a hint or have a favorite puzzle collecting dust in your attic, find me on Twitter.

Riddler Express

For this week’s Express, I present an apparent coincidence that has bothered me since 2015:

After being ambushed by the forces of the First Order on the planet Jakku, the droid BB-8 narrowly escaped and requires immediate help. Fortunately, there is one person (named Rey) on the planet who can help BB-8, but they’ve never met and BB-8 has no idea where Rey is located.

Even if BB-8 did know where Rey was, what’s the probability that BB-8 could reach her within 24 hours? Assume Jakku has a radius of 4,000 miles (similar to Earth) and that BB-8 rolls along at a speed of 3 miles per hour.

(Note: FiveThirtyEight is owned by Disney, which also owns BB-8, Jakku and whatever ramshackle hut Rey is hiding out in.)

Submit your answer

Riddler Classic

From Austin Chen comes a riddle of efficiently finding a song:

You have a playlist with exactly 100 tracks (i.e., songs), numbered 1 to 100. To go to another track, there are two buttons you can press: (1) “Next,” which will take you to the next track in the list or back to song 1 if you are currently on track 100, and (2) “Random,” which will take you to a track chosen uniformly from among the 100 tracks. Pressing “Random” can restart the track you’re already listening to — this will happen 1 percent of the time you press the “Random” button.

For example, if you started on track 73, and you pressed the buttons in the sequence “Random, Next, Random, Random, Next, Next, Random, Next,” you might get the following sequence of track numbers: 73, 30, 31, 67, 12, 13, 14, 89, 90. You always know the number of the track you’re currently listening to.

Your goal is to get to your favorite song (on track 42, of course) with as few button presses as possible. What should your general strategy be? Assuming you start on a random track, what is the average number of button presses you would need to make to reach your favorite song?

Submit your answer

Solution to last week’s Riddler Express

Congratulations to 👏 Kevin Winters 👏 of Rochester, New York, winner of last week’s Riddler Express.

The last edition of the Riddler posed a question about the World Series, in which one team hosts Games 1, 2, 6 and 7, while the other team hosts Games 3, 4 and 5. On average, the home team wins about 54 percent of the time. So then what was the probability that the home team would lose at least six consecutive games?

If we indicate a home win with an ‘H’ and a home loss (i.e., a road win) with an ‘R’, then you might think there are three ways the home team could lose at least six consecutive games out of seven total games: HRRRRRR, RRRRRRH and RRRRRRR. We can find the probability for each of these sequences by multiplying together 54 percent for each home win and 46 percent for each road win. The probabilities of HRRRRRR and RRRRRRH are each 0.512 percent, while the probability of RRRRRRR is a slightly smaller 0.436 percent.

But of course, as solver An Nguyen noted, this riddle has a twist. Let’s take a closer look at the sequence HRRRRRR, keeping in mind that one team will be the home team for Games 1 and 2 and then the road team in games 3, 4 and 5. After the first two games (HR in the sequence), the series will be even, with both teams having won one game apiece. After Games 3, 4 and 5 (RRR in the sequence), the original home team will now be ahead 4-1 in the series. In other words, the series is over — Games 6 and 7 will not be played, and there cannot be six consecutive road wins. Meanwhile, the other two sequences (RRRRRRH and RRRRRRR) indeed go to seven games, and so six road wins will occur. That means the answer is 0.512 percent plus 0.436 percent, or about 0.947 percent. That’s less than a 1 in 100 chance of it happening — a once-in-a-century event!

For extra credit, you were asked to find the probability that the home team will lose at least five consecutive games, as well as four consecutive games. Just as with six consecutive games, the strategy is to list out the possibilities, making sure no team wins four games (and hence, the series) prematurely.

Sequences in which the home team loses at least five consecutive games include those in which it lost at least six consecutive games, as well as the following: HHRRRRR, RHRRRRR, HRRRRRH, RRRRRHH and RRRRRHR. Of these sequences, the first three don’t make it past Game 5. The last two end at Game 6, meaning they are technically one and the same sequence, RRRRRH, which has a probability of 1.112 percent. All together, the home team will lose at least five consecutive games 0.947 percent plus 1.112 percent, or about 2.06 percent — a twice-in-a-century event.

To determine how often the home team loses at least four consecutive games, you must also consider the sequences HRHRRRR (which lasts seven games), RHHRRRR (which also lasts seven games), HRRRR (which lasts five games) and RRRRH (which can last different numbers of games, depending on what happens after Game 5). Taken together, the probability that the home team loses at least four consecutive games is about 8.1 percent.

Just in case you were wondering, the math says there’s a 23 percent chance the home team will lose at least three consecutive games and a 61 percent chance the home team will lose at least twice in a row.

Finally, puzzle submitter Dave Moran compared these predicted rates with reality. According to Dave, there have been 95 World Series since MLB went to the 2-3-2 format in 1924 (remember, there was no World Series in 1994 due to a strike). Based on the probabilities calculated above, we’d expect there to have been one World Series with at least six straight road wins — sure enough, there was exactly one (2019). We also expect there to have been two World Series with least five straight road wins — sure enough, there were two (1996 and 2019). Finally, we’d expect eight World Series to have had at least four straight road wins — and, to no one’s surprise at this point, there were exactly eight (1926, 1934, 1941, 1949, 1961, 1986, 1996 and 2019).

Spooky!

Solution to last week’s Riddler Classic

Congratulations to 👏 Joshua Goodman 👏 of Cambridge, Massachusetts, winner of last week’s Riddler Classic.

Last Riddler, five friends were playing the Riddler Lottery, in which they each chose exactly five numbers from 1 to 70. The first friend noticed that no number was selected by two or more friends. The second friend observed that all 25 selected numbers were composite (i.e., not prime and not 1). The third friend pointed out that each selected number has at least two distinct prime factors. The fourth friend remarked that the product of the selected numbers on each ticket was exactly the same. The fifth friend had nothing more to say. What was the product of the selected numbers on each ticket?

