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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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How To Convince People To Stop A Pandemic

Permalink - Posted on 2020-07-03 16:13

How do you convey information about the coronavirus in a way that will compel people to change their behavior? As COVID-19 cases rise in Florida, Texas and Arizona, we look at how psychologists recommend we talk about public health.

Don’t want to miss an episode of PODCAST-19, FiveThirtyEight’s weekly look at what we know — and what we know we don’t know — about COVID-19? Subscribe on your favorite podcasting app! For example, here’s where to do it on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.


Can You Stay In Your Lane?

Permalink - Posted on 2020-07-03 12:00

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> ">1 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

It’s summertime and my local swimming pool, which has exactly five swimming lanes (and no general swim area), may be opening in the coming weeks. It remains unclear what social distancing practices will be required, but it’s quite possible that swimmers will not be allowed to occupy adjacent lanes.

Under these guidelines, the pool could accommodate at most three swimmers — one each in the first, third and fifth lanes.

Suppose a queue of swimmers arrives at the pool when it opens at 9 a.m. One at a time, each person randomly picks a lane from among the lanes that are available (i.e., the lane has no swimmer already and is not adjacent to any lanes with swimmers), until no more lanes are available.

At this point, what is the expected number of swimmers in the pool?

Extra credit: Instead of five lanes, suppose there are N lanes. When no more lanes are available, what is the expected number of swimmers in the pool?

Submit your answer

Riddler Classic

Just in time for the Fourth of July, this week’s Classic is about stars on the American flag:

The 50 stars on the American flag are arranged in such a way that they form two rectangles. The larger rectangle is 5 stars wide, 6 stars long; the smaller rectangle is embedded inside the larger and is 4 stars wide, 5 stars long. This square-like pattern of stars is possible because the number of states (50) is twice a square number (25).

Stars on the US flag, arranged to form two overlapping rectangles

Now that the House of Representatives has passed legislation that would make the District of Columbia the fifty-first US state — and renamed Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, in honor of Frederick Douglass — a natural question is how to aesthetically arrange 51 stars on the flag.

One pleasing design has a star in the middle, surrounded by concentric pentagons of increasing side length, as shown below. The innermost pentagon has five stars, and subsequent pentagons are made up of 10, 15 and 20 stars. All told, that’s 51 stars.

It just so happens that when N equals 50, N is twice a square and N+1 is a centered pentagonal number. After 50, what is the next integer N with these properties?

Submit your answer

Solution to last week’s Riddler Express

Congratulations to 👏 Josiah Kollmeyer 👏 of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, winner of last week’s Riddler Express.

Last week, you were driving north in Riddler City, whose streets run north-south and east-west. At every intersection, you randomly turned left or right, each with a 50 percent chance.

After driving through 10 intersections, what was the probability that you were still driving north?

One way to solve this was to look at what happened after the first few intersections. It wasn’t long before a pattern emerged.

After the first intersection, you had a 50 percent chance of turning east and a 50 percent chance of turning west. In the event you turned east, upon reaching the second intersection, you then had a 50 percent chance of turning north and a 50 percent chance of turning south. But in the event you turned west, you still had a 50 percent chance of turning north and a 50 percent chance of turning south. Putting these possibilities together, that meant that after the second intersection, you were definitely driving north or south, each with a 50 percent chance.

Following this reasoning, solver Lily Koffman realized that after every odd number of intersections, you were driving east or west with equal probability, and after every even number of intersections, you were driving north or south with equal probability. Since the given number of intersections, 10, was even, that meant there was a 50 percent chance you were driving north in the end.

For extra credit, instead of just turning left or right, you now also had the option of driving straight — each with a one-third chance. After driving through 10 intersections, now what was the probability that you were still driving north?

This was certainly a trickier scenario. Mike Bourdaa solved it by looking at what would happen if there were fewer intersections, hoping to find a pattern. After N intersections, there were a total of 3N equally likely sequences of turns you could make. Mike found that approximately 3N/4 of these sequences — or, more precisely, the smallest whole number greater than 3N/4 — resulted in you driving north.

But that certainly wasn’t the only approach that worked here. Juan Casaravilla solved it using linear algebra, by first lining up the probabilities of driving north, south, east or west into a vector, which was initially [1; 0; 0; 0]. Each intersection could be modeled as multiplying this vector by the transition matrix [1/3 0 1/3 1/3; 0 1/3 1/3 1/3; 1/3 1/3 1/3 0; 1/3 1/3 0 1/3], where the output of this multiplication was a new probability vector that revealed your updated chances of driving north, south, east or west.

But why would you ever want to go through the hassle of encoding an intersection as a matrix in the first place? Well, if each intersection was equivalent to multiplying by a matrix, then driving through 10 intersections was equivalent to multiplying by 10 identical copies of that matrix — or, better yet, multiplying by the matrix raised to the 10th power, an operation that any computer can do with ease.

It turned out that your chances of driving in each of the four directions rapidly approached 25 percent. After 10 intersections, your chances of driving north stood at precisely 4,921/19,683, or about 25.00127 percent.

Just to be extra sure, a few solvers went ahead and checked their work via computer simulation. Daniel Silva-Inclan ran 1,000 trials and verified that after 10 intersections, the probabilities of driving in all four directions were very close to 25 percent.

There’s definitely a life lesson here. If you ever find yourself approaching an intersection and you really want to come out of it driving in a random direction — but you know that pulling a U-turn is illegal — then don’t lose heart. Instead, randomly drive straight or turn left or right at each intersection for a few minutes. Before you know it, you’ll be driving in a random direction.

Yes, that was definitely an important life lesson.

Solution to last week’s Riddler Classic

Congratulations to 👏 Eli Wolfhagen 👏 of Brooklyn, New York, winner of last week’s Riddler Classic.

Last week, Polly Gawn was playing “connect the dots.” She specifically wanted to connect six dots so that they formed the vertices of a hexagon. To her surprise, she found that there were many different hexagons she could draw, each with the same six vertices.

What was the greatest possible number of unique hexagons Polly could draw using six points?

If the question had ended there, then there would have been some ambiguity around the use of the word “hexagon.” If self-intersecting hexagons (meaning the edges coincided or crossed each other) were allowed, then all you had to do was count how many ways she could connect the six points, one at a time. She could pick any starting point and then choose among the remaining five points to connect it to, then pick four points, then three, then two, and finally one. But wait — each polygon was the same whether she traversed its points in one direction or the other, so she had double counted. Dividing by two, that meant there were 60 total hexagons Polly could have drawn.

But if you read the hint, you saw that Polly was only counting simple hexagons — that is, hexagons whose sides didn’t cross. This was decidedly harder, but was within the realm of possibility if you had a weekend to kill and a bountiful supply of scratch paper.

Many solvers came close, missing a few potential hexagons. In the end, it was three points that all lay within the triangle formed by the other three points that produced the most polygons. Solvers Laurent Lessard and Emma Knight both arrived at this arrangement by leaning on the work of Oswin Aichholzer. They looked at “untangled” complete graphs that had the minimal number of intersections, arguing that this would result in the maximal number of polygons.

Without further ado, here is one such arrangement of six points and all the polygons it produces:

29 polygons from 6 points

Polly could draw at most 29 hexagons — a far cry from the upper bound of 60.