Solver Tim Thielke started by listing out all the numbers that met the criteria of the second and third friends (or really just the third friend, since having at least two distinct prime factors means a number must be composite). There are 41 numbers between 1 and 70 that have at least two distinct prime factors: 6, 10, 12, 14, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24, 26, 28, 30, 33, 34, 35, 36, 38, 39, 40, 42, 44, 45, 46, 48, 50, 51, 52, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 60, 62, 63, 65, 66, 68, 69 and 70. From this list, we somehow need to figure out which 25 numbers the friends chose.

Solver Maria Ilyukhina next looked at numbers that were multiples of large primes. (She also explained in her answer that it was her birthday — so happy birthday, Maria!) For example, suppose the product of the numbers on each of the five friends’ cards is divisible by 13. Looking carefully, you’ll see that only four of the numbers in the list above are divisible by 13: 26, 39, 52 and 65. So at most four of the friends’ products can be divisible by 13 — not all five. For the five products to be equal, that means no one chose a multiple of 13. The same goes for larger primes, like 17, 19 and 23. This leaves us with 28 numbers: 6, 10, 12, 14, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24, 28, 30, 33, 35, 36, 40, 42, 44, 45, 48, 50, 54, 55, 56, 60, 63, 66 and 70. We’re getting there!

Out of these 28 numbers, we need to pick the 25 that will be split into five groups of five numbers, each with the same product. If we were to multiply all 28 of these numbers together (it’s not entirely clear yet why we would do this, but bear with me), the product happens to be 236·322·512·78·115. Imagine splitting up these prime factors into the five groups. That’s easy for the five powers of 11 — one factor of 11 will go into each group. But dividing up the eight factors of 7 into five groups is trickier, because eight isn’t a multiple of five. We need to get rid of three of them, leaving us with five factors of 7, so that each group will get one of them.

And so, in going from 28 numbers down to 25, we need to remove three numbers so that the overall product of 236·322·512·78·115 becomes 235·320·510·75·115 — when every exponent is a multiple of 5, the prime factors are evenly distributable among the five groups. As James Barton explains in his writeup, the three numbers you must eliminate are 35, 63, and 70. Indeed, the 25 selected numbers are 6, 10, 12, 14, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24, 28, 30, 33, 36, 40, 42, 44, 45, 48, 50, 54, 55, 56, 60 and 66, and the product of the numbers on each ticket is 27·34·52·71·111, or 19,958,400.

Now that we know the 25 numbers the friends picked, we’re ready for the extra credit: How many different ways could they have selected their numbers? This was challenging, as solver “Lenboy” attested, having submitted, “Jeezaloo. Not enough time in the day… someone can write a code…” as an answer.

It turns out there are many ways the friends could have selected their numbers. One example is: {6, 15, 56, 60, 66}, {10, 14, 48, 54, 55}, {12, 18, 42, 44, 50}, {20, 21, 33, 36, 40} and {22, 24, 28, 30, 45} — sure enough, the product of each group of five numbers is 19,958,400. Working together, solvers Boris Perkhounkov and David Zimmerman wrote some code to find the total number of unique ways you can form the 25 numbers so that each group of five has the same product. The answer turns out to be a whopping 12,781!

Finally, there are 5!, or 120, ways to assign these five groups to the five friends. Therefore, there are 12,781·120 = 1,533,720 total ways the friends could have picked their numbers so that their statements were all true. (Before you ask, yes, I also accepted 12,781 as a correct answer here.)

While that number is sizable, it’s still much, much smaller than the total number of ways the five friends could have chosen any five numbers. What I’m really saying is that these friends didn’t pick their numbers randomly. They were totally in cahoots.

Want more riddles?

Well, aren’t you lucky? There’s a whole book full of the best puzzles from this column and some never-before-seen head-scratchers. It’s called “The Riddler,” and it’s in stores now!

Want to submit a riddle?

Email Zach Wissner-Gross at riddlercolumn@gmail.com.


What To Watch For In The College Football Conference Championships

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-06 12:00

Chalk up the 2019 college football season as one in which the sport reestablished the value of conference championships. Each of the top eight teams in the penultimate College Football Playoff rankings is vying for a conference title this weekend. The committee, which has often been prone to going in a new direction after the final playoff rankings, has essentially guaranteed that it will send four Power Five teams that appeared in conference championships to the playoff.

The title games include the usual suspects, of course: Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State and Oklahoma are again in the mix in their conferences. But there are also new contenders, including Baylor and Virginia, programs that combined to go 31-45 over the previous three seasons.

Let’s break down the marquee conference championships this weekend, including the game odds from FiveThirtyEight’s college football prediction model, and spotlight a matchup to watch in each.

ACC

Clemson Tigers (91 percent win probability)
vs. Virginia Cavaliers (9 percent)

If today’s college football has a preeminent power, it’s Clemson, not Alabama.27 The Tigers haven’t lost in more than 700 days and recently capped their second consecutive undefeated regular season. Three more wins would result in a third national title in four years. But as recently as November, there were scenarios in which the reigning national champs could run the table and miss out on the postseason tournament altogether. Much of that, of course, is because the ACC is a weak conference. But the Tigers’ mauling of its second-half schedule has largely put those conversations to bed, even if Head Coach Dabo Swinney seems to be working to resurrect them.

Since a near-loss at Chapel Hill, Clemson has outscored its past seven opponents 353 to 61. Trevor Lawrence shed a lusterless start to the season28 to earn all-conference honors. From games 8 through 12, Lawrence’s nation-leading 95.4 QBR was a full 1.5 points higher than any other QB.

But Clemson’s defense is the runaway storyline of its season. To understand how dominant it’s been, it’s instructive to recall what it lost. All four members of the Tigers’ 2018 defensive line were selected within the first 117 picks of the 2019 NFL draft, only the 10th time such a feat has occurred since 1967, when the NFL and AFL began drafting together.

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables responded by putting a statistically superior unit on the field. By defensive successful play rate, which measures the share of plays allowed with expected points added of less than zero, Clemson’s 2019 defense is not only the best in the country — more than 1 percentage point clear of the field — but it’s also 2.3 points better than the nation-leading 2018 Clemson defense. And through 12 games, Clemson is allowing 0.74 points per drive, the lowest rate of any team since Alabama’s national championship 2012 squad.

It’s telling that Virginia is first mentioned this deep into our analysis. The line for this game — a conference championship tilt! — is Clemson by 29. The Tigers have won seven straight games by at least 31 points, so the line is certainly warranted. Virginia ranks 35th in ESPN’s Total Efficiency metric, and while that’s good enough for second in the ACC, it indicates a sizable gap in quality between the Cavaliers and Tigers.

Matchup to watch: Virginia’s third-down defense against Clemson’s ahead-of-the-chains offense

There aren’t many better offensive trios than Lawrence, Travis Etienne and Tee Higgins. Clemson’s offense has breezed downfield, so it’s no surprise that third downs are a rarity. Swinney has never had an offense at this point in the season with such few third-down snaps — a nice problem to have, admittedly.

Failing to get off the field defensively would kill Virginia’s already-slim prospects. The Cavaliers excel in those situations because they generate exceptional pressure on opposing quarterbacks.29 Third-down performance might not decide the outcome, but it could be the difference between Clemson blasting another opponent into oblivion or Virginia playing the game on its terms.

Big Ten

Ohio State Buckeyes (77 percent win probability)
vs. Wisconsin Badgers (23 percent)

If the Buckeyes miss Urban Meyer, they have an odd way of showing it. In their first official season under Head Coach Ryan Day, the Buckeyes have faced less in-game adversity than any team in the country. Only one game was tighter than 10 points. Since 2004, only Florida State’s national title-winning 2013 team outscored its first 12 opponents by a larger average margin than the 38.1 points this year’s Ohio State has drubbed its opposition by.

Wisconsin fared better than average against Ohio State in late October. The bad news is that the Badgers still lost by 31.

A win for Paul Chryst’s Badgers likely results in a trip to Pasadena, not a playoff ticket — our model gives Wisconsin only a 31 percent chance to make the playoff even if it beats Ohio State. The committee has never sent a two-loss team to the playoff, and it’s a safe bet that it won’t snap the streak for a team that lost to Illinois.

Matchup to watch: Chase Young vs. the Wisconsin offensive line

There’s perhaps no player more entertaining than the junior defensive end (who almost certainly won’t win the Heisman but should undoubtedly be in consideration). When Young last played Wisconsin, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year had the best single-game individual defensive performance of the season, tallying five tackles for loss, four sacks and two forced fumbles. The Buckeyes generated a pressure rate of 39.1 in the win, the best single-game performance against Wisconsin by nearly 9 percentage points.

The Badgers did shore up their offensive-line woes in the following weeks, allowing an average pressure rate of 23.7 percent with just three sacks in the four games since their tilt with the Buckeyes. But Young is a gamebreaker and if he gets loose, as he so often does, this will be another nightmare experience the Badgers won’t soon forget.

Big 12

Baylor Bears (37 percent win probability)
vs. Oklahoma Sooners (63 percent)

While the expectation in Norman is to compete annually for conference championships, the Bears are appearing in the Big 12 Championship Game for the first time in program history. The most recent installment of this matchup resulted in one of the most entertaining games of the season. And with both teams in the conversation to reach the playoff, the stage is properly set for Act 2.

Oklahoma has a baked-in reason to run up the score: They sit behind Utah in the latest playoff rankings. Even if the favorites win out this weekend, Lincoln Riley’s team could still be on the outside looking in. Meanwhile, a win for Baylor would bump the Bears’ playoff odds to 60 percent, but they’ll need even more style points to jump Utah or any of the favorites currently ahead in the rankings.

Matchup to watch: Jalen Hurts vs. Baylor’s pass defense

For more than a decade, the Big 12’s reputation has been one of ostentatious scoreboards and offensive box scores. Seldom is defense mentioned in a positive light. But Baylor is doing its best to recontextualize. Through 12 games, this is the Bears’ second-strongest team defense in the efficiency era,30 and much of that is a credit to how the team controls the air.

Only seven teams have a stronger pass defense, as measured by expected points added. The Bears lead the conference in opponent net yards per pass attempt31 and opponent QBR. That’s showing up in traditional box score, too: Compared with this time last season, team takeaways have spiked more than 200 percent.

But Oklahoma’s Hurts is no average QB. The senior shook off an atrocious first half in the teams’ first meeting to finish with four touchdown passes and more than 400 yards of total offense. He is by all accounts one of the best players in the country and could tame the Baylor defense just as he did the last time they met.

Pac-12

Utah Utes (55 percent win probability)
vs. Oregon Ducks (45 percent)

Utah has come a long way since losing less than 24 hours after I wrote that a new-look offense could lead the Utes to the playoff. Ranked fifth in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, the Utes have a 34 percent likelihood of ending a two-season drought for the Pac-12 and reaching the playoff, according to our model.

A win over Oregon would bump Utah’s playoff likelihood to 60 percent. And while our model is more bearish on Oklahoma,32 a comfortable Utes win would likely seal the deal.

A particularly painful scenario for Utah would play out if Georgia were to beat LSU in a nail-biter, resulting in both teams advancing to the playoff and, assuming Clemson and Ohio State win, the Utes and Sooners staying home.

Matchup to watch: Utah’s much-improved offense vs. Oregon’s stingy red-zone defense

Not unlike a boxer who prefers to be on the ropes, Oregon’s defense seems to perform best when it’s backed up on its side of the field. The Ducks lead the country in defensive red-zone efficiency, allowing opponents into the end zone on just 33.3 percent of drives that reach the area. That rate is a full 3.3 percentage points clear of the field.

Oregon also leads the country in goal-to-go situations, allowing opponents into the end zone on just 21.4 percent of drives. That rate is even more impressive considering that it’s 23 percentage points lower than the next-best team.