For extra credit, you were asked to find the greatest possible number of unique heptagons Polly could draw using seven points. In this case, the upper bound was 420, suggesting this was beyond the realm of pencil, paper and patience. Indeed, the greatest possible number of heptagons was 92.

92 polygons from 7 points

As some solvers noted, there’s an OEIS sequence for that — sequence A063546, to be exact, which lists the “largest number of crossing-free Hamiltonian cycles of n points in the plane.” Or as Polly likes to call them, polygons. (Yes, simple polygons.)

According to the sequence, Polly could draw at most 339 octagons (drawn below, courtesy of solver Josh Silverman), 1,282 nonagons and 4,994 decagons.

339 polygons from 8 points

While the precise pattern for this sequence remains unknown, it is known to grow exponentially. Erik Demaine has followed the literature on this problem and tracked the evolution of the upper and lower bounds. As of 2011, it was known that as the number of points n increases, the maximal number of polygons is somewhere between 4.642n and 56n.

Let’s not overlook that many of the polygons from the above animations would make awesome corporate logos. If your mountain biking startup is in need of some edgy graphic design, call me.

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.


Politics Podcast: How The GOP Chose To Be A White Party

Permalink - Posted on 2020-07-02 20:35

In general, the Republican Party gets between 5 and 10 percent of the Black vote and less than a third of the Hispanic vote nationally. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, Clare Malone discusses the series of choices the GOP made, spanning decades, that made it an overwhelmingly white party. At key moments in history, Republicans considered greater outreach to minority voters but ultimately didn’t take that path.

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 Mondays and Thursdays. 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.


The Unemployment Rate Is Falling, But More People Are Losing Their Jobs Permanently

Permalink - Posted on 2020-07-02 17:50

These days, reading the monthly jobs report can feel like opening a time capsule. According to the data for June, which was released today, the recovery from the COVID-19 recession was still chugging along as of the middle of last month, when the two surveys that form the backbone of the report were conducted. The unemployment rate fell from 13.3 percent in May to 11.1 percent in June, and 4.8 million more people were employed in June than in May.

Those numbers look promising — but it’s important to remember that they’re just a snapshot of what the economy looked like in mid-June. And a lot has changed since then. Most importantly, COVID-19 infections have spiked in states across the country, and many governors have rolled back the phased reopenings that brought many jobless workers back into the labor force. That could have a seismic impact on the sectors of the economy, like leisure and hospitality, that saw the biggest gains in June.

Even underneath the surface of the June report, there were signs that the recession is deepening. Crucially, the number of workers who have permanently lost their jobs rose quite a bit — signaling that for an increasing number of Americans, getting back to work won’t be an easy matter. And the unemployment rate for white Americans continues to be much lower than the unemployment rate for Black, Hispanic or Asian Americans. That’s an important reminder that some workers are continuing to do much better than others as the recovery creaks into gear.

If you just focus on the report’s headline numbers — the unemployment rate and number of payroll jobs — the country’s economic situation was looking up in June. In fact, the drop in the unemployment rate may have been even more dramatic than the topline number lets on. Over the past few months, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has been struggling with an issue that’s unique to our pandemic-ridden times: A substantial number of workers were reporting that they were absent from their jobs for the entire week referenced in the survey for “other reasons.” That probably meant they were temporarily out of work because of COVID-19 — but they weren’t counted as unemployed.

To be clear: The BLS has been extremely transparent about the presence of this problem, and it does not mean that the numbers were fudged. Our methods for measuring unemployment are simply not designed for a pandemic-induced recession. But it is important to take the misclassification issue into account because if those workers had been included in April, BLS estimates that the unemployment rate would have been about 20 percent; in May, the rate would have been about 16 percent. By June, the BLS reported that it mostly had the misclassification issue under control — which meant the actual unemployment rate declined even more substantially, to around 12 percent.

Bear in mind, though, that we still have a long way to go before we’re anywhere near pre-pandemic levels of unemployment. It’s all about your frame of reference: An 11.1 percent unemployment rate is stunningly low compared with where we were in April, when close to 20 percent of the population was unemployed. But it’s still higher than at any point in modern history — including the unemployment rate at the apex of the Great Recession.

And there are many reasons to believe that the recovery could stall — or even backslide — in the coming months. One clue is tucked in the June report: Of those who did lose jobs, a larger share of them were permanent than in previous months.

In April and May, 88.6 percent of job losses were classified by the BLS as “temporary,” which fit the early theme of this recession: Businesses shut down temporarily to stop the spread of COVID-19 but planned to reopen later as the virus came under control — particularly with the assistance of government loans such as the Paycheck Protection Program, which incentivized small businesses to keep employees on payroll during the closures. But in June, the share of job losses that were temporary fell to 78.6 percent, a sign that a growing number of workers will not have a job waiting for them when the crisis lifts.

“As more job losses become permanent, this recession will look more and more like an ordinary recession, where in recent history the recovery has been a slow slog,” said Nick Bunker, the director of economic research for North America at the Indeed Hiring Lab, a research institute connected to the job-search site Indeed. “That means the hopes of a quick recovery will be slimmer and slimmer.”

The fact that some of the industries hit hardest early in the recession made big gains in June is both good and bad news. Leisure and hospitality, which had lost a staggering 8.3 million jobs in March and April, built on its May gains to add 2.1 million more workers in June, an increase of nearly 21 percent month over month. Similarly, retail trade, which lost 2.4 million jobs in March and April, bounced back with about 740,000 new workers in June, a 5.4 percent increase month over month. And education and health services, another of the industries most affected (with 2.8 million total job losses in March and April), added 568,000 jobs in June, for a 2.6 percent gain month over month.

Overall, almost every major industry sector of the economy added jobs in June, with total private employment up by 4.3 percent since May. However, it is worth noting that despite better-than-expected jobs reports in both May and now June, total private employment is still down 10.2 percent relative to its pre-crisis level in February. Things are looking better, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.

And the hammer might fall yet again on sectors like leisure and hospitality, which includes the restaurant industry. Several states allowed restaurants and even bars and casinos to reopen at partial capacity in May and June — only to abruptly close them again when case counts started to spike. That means that some of the workers who finally got to return to their jobs as servers, bartenders or blackjack dealers might well be unemployed again in the July report.

That everything these days is in a state of flux complicates even the most seasoned experts’ ability to read the report. Erica Groshen, who served as BLS commissioner from 2013 to 2017, said it’s extremely difficult to isolate the impact of the many different forces that are churning underneath the report. “We’ve got all of these effects that are going at cross-purposes,” she said. “We have the ongoing effects of restrictions in place. We have the effects of some restrictions being lifted. And we have the deepening of the recession itself.” All of that, she said, makes it hard to assess exactly what’s happening under the surface — much less what will happen next.

And again, the gains have not been equally distributed throughout the population — another theme of this very unequal recession. Although the unemployment rate for women dropped at a faster rate (2.8 percentage points) than for men (1.6) in June, women still had a higher overall unemployment rate than men did. Likewise, the unemployment rate for white Americans dropped by 2.3 percentage points last month, while it only fell by 1.4 percent for Black Americans and 1.2 percentage points for Asian Americans. And at 15.4 percent, Black Americans still have the highest unemployment rate of any racial or ethnic group, 5.3 percentage points higher than their white counterparts.