This is Utah’s best offense since it became a card-carrying Pac-12 member. The Utes score 2.98 points per drive, the program’s best mark since the 2004 season, and Tyler Huntley has performed like one of the best QBs in the nation. But the Utes will need to finish off drives against a Ducks defense that’s grown confident it can prevent them.

SEC

Louisiana State (57 percent win probability)
vs. Georgia (43 percent)

Joe Burrow has been so magnetic this season that this weekend, his virality even extended to the school’s video crew.

The Heisman front-runner gets his toughest test of the season to date this weekend when he stares down a ravenous Georgia defense. Fittingly, the matchup will pit the No. 3 quarterback in Total QBR against the No. 3 defense in QBR allowed.

This is the only obvious “win-and-you’re-in” playoff matchup, and some posit the Tigers will go regardless of outcome — though our model, which rewards conference winners, gives LSU only a 14 percent chance with a loss.

Matchup to watch: Jake Fromm vs. LSU’s secondary

We get it: LSU has a fantastic offense. But lost in its brilliance is that the Tigers defense hasn’t been terribly special.

By adjusted defensive expected points added, which weights the metric based on quality of opponent, this is the fourth-worst LSU defense at this point in the season since 2004. Because of an at-times-lacking pass rush, LSU can be stretched out vertically. Perhaps a byproduct of blowing teams out of the water, opponents are taking shots downfield against the Tigers. Quarterbacks average 9.43 air yards per pass attempt against LSU, which ranks 95th nationally and 13th in the SEC in the metric.

LSU’s defense has allowed 41 passing plays of at least 20 yards, the highest total through 12 games by any LSU defense since at least 2004. And the Tigers have accumulated the fewest expected points added on pass defense of any LSU team since 2015. Heading into the season, this was supposed to be the best secondary in the country.

Fromm is one of the best QBs LSU will see this season. And even though the Bulldogs are thin at receiver, given how inconsistent the Tigers defense has been, he might get the green light to attack downfield.

Check out our latest college football predictions.


Significant Digits for Friday, Dec. 6, 2019

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-06 12:00

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news. Today’s number is 30, for the number of degrees that temperatures are expected to drop across the central U.S. next week due to another “Arctic blast.”


102-page report

The military and veteran-focused media company Task & Purpose says a recent study on the culture of the U.S. Marine Corps detailed exactly how sexism and workplace harassment go far beyond the nude photo scandal that was exposed in 2017. After researchers spoke with 267 active-duty male and female Marines, they compiled their findings and interviews in a 102-page report which provided examples of how female Marines were mistreated. [Task & Purpose]


1st black heroine in The Nutcracker

Even Christmas traditions can change to reflect and represent the children who love them. This year, the role of Marie in the New York City Ballet’s production of “Nutcracker” will be played by a black dancer for the first time: 11-year-old Charlotte Nebres. The School of American Ballet student also has a father from the Philippines and is one of several biracial young leads in the famous production this year. [New York Times]


17 House Republicans retiring

When things don’t look great for your political team, sometimes you decline to go another round. As of Thursday, 17 House Republicans have announced they are not seeking reelection in 2020. FiveThirtyEight’s Geoffrey Skelley pointed out many of these names have been members of the House for at least two decades, are from safe Republican districts and in their early-to-mid 60s, making them relatively young for retirement. Overall, it’s not a positive sign for the GOP. [FiveThirtyEight]


$11,172 per person in health care spending

A new study from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found a small one percent decrease in American retail drug prices in 2018 — the first decline in more than 40 years — but a significant jump in the cost per person for private health insurance. The study, which was published in the journal Health Affairs, says that last year health care spending overall grew by 4.6 percent to a total of $3.6 trillion, or an average of $11,172 per person. If you felt like you were spending more on out-of-pocket fees such as insurance deductibles and co-payments in 2018 , those also increased last year by 2.8 percent. [Washington Post]


30 percent more texting and driving

The holiday period means increases in spending and travel, as well as incidents of distracted driving, even with more laws guarding against the practice in several states. A new report from Bloomberg News analyzed the data of approximately 30,000 drivers and found distracted driving in New York City and Los Angeles rose during the summer, as well as increased by approximately 30 percent during the holidays. [Bloomberg News]


$2.3 billion battery plant

On Thursday General Motors announced a partnership with South Korea’s LG Chem for a new $2.3 billion electric battery factory near Lordstown, Ohio. It’s the same location where the carmaker recently shutdown an auto assembly plant. But the company will now build a plant focused on battery cells for electric vehicles, creating 1,100 jobs. The Lordstown facility had employed 1,600 people, many of whom relocated to other GM factories in other states. GM CEO Mary Barra refused to confirm whether former Lordstown workers would be prioritized for hiring purposes at the new plant. [USA Today]



North Carolina’s New House Map Hands Democrats Two Seats — But It Still Leans Republican

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-06 11:15

It doesn’t get a lot of attention next to the presidential race, but Republicans have a fighting chance to retake control of the U.S. House next year. Dozens of Democrats sit in seats President Trump carried in 2016, and the GOP still has a built-in structural advantage due to geographic self-sorting and how some districts are drawn. But some of that advantage disappeared this week, when a three-judge panel approved a new congressional map for North Carolina to replace the state’s previous Republican gerrymander.

It’s been a busy year for North Carolina district maps. In September, North Carolina’s state-legislative map was thrown out for violating the state constitution’s “free elections” clause. Within the month, Democratic-backed plaintiffs filed a similar lawsuit against the state’s U.S. House map, which was drawn to maximize the number of Republican districts. In October, a majority-Democrat panel of judges found that the map showed signs of “extreme partisan gerrymandering” and issued an injunction against it, and the Republican legislature passed a new map in mid-November. The Democratic plaintiffs argued that the boundaries were still not fair enough, but on Monday, the judges ruled in favor of the map, which will now be used for the 2020 elections.33

Let’s dive into the partisanship of the new map. Thanks to Daily Kos Elections, which has already calculated the results of the 2016 and 2012 presidential races (among other recent elections) in each of the new districts, we’ve calculated FiveThirtyEight partisan leans34 for each of the new seats, and the new map does significantly alter the partisan composition of several North Carolina districts. That means that, instead of 10 pretty safe Republican districts and three pretty safe Democratic ones, North Carolina now has eight fairly Republican-leaning districts and five fairly Democratic-leaning ones.