Perhaps one bit of encouraging data in this jobs report was that the unemployment rate for Latino or Hispanic Americans did drop by quite a bit — it was down 3.1 percentage points in June. However, that still left their overall unemployment rate at 14.5 percent, which is not only far higher than it was before the coronavirus recession began (it was 4.4 percent in February) but also higher than the unemployment rates for white (10.1 percent) or Asian (13.8 percent) Americans.

As we’ve said often during this crisis, you really need the next jobs report in order to interpret the current one. The June report shows that the unexpected employment gains of May were not a mirage — the economy really did start recovering earlier and more quickly than many economists expected. But next month’s report could be a sobering reminder of just how fragile any economic gains are — at least while the virus is still spiraling out of control in many parts of the country. So we’ll know better by next month whether the concerning trends in this report have deepened, as well as how much the recent COVID-19 outbreaks across the country have hamstrung the nascent recovery. In typical fashion, our economic data is moving at a much slower pace than the virus, which leaves us guessing at where things might head next.

CORRECTION (July 2, 2020, 4:45 p.m.): An earlier version of the permanent layoffs chart in this article incorrectly labeled the numbers of layoffs as being in the thousands when they should have been in the millions.


The Winners And Losers In Our Updated NBA Forecast

Permalink - Posted on 2020-07-02 15:00

When last we left the 2019-20 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers were championship favorites — with the rival L.A. Clippers and the Milwaukee Bucks not too far behind — as teams prepped for the final 17 or so games in the regular season.

Then, the coronavirus put everything on hold for four months.

Only now is the sport gearing up for its return, with an ambitious plan to play the rest of the season in a “bubble” at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.2 Although playing sports during a pandemic will be a huge challenge, league commissioner Adam Silver recently said he feels “pretty confident” in the procedures he and his team have put in place. So with the restart schedule released late last week, we’ve relaunched our FiveThirtyEight NBA prediction model to forecast the mini-regular season finale, the play-in scenarios and, of course, the postseason.

As a refresher: These predictions are based on 100,000 simulations of the rest of the season and playoffs, using team ratings to generate win probabilities for each game. Those team ratings are determined by each player’s performance in RAPTOR — the Robust ​Algorithm (using) ​Player ​Tracking (and) ​On/Off ​Ratings — which measures his influence on offense and defense, and playing-time forecasts (including each team’s expected rotation and injuries). There are postseason adjustments for players who typically exceed expectations in the playoffs and a bunch of other bells and whistles you can read about here.

Why it only took one player with coronavirus to shutter sports

Add it all up, and it gives a snapshot of where we think each team stands heading into the restart — which isn’t exactly the same as how things looked when the league hit the pause button. Let’s go through exactly what changed in the forecast between then and now.

Which teams look stronger on paper now?

As a side effect of the long layoff, a number of players have recovered from injuries that slowed them down or kept them out back in March. Among teams invited to Orlando, the Milwaukee Bucks (+74 rating points), Philadelphia 76ers (+66) and Portland Trail Blazers (+55) gained the most points in our talent ratings (which estimate the current state of each team). For the Bucks, the reason is simple: MVP front-runner Giannis Antetokounmpo has recovered from a sprained knee that was affecting him around when the break happened. Likewise, Portland will get back a healthier Jusuf Nurkić; Nurkić, whom RAPTOR considered an elite player last season but who hasn’t played yet in 2019-20, was set to come back in limited fashion in March, and our depth charts have him set to play normal minutes now.3 And for Philly, Ben Simmons should be at 100 percent again after a back injury had landed him on the injured list in February.

[Related: How Do You Play Sports In The Middle Of A Pandemic?]

Most teams saw their ratings go up for similar reasons, with an extra few months helping banged-up players recover. Among teams not already eliminated, the next-biggest gains in talent rating were the Celtics (+26), Magic (+18) and Grizzlies (+16).

Whose playoff chances changed?

Although 22 teams will make the trip to Disney World, only 16 will make the playoffs — just like a normal postseason. The remaining eight-game regular-season slate will be used to whittle down the field, with a potential play-in tournament finishing that job if a conference’s No. 9 seed finishes within four games of the No. 8. Most of the remaining teams had already all but locked up their playoff status by March — back then, our model gave 15 teams a playoff probability of 98 percent or higher4 — but the final spot in the West was still legitimately up for grabs, with the Pelicans (60 percent), Grizzlies (15 percent), Blazers (14 percent), Kings (9 percent) and even Spurs (2 percent) in the mix when play stopped.

[Related: Our NBA Predictions]

The revised schedule changed those odds quite a bit. The biggest winners of the new format are Ja Morant and the Grizzlies, whose playoff chances ticked up by 22 percentage points and now sit at 37 percent. The Wizards also went up 6 percentage points in their long-shot Eastern Conference playoff bid, bringing them up to 8 percent.

That means the biggest postseason downgrades came to the Pelicans (down 15 percentage points), who now have only a 45 percent chance, with the Nets (-5 percentage points), Blazers (-4), Kings (-2), Spurs (-2) and Magic (-1) dropping as well. New Orleans’s entire playoff bid was premised on having enough games with Zion Williamson (and an easy schedule) to chase down the Grizz. That last part is still true, but with 10 fewer games left to play, the Pelicans’ margin for error got much smaller.

What about NBA Finals and — especially! — title odds?

But enough about fringe teams that are battling for the right to be overmatched in the first round. Let’s talk about the contenders.

In terms of Finals odds, the biggest beneficiaries of the new format are the aforementioned Sixers, who gained 7 percentage points compared with their standing in March. That is essentially owed to an easy schedule and Simmons’s return to health. The third-year former No. 1 overall pick is one of the league’s most polarizing players, but RAPTOR still considers him extremely valuable (with the 30th-best per-possession rating of anyone logging at least 1,500 minutes). In turn, that change helped drop the Bucks’ chances of winning the East by 8 percentage points — though they remain conference favorites in our revised model, with a 36 percent Finals probability.5 When we re-ran the model, the Celtics‘ probability of making the Finals increased by a percentage point with a healthy Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown.

[Related: The Best NBA Players This Season, According To RAPTOR]

Out West, improved Finals odds belong to the Lakers (up 3 percentage points) and Mavericks (+1). L.A. will be without Avery Bradley for the restart — it signed J.R. Smith to pick up the slack, which should be fun — but the model has some Lakers rated higher than either Bradley or Smith actually gaining the missing minutes. Meanwhile, Dallas is a highly interesting team for its own reasons, led by Luka Dončić’s off-the-charts offensive stats. Both of those gains came at the expense of the Rockets (down 2 percentage points), Clippers (-1) and Nuggets (-1), though L.A.’s other top contender remains the second-most likely team to win the West, with a 38 percent chance to make the Finals.

Finally, we get to the championship probabilities. They changed in similar fashion to the Finals odds — the Sixers (up 4 percentage points) and Lakers (+3) gained, while the Bucks (-5) and Clippers (-1) lost ground.

Which NBA teams’ odds changed?

Largest change in championship odds since the league paused play in march, according to the FiveThirtyEight model, for NBA teams that had at least a 1 percent chance to make the Finals (either before or after the pause)

Finals Odds Title Odds
Team Conf. Pre-Pause Current Change Pre-Pause Current Change
76ers East 26% 33% +7 10% 14% +4
Lakers West 41 44 +3 27 30 +3
Mavericks West <1 1 +1 <1 <1 0
Celtics East 20 21 +1 6 6 0
Raptors East 9 9 0 2 2 0
Nuggets West 4 3 -1 1 1 0
Rockets West 14 12 -2 7 7 0
Clippers West 39 38 -1 26 25 -1
Bucks East 44 36 -8 20 15 -5

But overall, the NBA championship picture looks pretty similar to how it did back in March: The Lakers are still favorites, with the Clippers and Bucks sitting behind them. The Sixers have gained ground; the small-ball Rockets, Celtics, defending-champion Raptors (remember them?) and Nuggets are hanging around the periphery of the title race. We lost a few interesting storylines, though, and there is less certainty that we’ll end up with the true best team as champion.

There’s also no way to predict how the league’s bubble plan will fare when real people get placed into it and are expected to live their lives and play high-level basketball at the same time. But if the logistics work, the finish to this strange NBA campaign should be just as intriguing as promised at the start of the season, long before we knew what 2020 had in store for the world.


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The Science of Mask-Wearing Hasn’t Changed. So Why Have Our Expectations?

Permalink - Posted on 2020-07-02 10:00

Before every fashion retailer was selling their own cloth face covering, before a piece of fabric over your nose and mouth became a personal political statement, and before Goldman Sachs was saying a national face mask mandate is as good as a lockdown, Lara Martin was unsure whether homemade cloth masks were even a good idea.

The executive director of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Martin was one of the people I interviewed back in March for a story about the science of masks. Back then, I found that masks were an excellent example of the scientific uncertainties swirling around the novel coronavirus. Remember, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the surgeon general once told the general public not to wear masks. The data that existed on mask effectiveness largely dealt with medical respirators and surgical masks. It wasn’t clear how protective a cloth mask would be, and Martin worried that wearing masks might lead people to feel more safe than they actually were — and make choices that increased their risk of contracting or transmitting COVID-19.

Today, a lot has changed. But the science around cloth masks hasn’t.

Yes, the CDC now recommends cloth face coverings, the surgeon general starred in a video showing how to make them, and many businesses, and even cities, require them. Martin herself owns three and wears one every time she goes outside. But she told me that’s not because the evidence has significantly improved. “I don’t know enough, I don’t see enough evidence. Nothing has changed except that I care about my neighbors, I care about my colleagues, I care about people I don’t even know that I come across at the grocery store,” she said. “I am now saying to my community that I care about them, and that actually feels important to me as a scientist.”

Cloth and DIY face masks sit at the intersection where scientific data, public perceptions, and political opinions crash headlong into each other. Making smart decisions isn’t just about having data — it’s also about how we interpret the data we have. Safety moves along a spectrum with different relative levels of risk. Behavioral norms also matter, regardless of how much evidence backs them up. In the midst of a pandemic, masks are a reminder that science is seldom as simple, or as certain, as we want it to be — and that reasonable public health recommendations are sometimes based on more than just data.


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Do cloth face coverings work? Probably, to some extent. But just how much they work depends on the material, how they’re used, and what you’re expecting them to accomplish. And — regardless of what you’ve seen in highly shareable memes — we definitely don’t know enough to say that wearing these kinds of coverings will reduce risk of transmission by a specific percentage, let alone a high percentage. Those were the conclusions of an expert report published by the National Academies of Sciences on April 8, and two of the lead authors of that paper recently told me the science hasn’t significantly changed since then. Some studies have come out showing a correlation in certain regions between mask mandates and reduced spread of the coronavirus, but several of those not-yet-peer-reviewed studies have turned out to have important flaws — such as failing to account for factors like other behaviors (such as higher rates of social distancing) that went along with wearing masks in those places.

Instead, experts say what has changed is how both the public and public health institutions interpret this situation and the data surrounding it.

[Related: Where The Latest COVID-19 Models Think We’re Headed — And Why They Disagree]

“Back in March, it was difficult to even have anybody take you seriously when the CDC and WHO said the opposite,” said Jeremy Howard, a data scientist and entrepreneur who has become a major advocate of universal mask requirements. In response to the lack of support, he launched a bipartisan campaign called Masks4All that lobbied for widespread mask-wearing and argued that masks were a crucial, if not the most important, part of the COVID-19 response.

But Howard has also seen changes in how political actors interpreted his message. Back in March, he told me, before not wearing a mask became a signifier of conservative politics, Howard actually got the most traction talking about the need for masks on conservative news shows. “Going against the CDC was very on brand,” he said. “I was on “The Laura Ingraham Angle” talking about important masks were, and she was all for it.”

[Related: What To Look For In A Face Mask, According To Science]

When the political alignments shifted, that support vanished. Although a majority of Americans report wearing masks regularly, those numbers are 16 percentage points lower among Republicans compared to Democrats. In the last week, that’s begun to shift again, with Republican leaders advocating for mask use and criticizing President Trump for not wearing one. The politicized landscape has also made it difficult to have a nuanced conversation about mask effectiveness, experts said. Public health officials who issued mandatory mask-wearing orders have found themselves hounded by intense criticism and even death threats. More than two dozen have resigned in recent weeks.

At the same time, Michael Osterholm, a public health and disease expert who is worried that mask effectiveness is being over-hyped, has also found himself threatened and harassed. Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told me he’s received vulgar emails from people who read his statements questioning the efficacy of cloth masks. Osterholm said that his position was not that masks shouldn’t be worn — he wears one in public, himself — but that there is limited data on how effective DIY cloth masks are at stopping small particles, either from passing through or being forced out the sides of the mask. Without that information, he said, physical distancing and isolation remain the most important tools in stopping the spread of the coronavirus. But as more Republicans say the worst of the coronavirus is behind us, and usage of masks tracks tightly along the partisan spectrum, Osterholm told me he felt like well-meaning people were making him out to be a pandemic denialist.

The on-off, yes-no nature of this debate has also been frustrating for Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Yale. Circumstances may mean that for some people the benefits of wearing a mask may not outweigh the risks. “There are conversations in a lot of Black and brown communities … ‘[Does] the risk and threat in terms of personal safety go up wearing a mask because of police action and being seen as a threat?’” she said.

[Related: For Black Americans, Wearing A Mask Comes With Complicated Anxieties]

At the same time, though, Nunez-Smith said masks might actually be more important for those communities because the distancing and isolation favored by experts like Osterholm hasn’t really been possible. Black workers are more likely than other workers to have jobs that are classified as essential. Because of that, reopening means something different for predominantly Black neighborhoods than it does for white neighborhoods. That also applies to the idea of social distancing and how practical that even is — something that could account for why self-reported mask usage is higher among nonwhite Americans, despite the possible police risk. “These are important contextual conversations,” Nunez-Smith said.

Ultimately, experts said, all the nuance and complication around masks is a challenge that public health messaging has to face up to. It’s difficult to make one-size-fits-all recommendations for situations that don’t readily lend themselves to a one-size-fits-all reality.

[Related: How Americans View The Coronavirus Crisis And Trump’s Response]

The good news is that there’s more agreement than disagreement on where to start. Just look at Osterholm and Howard, two experts who might easily be seen as having opposing viewpoints in this battle. Yet they hold similar positions on one issue: They both wish the CDC would have given the public the nuanced information about masks back in March and trusted them to understand it. Granted, that might mean presenting the public with a complex message, such as: “We don’t know how well cloth masks work, so distancing should come first, but masks are likely to work to some extent and not everyone can distance themselves.” That’s a mouthful and harder to fit on a bumper sticker than “yes, you should,” or “no, you shouldn’t.” But it comes down to what builds trust more: certainty or honesty?