Two red districts in North Carolina just became blue

The FiveThirtyEight partisan leans* of North Carolina’s congressional districts, before and after court-ordered redistricting in 2019

District Old Partisan Lean New Partisan Lean
1st D+35 D+10
2nd R+13 D+19
3rd R+24 R+24
4th D+35 D+29
5th R+18 R+36
6th R+16 D+18
7th R+18 R+20
8th R+15 R+10
9th R+14 R+13
10th R+24 R+38
11th R+28 R+17
12th D+37 D+34
13th R+10 R+36

*Partisan lean is the average difference between how a state or district votes and how the country votes overall, with 2016 presidential election results weighted at 50 percent, 2012 presidential election results weighted at 25 percent and results from elections for the state legislature weighted at 25 percent. Note that FiveThirtyEight’s current partisan leans do not yet incorporate the results of the 2018 election.

Source: Daily Kos Elections

The two districts whose partisan lean changed hues as a result of the new boundaries are the 2nd and 6th. Instead of being an R+13 seat encompassing the exurban and rural areas around Raleigh, the 2nd District now covers Raleigh and its immediate suburbs and is now 19 points more Democratic-leaning than the country as a whole. Former state Rep. Deborah Ross, the Democrats’ 2016 U.S. Senate nominee, headlines a crowded field of Democrats running for the seat, while current Republican Rep. George Holding has said he will not run here again. Similarly, the 6th District has also gone blue — from R+16 to D+18 — by swapping several rural counties for urban areas like Greensboro. Incumbent Republican Rep. Mark Walker sounds unlikely to run here again, too; instead, he is reportedly considering primarying a Republican incumbent for U.S. Senate. Meanwhile, Democrat Kathy Manning, who lost a bid for the 13th District in 2018, looks like a formidable contender for the new 6th.

The new map makes it very likely that Democrats will pick up two House seats in North Carolina in 2020. That’s important because it makes Republicans’ quest to regain House control — or at least eat into Democrats’ majority — that much harder. In effect, Republicans need to flip two additional Democratic-held seats just to stand pat in the House.

But many Democrats still aren’t satisfied with North Carolina’s new map. In pressing the legal case against it, National Democratic Redistricting Committee chair Eric Holder complained that the redrawn map “simply replaces one partisan gerrymander with a new one.” And he has a point — the new map does still give an advantage to Republicans, albeit a smaller one than the old map. Under the old lines, the median district by partisan lean was 10 points more Republican-leaning than the state as a whole.35 And under the new lines, the median district is 7 points more Republican-leaning than the state as a whole.36

If you’re a fan of a roughly proportional map — a.k.a., one where the share of seats a party wins is aligned with its statewide vote share — that’s a problem, as is the fact that the map is virtually unresponsive to changes in the national mood. To see this in action, just compare the share of congressional seats Republicans would win under different national popular vote scenarios in North Carolina to Pennsylvania, which got a new court-ordered congressional map in 2018. In that case, the Democratic-controlled Pennsylvania Supreme Court appeared to go out of its way to create competitive districts that would ensure the makeup of the state’s congressional delegation changed with the political winds. North Carolina’s map appears less responsive.

As you can see in the chart above, as Republicans or Democrats do better in the national popular vote, we would expect them to flip multiple seats in Pennsylvania. For example, assuming congressional results track exactly with partisan lean, we would expect Democrats to win eight out of 18 seats in a D+1 environment, but 10 of 18 seats in a D+6 environment and just five of 18 seats in an R+5 environment.

But in North Carolina, partisan lean implies that Republicans would win eight out of the 13 new districts in a Republican wave year (R+10) … and in a neutral political environment … and in a Democratic wave year (D+9). In fact, Democrats would have to win the national popular vote for U.S. House by 13 percentage points to win a majority of North Carolina’s U.S. House seats (again, assuming the results tracked exactly with partisan lean).

Plaintiffs could have appealed the case to the North Carolina Supreme Court in hopes of getting a more competitive map, but they declined to do so on Monday, citing the fact that candidate filing is already underway. And of course the maps will be redrawn in North Carolina — and everywhere else — starting in 2021, so both sides will have another crack at drawing the map soon.


Voters’ Second-Choice Candidates Show A Race That Is Still Fluid

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-06 11:00

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

On Tuesday, Sen. Kamala Harris abandoned her once-promising presidential campaign, making her the most significant Democrat to drop out of the race so far. After averaging 15 percent nationally at one point, Harris had fallen to about 5 percent in national polls, so while there isn’t exactly a ton of support now up for grabs, her voters will still have to pick someone else.

New polling from Morning Consult suggests, though, that Harris’s exit won’t necessarily create a dramatic shift in the race. If Harris supporters go with their second-choice picks, it’s the current slate of front-runners who stand to gain: Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren would each gain about 1 point.

We’ve been tracking voters’ second-choice preferences throughout the Democratic primary, and although Harris’s departure is unlikely to shake up the race, it’s a good time to check back in on where voters’ preferences stand, as this can help us understand who stands to benefit if one of the candidates falters in the polls.

When we last looked in October, Warren was the leading second-choice pick among Biden supporters, running counter to the conventional wisdom that Biden and Warren supporters might be firmly at odds with one another because of ideological differences. But looking at the latest Morning Consult data, there has been a shift: Sanders is now the leading alternative for Biden voters, although that might have less to do with ideology and more with Warren’s recent drop in the polls. Sanders, on the other hand, has remained formidable despite his health scare earlier in the fall. Overall, Biden was the first choice pick for 29 percent of respondents, Sanders for 20 percent, Warren for 15 percent, Buttigieg for 9 percent and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for 5 percent.