“We owe it to the public to help them understand what kind of protections they’re getting,” Osterholm said. “We owe it to the public to tell them what we know.”

How reports of a promising COVID-19 treatment was found to be fraudulent


When Proof Is Not Enough

Permalink - Posted on 2020-07-01 15:50

According to the pundits, the revolution, if you would call it that, began with video. The first and foremost was the excruciating recording of George Floyd’s last moments as Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin6 publicly pinned the life out of him. That was on May 25, but more than a month later, the recordings have continued to disseminate. Protesters uploaded photos of rubber bullets, their wounds and their mangled faces, while journalists and other concerned members of the public aggregated footage of police brutality into lists and websites.

The compilation of evidence has seemed to jar something loose, for now. Corporations are pledging to donate millions to racial and social justice causes,7 legislators have proposed tentative yet unprecedented restrictions on the police, and the Marines and Navy have banned the Confederate battle flag8 some 150 years after the ending of the war that sparked its creation.

But is this really going to be what commentator Van Jones has called a “Great Awakening of empathy and solidarity”? And if it is, is it really appropriate to claim that video has been the catalyst? I work with civic data and teach about the power of data collection, so I want to believe that data (in the form of video footage depicting police brutality against Black people) can effect social change. Just as it is comforting to see corporate and institutional pledges as revolution, it is comforting to attribute power to the millions of glowing screens that have been called as witnesses.

Data showing racism might be useful in clarifying the things we already know to be true, but it is far more limited in terms of shifting them.

But it is precisely because of my attachment to the power of data collection that I’m unconvinced video footage can solely, or even primarily, lead to meaningful change. I know too well the stories of a century of Black Americans who have presented evidence of violence and racism only to have it summarily denied or ignored. The idea that structural racism can be proven and overcome by gathering just enough or the right kind of evidence is nothing more than a myth. Historically, it has rarely been the case.

Consider, for instance, the study that the Bureau of Labor commissioned famed Black scholar W.E.B. DuBois to complete in the early 1900s. Determined to employ sound sociological methods to disprove racist beliefs that Black people were inferior, he and a team of researchers spent three years in Lowndes County, Alabama, gathering data from 5,000 Black families (approximately 25,000 individuals). It detailed the conditions of life in the region, and was one of the largest sociological studies of rural Black life ever conducted. When DuBois submitted the final manuscript, it was a handwritten document full of charts and infographics.9 Not only did the government bureau refuse to publish the study, but it destroyed the document entirely, claiming it was rejected due to technical matters. DuBois made the case in his correspondence and autobiography, however, that the bureau rejected the document because it revealed the inconvenient political truth about conditions for Black Americans.

[Related: The States Taking On Police Reform After The Death Of George Floyd]

In the case of Sam Faulkner, an innocent 20-year-old Black man who was shot in the head inside his sister’s home by Los Angeles police in 1927,10 evidence came in the form of testimony from the other cop on the scene as well as bullet fragments. Yet this was not enough to bring about a conviction, and the officer who killed Faulkner continued to work in the LAPD for two more years.11

In 1951, the Civil Rights Congress appealed to the United Nations for help, asserting that the history of disenfranchisement, lynching, and police brutality that Black people faced in the United States was tantamount to genocide.12 The CRC’s petition13 documented years’ worth of atrocities against Black Americans but was ignored by the U.N., which at the time was heavily influenced by the U.S.

In 1969, Illinois Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, 21, was gunned down14 in his Chicago apartment after being sedated by an FBI Informant. A target of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program, he was perceived to be a threat to the nation for negotiating a truce between street gangs, organizing rallies and instituting free breakfast programs for children. A coroner’s jury ruled the killing a justifiable homicide.

And even more recent incidents including video footage of police brutality have been doubted. When Philando Castile was pulled over and shot by police in 2016, the dashcam footage revealed that Castile, who had been stopped by the police at least 46 times prior for minor infractions, had followed all the instructions that officer Jeronimo Yanez had given him. Regardless, an NRA spokesperson still blamed Castile for the incident, while conservative commentator Sean Hannity criticized Castile’s girlfriend, who was seated beside him in the car, for live-streaming the interaction in the first place.

These killings, and the many more that reveal just a glimpse of how totalizing anti-Blackness can be, are part of a longer trend. It is a trend that has claimed countless more names, and still more stories. By nearly every statistical measurement possible, from housing to incarceration to wealth to land ownership, Black Americans are disproportionately disadvantaged. But the grand ritual of collecting and reporting this data has not improved the situation. American history is lined with innumerable instances of what scholar Saidiya Hartman bemoans as “the demand that this suffering be materialized and evidenced by the display of the tortured body or endless recitations of the ghastly and the terrible,” only for very little to change.

If the data hasn’t undone the bias, then surely we must acknowledge that there are deeper forces that tug the levers of change in America. I am reminded of James Baldwin’s response to the 1954 Supreme Court case that ended segregation: “Had it been a matter of love or justice, the 1954 decision would surely have occurred sooner; were it not for the realities of power in this difficult era, it might very well not have occurred yet.” Love, justice, data — alone, none have been enough.


But perhaps we have asked too much of the evidence in the first place. Or perhaps we have asked too much of those who wield evidence, and too little of those presented with it. These are two different groups. After all, evidence is not intended for the people who have been harmed — why show proof of a fire to the person it burned? In most cases, evidence is used to convince an Other of a thing that they did not encounter. Ironically, data is not very good at this.

In 1949, two psychologists, Jerome Bruner and Leo Postman, designed an experiment to test people’s responses to anomalies, or moments when they faced events that deviated from what they had expected to encounter. In the experiment, participants were shown sets of playing cards and asked to identify the cards’ color and suit. The catch was that, in addition to regular cards, the sets contained irregular “trick” cards in which the color and suit of the cards had been reversed to create incongruities (like a black three of hearts or a red two of spades).

[Related: Why Statistics Don’t Capture The Full Extent Of The Systemic Bias In Policing]

In the early rounds, the participants were quick to identify the cards, in part because they simply could not see the anomalies. When presented with a trick card like a red six of spades, they would confidently misidentify it as a red six of hearts or a black six of spades. But as they were exposed to the cards for longer periods of time, some participants began to notice that something was off. They could sense strangeness but could not determine what caused it. It was only with further exposure that some participants finally experienced what the psychologists called a “shock of recognition.” Abruptly and quite clearly, the participants were able to recognize what they had not seen before. Suddenly they could see that they had been looking at a red six of spades the entire time. From that point on, they were more easily able to identify the anomalous cards, having developed a new perception.

The conclusion: When confronted with something that does not fit the paradigm we know, we are likely to resist acknowledging the incongruity. This is because we see what we have been primed — through shared education and culture, and our own lived experiences — to see, so that new evidence that we encounter is immediately, as philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn would explain it more than a decade later, “fitted to one of the conceptual categories prepared by prior experience.” Kuhn applied this reasoning to explaining the tumultuous nature of scientific revolutions, where he argued that the conceptual categories that ordered scientific research were precisely those that made it so difficult for scientists to accept information that could challenge the frameworks they operated within. In such moments, logic and experiment alone were not enough to settle the matter. Kuhn noted, too, that the more time and effort a scientist had already invested in a research paradigm, the more resistance he or she was likely to exhibit toward accepting change. In other words, the higher the stakes, the greater the resistance.

If wider society recognizes data’s limitations, it, too, can move on from overly relying upon it as the only proxy for evidence.

You can see how this is a useful metaphor for considering the United States, racism and the role that data has historically played in unraveling the latter’s hold on the former. Data showing racism might be useful in clarifying the things we already know to be true, but it is far more limited in terms of shifting them. To those who have not experienced the ever more creative forms that structural racism can take, even when presented with evidence of racism, the world may still appear to be full of regular playing cards. This is complicated, too, by the fact that in life we face different likelihoods of encountering anomalous cards, depending on factors like the color of our skin (whiteness, of course, lowering frequency of exposure) and proximity to the affordances promised by wealth, influence and cultural/political capital. Regardless, any exposure to an anomaly card is more likely to be dismissed if it does not support the expectations of the receiver.

Of course, as in the experiment, there is the opportunity for change. Perhaps one part of what has characterized this current moment is that some sections of American society have experienced their own moments akin to when the experiment participants first squinted at the trick cards and felt that something now felt off. At some point, America will have to confront head-on the fact that the country not only has long educated its children to deny anti-Blackness and to treat any conversation of racism with silence or wariness but also has exported this worldview around the globe. For some, that point may have come.

But regardless, a luckless great many of us know that the deck has been stacked from the beginning. And because we know that no amount of shouting, pleading, calculating or visualizing will persuade those who have been educated and raised to deny this, we have put our efforts in other places.

If wider society recognizes data’s limitations, it, too, can move on from overly relying upon it as the only proxy for evidence. That which can be captured on camera is always incomplete. It is never the totality of what occurs in our lives, let alone what occurs in our communities. By considering the vast context and evidence present in the nation’s history, we can save ourselves from tacitly reinforcing the idea that structural violence matters only when it can be compressed into a form that fits what we recognize as evidence. And, in doing so, we give ourselves new frames for thinking about the many people who have died at the hands of brutality and whose deaths were not recorded. As we find a fluency in addressing the greater mass of life that is lived outside of our data, we can begin, finally, to fully address the living.

How cable news is talking about the protests -- and why it matters | FiveThirtyEight


What Went Down In Colorado, Oklahoma And Utah

Permalink - Posted on 2020-07-01 12:06

Colorado, Oklahoma and Utah held primaries on Tuesday, and with the help of mail-in balloting and absentee ballots, these states largely held seamless elections. The contests in these states helped decide the nominees in a pivotal Senate race and a handful of competitive House districts, shaping the November matchups that will play a role in deciding which party controls Congress. One other state — Kentucky — also reported results from the primary it held last week; for New York, we’re going to have to wait a little while longer on full results.

First up in Colorado, former Gov. John Hickenlooper defeated former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff by nearly 20 points, 59.6 percent to 40.4 percent. Hickenlooper had been a heavy favorite from when he first entered the race last summer, but a number of missteps in recent weeks, including saying “every life matters” in response to a question on what Black Lives Matter means to him, gave Romanoff a possible opening. Romanoff tried to run to Hickenlooper’s left by embracing a progressive agenda — including support for the Green New Deal, which Hickenlooper opposes — but his campaign just didn’t catch on. So now Hickenlooper, who once said, “I’m not cut out to be a senator,” starts the general election campaign as a slight favorite against Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in a state that will likely back Joe Biden in November.

[Related: Our 2020 National Polling Averages]

The GOP primary in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District was more of a surprise, however, with President Trump’s backed candidate Rep. Scott Tipton losing to restauranteur Lauren Boebert by about 9 points, 54.6 percent to 45.4 percent. Tipton is now the fourth House incumbent to lose renomination this year,15 and his defeat could make this Republican-leaning seat — Trump won it by 12 points in 2016, according to Daily Kos Elections — highly competitive in November. Boebert ran to the right of Tipton, drawing on her background as a gun-rights activist (she runs a restaurant where servers are allowed to openly carry firearms). But she’s raised very little money so far, and has attracted controversy for her views on QAnon, a far-right movement labeled a domestic terrorist threat by the FBI last year that promotes false conspiracy theories. So Boebert may struggle to turn her upset primary victory into real traction in the general election. Democrats have nominated former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, hoping she can win after losing to Tipton by 8 points in 2018.

Next door in Utah, the marquee race was the GOP primary for governor, and it lived up to the hype — as of 8 a.m. eastern, there is still no call. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox narrowly leads former Gov. Jon Huntsman by around 3 points, 37.0 percent to 34.3 percent, and former state House Speaker Greg Hughes in third with 20.7 percent. We may not know the final result for a few days either. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, voters could postmark their ballots on Election Day — normally they have to do so the day before — and counties are quarantining mail ballots for 24 hours before counting them, so last-minute votes won’t be immediately counted as they arrive. But regardless of who wins — Cox or Huntsman — the victor will almost certainly be the next governor in this strongly Republican state.

[Related: How Popular Is President Donald Trump?]

Down the ballot in Utah, the crowded 1st Congressional District Republican primary also remains uncalled as businessman Blake Moore holds a razor-thin edge over Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson, 30.2 percent to 29.6 percent. And similar to the gubernatorial contest, the winner of this primary will also likely win the deep red seat in November. There was less drama in Utah’s 4th Congressional District GOP race, however, where former NFL player Burgess Owens defeated state Rep. Kim Coleman and two other candidates, winning 44 percent of the vote based on partial results. Owens will now face Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams in a competitive but traditionally Republican-leaning seat in November, where election handicappers give McAdams a small early advantage.

In Oklahoma, the main event of the evening was a ballot measure on whether to expand Medicaid. The final margin was slim, 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent voted in favor, but with its passage, at least 200,000 more Oklahomans will now be eligible for Medicaid benefits. Just 13 states have now not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. As for Oklahoma’s most notable race of the evening — the Republican primary in the 5th Congressional District — no candidate won a majority, so there will now be an Aug. 25 runoff between businesswoman Terry Neese and state Sen. Stephanie Bice. Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn is an endangered Democrat, too, having pulled off an upset victory in 2018 in a seat Trump carried by 13 points in 2016. So either Neese or Bice will likely find themselves in a competitive race with Horn. Either Neese or Bice would help the GOP increase its slim share of women representatives, too. At present, only 13 of the 197 Republicans in the House are women.

[Related: Elections In Kentucky And New York Are High-Stakes For The Progressive Movement]

Kentucky also reported results yesterday after delaying the full release of returns from its June 23 primary because of a huge number of absentee ballots, and in its marquee race, the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, the final results showed a very close race. Former fighter pilot and 2018 congressional candidate Amy McGrath only narrowly edged out progressive state Rep. Charles Booker by about 3 points, 45.4 percent to 42.6 percent. McGrath was able to hold on despite Booker’s surge in the final days of the campaign, but considering the $41 million she raised ahead of the primary, her showing was a bit underwhelming. She now heads to the general election as a significant underdog against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

As for New York, the other state with a delayed June 23 primary count, we’ll have to wait a bit longer for results. Election officials said they won’t begin counting absentee ballots until today, and some counting will be delayed until after the July 4 holiday weekend. This leaves a number of important Democratic House primaries in doubt for a little while longer.