However, there are some signs of “lanes” in that Morning Consult data. For instance, there is a slight preference among Sanders’s supporters for Warren over Biden, and more Warren supporters name Sanders as their top second-choice pick. There’s also some overlap between Warren and Buttigieg, who have strong bases of support among white college-educated voters. Fifteen percent of Warren supporters named Buttigieg as a second choice, while 23 percent of Buttigieg’s backers picked Warren as their top alternative. However, Buttigieg may have as much to gain from Biden as Warren, given that 12 percent of Biden boosters picked Buttigieg as their second choice. This survey also allows us to look at Bloomberg in depth, who in his late bid for the presidency has angled himself as an alternative to Biden. But while Biden is clearly Bloomberg supporters’ second-choice pick, the former mayor has his work cut out for him — only 9 percent of Biden’s backers named Bloomberg as their second choice pick.

One other recent poll from Quinnipiac University also had second-choice voter data, and its findings were pretty similar to Morning Consult. Biden was in the lead again for first-choice support with 24 percent, followed by Buttigieg with 16 percent, Warren with 14 percent and Sanders with 13 percent. And among these candidates who polled 10 percent or higher, Warren was the top second choice for Sanders supporters and vice versa, while Buttigieg backers picked Warren. There was one small difference from the Morning Consult survey in that Biden voters in this poll preferred Warren over Sanders, although it was very close (19 percent Warren, 16 percent Sanders). It’s important to note, too, that this poll’s sample size was much smaller than Morning Consult’s (574 respondents compared to over 15,000).

Together, these two polls suggest that the supporters of the more ideologically left-leaning candidates — Sanders and Warren — are more in sync than they were when we last looked in October, but of course, this has its limitations. A sizable share of Sanders and Warren supporters still put Biden as their second-choice pick despite ideological differences. Not to mention, even though Buttigieg has positioned himself as a critic of Warren, there is still a strong preference for Warren among Buttigieg’s backers — and there’s some support for Buttigieg among Warren supporters, as well. So for all the talk of “lanes” in the 2020 Democratic primary, the lines still remain somewhat blurry.

Other polling bites

  • Pew Research Center released a new report that found sharp differences between Democrats and Republicans over the issue of climate change. Ninety percent of Democrats said the federal government is “doing too little” to combat climate change, compared to just 39 percent of Republicans.37 But there were some ideological divisions among Republicans on this question. Only 24 percent of conservative Republicans, who make up a majority of the party, think the government is doing too little, but 65 percent of moderate or liberal Republicans said they felt that way, a sign that they may be more open to government action when it comes to addressing climate change than their more conservative counterparts.
  • A new survey from Out Magazine and YouGov Blue asked LGBTQ likely Democratic primary voters about the 2020 election and found that former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is gay, placed fourth with 14 percent support. Buttigieg trailed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (31 percent), Sen. Bernie Sanders (18 percent) and former Vice President Joe Biden (16 percent).
  • It’s been nine years since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, but Americans are still very divided over it, according to new polling from Gallup. Overall, 50 percent of Americans approve of the law, while 48 percent disapprove, unchanged from Gallup’s poll of the same question a year ago. There is a stark partisan divide, too, but given the law’s close connection to former President Barack Obama, it’s probably unsurprising that just 11 percent of Republicans approve of it, compared with 84 percent of Democrats.
  • During his failed bid for president, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke insisted that he wouldn’t run for U.S. Senate in Texas again, but new polling suggests he might have a shot at winning if he reconsiders. A new survey from Democratic Policy Institute and Beacon Research found O’Rourke lapping the Democratic primary field with 58 percent and within 4 points of incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn in a hypothetical general election matchup, 42 percent to 46 percent. Theoretically, O’Rourke could still run — the filing deadline is Dec. 9 — but he’s been pretty adamant that he won’t enter the race, much to the disappointment of some Democrats.
  • A new survey from The Economist and YouGov asked Republicans if President Trump was a better president than some past GOP presidents and found Republicans have a more positive view of Trump than all but one president the pollster tested: Ronald Reagan. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans said Reagan was a better president, compared to 41 percent who backed Trump. Notably, Republicans narrowly prefer Trump over Abraham Lincoln — considered one of the greatest presidents in the country’s history — by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin. But Trump easily outdistanced the other Republican presidents that the poll asked about, including Dwight Eisenhower, George W. Bush and Richard Nixon.
  • On Tuesday, Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter pleaded guilty to corruption charges and is now likely to resign his seat. That means there’ll likely soon be a special election and a new representative in California’s 50th District. Competition among Republicans to replace Hunter could be stiff, too. In late November, former Rep. Darrell Issa released an internal poll that showed him just two points ahead of fellow Republican Carl DeMaio, 21 percent to 19 percent, in the primary for the 2020 general election. Hunter trailed with just 9 percent, while Ammar Campa-Najjar, the lone Democrat the poll tested, led overall with 31 percent in the Republican-leaning district.
  • The U.K. general election is now less than a week away, and the Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, continues to hold an edge in the polls. According to The Economist’s polling average, the Conservatives lead the opposition Labour Party 44 percent to 34 percent. Both major parties have made gains in the past few weeks, as support for other parties — particularly the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party — has shrunk.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 41.8 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53.3 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -11.5 points). At this time last week, 41.8 percent approved and 53.6 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -11.8 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 41.3 percent and a disapproval rating of 54.7 percent, for a net approval rating of -13.4 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 5.7 percentage points (46.8 percent to 41.1 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 5.7 points (46.7 percent to 41.0 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 5.4 points (46.7 percent to 41.3 percent).


Trevor Lawrence Is Playing Like A Star Again

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-05 12:00

Dabo Swinney had a lot to say on Tuesday. Heading into the ACC championship game against Virginia, Clemson’s head coach said his team is underestimated. He said the ACC is underrated. And he said his sophomore quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, is playing better football than he was a year ago. “He is twice the quarterback right now that he was in the national championship game when everybody was crowning him the king of football,” Swinney told reporters during a lengthy, impassioned press conference.