But overall, the June 30 primaries seem to have avoided any major hiccups. Colorado and Utah both have traditions of vote-by-mail elections, so they were well-equipped to hold a primary in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. They also took additional precautions like ballot quarantining in Utah. Oklahoma still relied heavily on in-person voting, but they took a number of precautionary measures, such as social distancing and personal protective equipment at polling places. The state board of elections also sent out a record-number of absentee ballots. It’s unclear how this would scale for November or work elsewhere, but at least there were some signs on Tuesday that elections in the midst of a public health crisis can be held successfully.

FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast: Biden Is Currently Competitive In Georgia And Texas


Charles Booker, Jamaal Bowman And The 7 Competing Camps In Black Politics

Permalink - Posted on 2020-07-01 10:00

New York’s Jamaal Bowman and Kentucky’s Charles Booker, two Black men running on very liberal policy platforms, likely defeated and nearly defeated (respectively) white Democrats in primaries last week, giving a boost to the party’s insurgent wing. Neither Bowman nor Booker got much help from the party elite — unsurprising, as they were running against establishment-backed figures — and also did not get much help from powerful Black officials in the Democratic Party. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Booker in his race against Amy McGrath, but Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris didn’t. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus interjected themselves into Bowman’s race — to endorse the longtime incumbent, Rep. Eliot Engel.

[Related: Our 2020 National Polling Averages]

Speaking of Harris, she seems like a fairly logical choice to be presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s running mate. But it probably doesn’t help her that some more liberal Black Democrats, such as Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, are publicly suggesting that they might prefer Warren for the VP slot over the California senator.

It’s not surprising that prominent Black political figures aren’t aligned on every issue — and there’s nothing new about that at all. But these particular divides are illustrative of major shifts happening within Black politics, by which I largely mean the world of activists, elected officials and other power brokers in the United States who are Black.16 We are in an era where one man (Barack Obama) is no longer the center of Black politics. So among the major power centers are the activist movement linked to Black Lives Matter that is as skeptical of Black elected officials as non-Black ones; a rising left wing of the Democratic Party that includes many Black voices; and a Black establishment that is arguably more powerful than ever before on Capitol Hill.

[Related: The Diversity Of Black Political Views]

There are now, in my view, at least seven fairly distinct camps among Black political figures — concentrated in the Democratic Party but also stretching into the GOP. These groupings — which come from my own reporting and talking to experts, rather than any specific data set — are mostly informal. But the idea is to explain some common patterns and themes we are seeing, not necessarily to perfectly describe the politics of any particular person or faction in the party. I should also emphasize that these camps do not correspond exactly to rank-and-file Black voters, although I will talk about some places where there is overlap between activists and voters.

I have tried to order the camps by size, from largest to smallest. They are:

The Younger (Under Age 60) Establishment

Many of the Black figures who entered electoral politics amid the Civil Rights activism of the 1960s and 70s have retired or passed away.17 They have largely been replaced by a younger cohort — at least relative to other elected officials18 — that is not on the streets protesting but instead trying to build upon the inroads the Civil Rights generation made once they got into office.

This group, trying to maintain and grow its power, tends to align with the Democratic Party’s existing powerbrokers. So Bottoms and Richmond endorsed Biden very early in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, even as other Black political figures waited to see if Booker or Harris’s campaigns would take off. Bottoms’s early endorsement is reportedly one reason that Biden is considering the Atlanta mayor to be his running mate. Bowser endorsed Michael Bloomberg for president, aligning herself with a figure who spent much of his campaign under attack for supporting aggressive policing policies during his time as mayor of New York that disproportionately affected Black people.

This younger establishment group is wary of the more progressive, anti-establishment parts of the Democratic Party. From the younger Black establishment’s perspective, Black politicians had to fight hard to gain a real foothold in the Democratic Party as it is structured now, and that standing should not be taken for granted. So members of this bloc tend to see attacks on party establishment figures, even white ones, as attacks on them.

And the young establishment is fighting back. Jeffries cast his endorsement of Engel over Bowman in terms of loyalty to Engel, a longtime New York political figure with a liberal voting record. But Jeffries’s backing of Engel was also another round in the moderate vs. left-wing fights that are happening in New York and Washington politics that feature Jeffries on one side and Ocasio-Cortez on the other. These fights cut across racial lines and include Black and non-Black officials on both sides.

If the Democratic Party remains largely dominated by its more moderate wing, Black officials in the younger establishment are likely to see their clout grow. Keep an eye on Jeffries in particular — he is one of the leading candidates to become the top Democrat in the House whenever Pelosi steps down.

The Older (60 And Above) Establishment

  • Major Figures: Rep. James Clyburn, Rep. Val Demings, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Rep. John Lewis, Rep. Greg Meeks, National Urban League President Marc Morial.
  • Alliances: Close to Biden and Pelosi.
  • Geography: Often represent heavily Black areas and/or areas in the South.
  • Ideology: Similar to the younger establishment, perhaps even more wary of very liberal ideas.

Many political experts have argued that Clyburn’s endorsement of Biden was the defining event of the Democratic primary, leading to Biden winning South Carolina’s Black voters, and therefore the state, by a huge margin. That victory seemed to catapult Biden to the nomination. An alternative explanation might be that Black voters in South Carolina and throughout the South were already fairly hesitant about Sanders becoming the Democratic nominee (see the 2016 primary), and Clyburn was just echoing a sentiment he was hearing from his constituents that was then reflected in the voting results.

Those alternative explanations — and perhaps there is truth in both — point to the importance and power of Black officials in the older establishment: This group both represents the existing views of older Black voters but probably also helps mold those views. And older Black voters vote at higher rates than younger ones, making older Black voters a crucial constituency, particularly in Democratic primary contests.

This group’s power is likely to wane when some of its most well-known members, particularly Clyburn and Lewis — who are two of the most influential figures in Democratic politics — retire from office. But whether the more moderate approach of this group is still influential in Democratic circles will depend on whether these officials are replaced by younger establishment figures or more anti-establishment black Democrats. Speaking of which …

The Younger Anti-Establishment

In the Obama years, it wasn’t obvious that there was a distinct black progressive bloc — there weren’t a ton of prominent black political figures who were well to the left of, say, Clyburn.

But the leftward shift in the Democratic Party overall has created an opening for more progressive Black politicians. The rise of this bloc is also arguably aided by the prominence of Black authors and writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates, formerly of The Atlantic, Boston University professor Ibram X. Kendi and The New York Times’s Nikole Hannah-Jones, who are pushing sweeping ideas to combat racial inequality, such as reparations, that more establishment Black politicians often don’t talk about.19

There still aren’t that many of these politicians in office, particularly at the federal level. Bowman’s win aside, several of the more progressive Black candidates lost to more establishment figures in Democratic primaries this year.

But this bloc is worth watching, in part because its core constituency is arguably younger (under 45) and more progressive white voters as much as African Americans. Any white incumbent in a heavily Democratic area now has to be worried that a Black liberal candidate emerges, gets some support among Black voters who might like to have a Black person represent them and then also wins a lot of younger and more progressive white voters who are more “woke” on racial issues and want to vote for a Black candidate.

This bloc also complicates things for elected officials like Cory Booker and Harris, who have positioned themselves as more ideologically moderate. In a world in which someone like Pressley (who endorsed Warren) has a national profile, more progressive voters of all races may have felt more comfortable backing Sanders or Warren over Booker or Harris in the 2020 Democratic primary, as these progressive voters know they will probably get to vote for a very progressive person who is also Black (like Pressley) in a future presidential race.