On that last point, Swinney may be right, which would have been hard to imagine after Lawrence completed 20 of 32 passes for 347 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 44-16 thrashing of Alabama in last year’s title game. That night set almost unrealistic expectations for Lawrence’s sophomore season, and for most of this year, Lawrence didn’t live up to them. But over the past five games, he has been the best quarterback in the country — and he has saved Clemson from the perception it has underachieved, turning the Tigers into every bit the juggernaut they were supposed to be.

After Lawrence, the No. 1 overall prospect in the recruiting class of 2018, became the first true freshman starting quarterback to win a national championship since Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway in 1986, no projection seemed too outrageous. Multiple analysts deemed Lawrence flawless. He was, some assumed, a sure No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the first draft for which he will be eligible. He was, with Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, a Heisman co-favorite.

But as Clemson started 7-0 and pushed its win streak to 22, Lawrence underperformed relative to his breakout freshman season. In 2018, he threw four interceptions in 397 passes — an interception rate of just 1.0 percent. In the first seven games of this season, he threw eight picks in 190 passes, a rate of 4.2 percent. Louisville picked off Lawrence twice in the first quarter on Oct. 19, and both mistakes were concerning. First, from the Louisville 21-yard line, he threw into coverage and allowed the safety to jump easily and make the catch. Then, from the Louisville 39-yard line, he fired into a crowd of red jerseys again.

Those plays were meaningless — Clemson won by more than 30 for the second straight week — but after that game, only one Power Five quarterback had more interceptions than Lawrence did. Compared with the more dominant LSU and Ohio State teams, Clemson’s struggles in the early goings stood out: On Nov. 5, the College Football Playoff selection committee put the reigning national champions fifth. Rob Mullens, the committee chair, pointed to a close call against North Carolina: The Tigers needed to stop a last-minute 2-point conversion for the 21-20 win.

After Clemson coasted past Louisville, Lawrence flipped a switch and became the quarterback everyone thought he could be. His total QBR of 95.4 since Oct. 20 leads the country. He has thrown 16 touchdown passes and no interceptions in the past five games, with a completion rate above 70 percent in each. Not even Tagovailoa, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts or Ohio State’s Justin Fields has a five-game streak like Lawrence’s (though LSU’s Joe Burrow, the Heisman favorite, has hit 70 percent in a staggering 12 of 12 games this season). Meanwhile, Clemson has scored more than 50 points in four of those five games and climbed to No. 3 in the playoff rankings.38

One factor in Lawrence’s bounceback appears to be a slight tweak in offensive philosophy: The Tigers are throwing downfield less frequently and much more successfully.39 In the first seven games, 29 percent of Lawrence’s passes (7.9 per game) traveled 15 or more yards in the air. In their last five, that number was only 23 percent (5.8 per game). And on those passes of 15 or more yards downfield, Lawrence’s completion percentage almost doubled (from 36.3 to 65.5) between the first seven games and the last five. He threw six touchdowns and five interceptions on those passes in the first seven games compared to eight touchdowns and zero picks in the last five.

Now, Swinney says, “He’s playing like the best player in the country.” It’s still unlikely that Lawrence will get much consideration for the Heisman Trophy against Burrow, Fields and Hurts, but his resurgence is critical for Clemson, which hardly needed Lawrence much in its march through the mediocre ACC but will need another great performance before long.

In an era of high-scoring offenses, most recent national champions have had to win a shootout at some point, and Clemson is no exception. The 2018 Tigers gave up 35 points to South Carolina and scored 56. The 2016 national champions won by scores of 42-36, 37-34, 42-35 and 35-31. Even LSU, long known for its stingy defense and uninspiring offense, has given up 37 points or more four times this season and required a terrific performance from Burrow each time. But Clemson has not given up more than 20 points in a game this season — every other FBS team except Georgia has done so at least twice — so the Tigers’ offense hasn’t been tested. Lawrence has just 21 pass attempts in the fourth quarter and 18 when his team is behind.

When he finds himself in that situation again, he’ll have to use the deep pass wisely. During this five-game tear, Lawrence is 4-for-4 on passes down the middle totaling 15 yards or more, tallying 148 yards and three touchdowns. In the first quarter Saturday at South Carolina, he dropped a gorgeous throw to Tee Higgins, hitting the open receiver in stride for a 65-yard touchdown, the kind of connection Clemson didn’t find often enough earlier this fall. “I was still having fun,” Lawrence told reporters a couple of weeks ago. “But I do think I was just thinking a little too much about what I needed to do to live up to the expectations.”

Check out our latest college football predictions.


There Are Now 18 House Republicans Retiring. What Does This Mean For 2020?

Permalink - Posted on 2019-12-05 12:00

UPDATE (Dec. 6, 2019, 11:57 a.m.): Two more Republican House members have announced they are retiring. On Thursday Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia announced that he’s retiring, and on Friday, Rep. George Holding of North Carolina announced that he is also retiring. With their exits, that means 18 Republicans have announced they aren’t seeking reelection in 2020.

Graves is another Republican retiring from a safe district, which is one more data point that suggests Republicans might not be terribly confident about their chances in the 2020 House elections. But Holding is something of a special case in that North Carolina just got a new congressional map. His old Republican-leaning district has now become a strongly Democratic-leaning seat, so with no good options for a reelection bid, he called it quits.


When things look bad, people have a tendency to head for the exits. The same is often true of Congress. Back in early August, nine Republican House members had said they would not seek reelection in 2020 and would instead retire. That number has now grown to 16 “pure” GOP retirements (in other words, excluding those who left to seek another office.)

This isn’t that far off from the 23 Republicans who voluntarily hung up their House spurs in the 2018 cycle — even though there are comparatively fewer potential GOP retirees this time around, as the party lost 40 seats in the midterms. It’s not always easy to nail down why someone has decided to leave public office, and there could be a number of factors at play, including dissatisfaction with President Trump, reelection worries or loss of institutional clout. But given that many of these recent retirees have been members of the House for at least two decades and would have been safe bets for reelection, their retirements could be taken as a sign that many Republicans aren’t confident in their party’s ability to win a majority in 2020. By contrast, only six Democrats have said they won’t seek reelection in 2020.40

To retake the House41 in 2020, Republicans need to pick up 19 seats, but swings that large are atypical for an incumbent president’s party. So instead of hanging around to see if their party can reclaim control, these seven members are retiring even though all but Rep. Pete King of New York represent districts that are at least 20 points more Republican than the country as a whole, according to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric.42.

16 GOP House members are now retiring

Republicans who declined to seek reelection in the 2020 cycle, excluding those leaving to run for other office, as of Dec. 4, 2019

Retired after Aug. 7
District Member Trump Score Partisan lean* 2018 vote margin
TX-13 Mac Thornberry 94.3 R+68.2 +64.6
IL-15 John Shimkus 94.4 R+44.7 +41.9
FL-19 Francis Rooney 75.0 R+26.9 +24.5
WI-05 Jim Sensenbrenner 87.0 R+24.5 +24.0
OR-02 Greg Walden 74.5 R+21.4 +16.9
TX-17 Bill Flores 94.2 R+24.9 +15.5
NY-02 Pete King 79.6 R+7.0 +6.2
Retired before Aug. 7
District Member Trump Score Partisan lean* 2018 vote margin
TX-11 Mike Conaway 96.4 R+64.7 +61.7
UT-01 Rob Bishop 96.2 R+40.5 +36.7
MI-10 Paul Mitchell 94.3 R+27.0 +25.3
AL-02 Martha Roby 92.6 R+31.0 +23.0
IN-05 Susan Brooks 92.6 R+15.3 +13.5
TX-22 Pete Olson 94.2 R+19.4 +4.9
TX-24 Kenny Marchant 92.0 R+17.3 +3.1
TX-23 Will Hurd 57.4 R+4.3 +0.4
GA-07 Rob Woodall 98.2 R+17.2 +0.2

Trump Score is just for the 116th Congress.

*FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric is the average difference between how a state votes and how the country votes overall, with 2016 presidential election results weighted at 50 percent, 2012 presidential election results weighted at 25 percent and results from elections for the state legislature weighted at 25 percent. Note that the partisan leans in this article were calculated before the 2018 elections; we haven’t calculated FiveThirtyEight partisan leans that incorporate the midterm results yet.

Sources: ABC News, U.S. House of Representatives, Media Reports

So what do we know about these recent retirees other than the majority of them are from safe Republican districts? Well, age could have played a role in many of these departures. Combined, these seven retirees share about 150 years of experience in the House and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, for instance, is the second-longest serving House member, having first been elected in 1978. But only two — King (75) and Sensenbrenner (76) — are actually older than 70. The others are still in their early-to-mid 60s, which isn’t that far off from 58, which is the average age of a congressional member in the 116th Congress. In fact, because Reps. John Shimkus of Illinois, Mac Thornberry of Texas and Greg Walden of Oregon are all still in their early 60s, the relatively young age of these retirees reinforces the idea that Republicans might have misgivings about winning back the House.

Members who plan to retire will also often telegraph their intentions with diminished fundraising totals, but that wasn’t the case for many of these retirees. In Walden’s case, for instance, he raised $650,000 in the third quarter, which was more money than all but six Republican incumbents who are still seeking reelection, so his Oct. 28 retirement announcement came as a surprise to many in Oregon. Similarly, Shimkus decided to retire on Aug. 30 despite raising $450,000 in the first half of the year, although he did briefly reconsider his decision after Walden announced he was retiring as that meant Shimkus could have taken Walden’s seat as the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

But that door may have already been closed to Shikmus. And that’s because he broke with the president over his plan to withdraw troops supporting the Kurds in Syria, asking his name be removed as an official supporter of Trump’s reelection bid. Yet unlike some of the other outgoing Republicans, Shimkus hadn’t demonstrated anti-Trump behavior prior to retirement; in fact, he’s voted with Trump 94 percent of the time in this Congress, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Trump Score.

Meanwhile, although it was Thornberry’s final term as the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, his fundraising numbers didn’t foreshadow an imminent departure either. In fact, he had raised about the same amount — about $405,000 in the first two quarters of 2019 — prior to his retirement announcement as he had during the same period in 2017.

And even though King and Sensenbrenner were older, that didn’t mean they were sure bets to leave office, either. Based on their fundraising reports, both incumbents actually raised more money prior to retiring in 2019 than they had at the same point in 2017. Not to mention, both of them represent Republican-leaning districts where they would have been favored to win.

As for the other two Republican retirements, they’re a bit harder to classify, although in the case of Texas Rep. Bill Flores, there’s an argument to be made that he may, too, have been concerned about Republicans’ chances in the House. A supporter of congressional term limits, Flores had never planned to serve more than six terms; however, he was only in his fifth term, which means he could have served one more term before his self-imposed term limit was up. He, too, had raised more in the first two quarters of 2019 before his announcement than in the first two quarters of 2017.

Florida Rep. Francis Rooney’s retirement doesn’t say as much about a pessimistic GOP outlook for taking back the House, but he does fit in with some of the other Republican retirees from earlier this year who may have faced reelection woes over their anti-Trump comments. Rooney was the first (and only) House Republican to publicly say he was open to impeaching Trump. He then announced he was retiring the next day.

In sum, Republican retirements since early August — particularly those by veteran GOP members — collectively suggest a lack of confidence in winning back the House in 2020. That’s understandable, too, given the last time control of the House changed hands in a presidential cycle was 1952. Big swings are just more likely in midterm years. Moreover, the electoral environment doesn’t look all that promising for Republicans: Democrats have about a six-point lead in early generic ballot polling, a measure that even this far out tends to be fairly predictive.

We can probably expect a few more GOP (and Democratic) retirements considering the large number of states with outstanding filing deadlines. However, it’s unclear just how many more Republican exits might happen, given the turnover the GOP caucus has experienced since Trump was elected in 2016. There just are not as many members who might retire anytime soon. Still, these retirements aren’t a promising tea leaf for the Republicans.