The Obamaites

  • Major Figures: Former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, Cory Booker, Harris, Rep. Jahana Hayes, Obama.
  • Alliances: Not clearly aligned with other major figures in the Democratic Party.
  • Geography: Not particularly linked to a region; interested in statewide and national office and therefore trying to build a large constituency of both Black and non-Black Democrats.
  • Ideology: Generally speaking, left of the establishment but right of the anti-establishment.

In some sense, you can’t get more established (and hence establishment) than a former president and two sitting senators. But Obama ran against the older Black establishment in 2008. (Lewis, for example, endorsed Hillary Clinton before switching to Obama.) And since leaving office, Obama has signaled that he is open to more liberal ideas than those he implemented while president, although he has also expressed wariness of the party going too far left. In their presidential campaigns, Booker and Harris positioned themselves ideologically between Biden and Sanders.

The people in this group are quite … well, political — intentionally trying to avoid getting pinned down as especially establishment or anti-establishment, or to be seen as allied only with the old or the young. This positioning obviously worked for Obama. The result, though, is that these officials are kind of independent actors, not associated with an obvious bloc in the party. And that carries risk. For example, some Black progressives think Harris is too establishment and moderate. But it’s not clear that she is perfectly aligned with the establishment either — after all, she ran against Biden during the presidential campaign and at times attacked him fairly sharply.

So more moderate powerbrokers in the party, such as Biden, Clyburn and Pelosi, might prefer a Black person who is more aligned with them as Biden’s running mate, such as Bottoms or Demings.

Basically everyone in this group is between the ages of 45 and 60, which is likely explained by the fact that until recently, a Black person cast as very liberal had little chance to advance in Democratic politics outside of a heavily Black area. Many of these figures aspire or have aspired for statewide office and/or the presidency.

The Older Anti-Establishment

  • Major Figures: Rep. Al Green, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. Barbara Lee, activist, author and professor Cornel West.
  • Alliances: Not clearly aligned with other major figures in the Democratic Party.
  • Geography: Not particularly linked to a region or type of constituency.
  • Ideology: Fairly similar to the younger anti-establishment.

This group is fairly small and doesn’t wield a ton of power in Democratic politics. In some ways, they are a cautionary tale for the younger anti-establishment figures. If the anti-establishment doesn’t really gain power in the Democratic Party, a Speaker Jeffries might ignore them in much the same way that Pelosi and Presidents Clinton and Obama have ignored people like Green, Jackson and West in the past.20

Trump-Skeptical Conservatives/Republicans

  • Major Figures: Rep. Will Hurd, former Rep. Mia Love, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Sen. Tim Scott, former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.
  • Alliances: Not particularly allied with anyone, but generally not allied with President Trump.
  • Geography: Not particularly linked to a region, but their constituencies are heavily white, since GOP voters are overwhelmingly white.
  • Ideology: Conservative on many policy issues, but generally opposed to the identity politics of Trump.

There are few Black Republicans in major political roles — few enough that there is no real geographic or ideological unifier among them. But the president has made so many controversial and at times racist comments that Black Republicans and ex-Republicans are basically forced to comment on them. These figures tend to criticize Trump’s racial and racist rhetoric. That fits with their general political approach — even before Trump, many of these people had long suggested that the GOP needed to change its policies and outreach to appeal more to Black voters.

Pro-Trump Conservatives/Republicans

  • Major Figures: Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Kanye West.
  • Alliances: Allied with Trump and his administration.
  • Geography: Same as the Trump-skeptical Republicans.
  • Ideology: Conservative on many policy issues and not critical of Trump on identity and race issues.

It’s not necessarily that people in this bloc agree with everything that Trump says on racial issues, but more that they aren’t usually going to criticize him in public. This is a tiny group — but if Trump wins a second term, I would expect this bloc to grow, with more Black Republicans putting their political ambitions ahead of whatever qualms they may have about the president’s rhetoric.


Again, none of this is an exact science. But these divides among Black political figures are important and often a little hard to see clearly, since nearly all of these politicians are Democrats and most of them broadly agree on major issues. If, for example, Harris is named Biden’s running mate, there will be some Black Democrats who are excited about that and others who are more lukewarm. This is not Barack Obama’s party anymore — but at least for now, it’s not Kamala Harris’s party or Jamaal Bowman’s party or Hakeem Jeffries’s party or James Clyburn’s party either.

FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast: Biden Is Currently Competitive In Georgia And Texas


The Pats Could Only Go 3 Months Without An MVP Quarterback

Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-30 22:18

FiveThirtyEight
 

We begin with the big news out of NFL free agency. Former league MVP Cam Newton will join the New England Patriots on a one-year contract so low-risk for the Pats that it reminds us why New England tends to run strategic rings around every other team in the league. While Newton needs to be healthy to perform, the upside could be huge for both him and head coach Bill Belichick, who has been building a team more around the run anyway and probably has a lot of ideas saved up over the past two decades about how to use a quarterback who can actually move. We are not convinced that this changes the balance of power in the AFC — though we do offer a moment of silence for the glimmer of hope that Geoff’s beloved Jets could have excelled in the AFC East. Nor did this make us forget that the Patriots got caught cheating. Again. But, at the very least, the Belichick/Newton partnership could be really fun to watch.

Next, we talk about the latest round of athletes speaking out against injustice, particularly in college football. The most notable example is Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill, who vowed that he wouldn’t play for the school until Mississippi removed the Confederate battle flag from its state flag. But other athletes — including those at Kansas State, Clemson and Oklahoma State — have also spoken out against racism, homophobia and lax health protocols during the coronavirus outbreak. College athletes are in a unique position, especially when they band together, of being able to exert economic pressure without having much to lose — it’s not like they’re getting paid to play anyway. Plus, they’re coming of age with more and more recent examples of how to speak out and engage in activism from the pros. Colin Kaepernick is maybe the most prominent, but the WNBA’s Maya Moore offers a concrete, and inspiring, template for athletes who want to leverage their careers to make positive change.

Finally, Neil and Geoff take over the Rabbit Hole to talk about how pro golfer Bryson DeChambeau might, in fact, be a real life Incredible Hulk. The evidence? He’s a total stats and analytics nerd who has gained about 40 pounds of muscle in the last nine months. While adding a Sammy Sosa level of bulk doesn’t automatically guarantee greater efficiency per swing, the change has put DeChambeau in the hunt for first in every tournament he’s played — and made him a lot more money.

What we’re looking at this week:


Soccer Commentary Is Full Of Coded Racism

Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-30 21:25

A new paper published by Danish sports data company RunRepeat and backed by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) makes it clear that soccer commentary in the United Kingdom, United States and Canada has a racism problem.

Researchers from RunRepeat sampled 80 games from the 2019-20 seasons of the English Premier League, French Ligue 1, Italian Serie A and Spanish La Liga — broadcast across seven different networks21 — and analyzed more than 2,000 statements made by commentators about 643 unique players. The study included 1,361 comments about players with lighter skin and 713 comments about players with darker skin.22 The study found that, weighting for the different number of comments made about each group, players with lighter skin were praised more frequently for their intelligence (62.6 percent of the comments coded as positive were about players with lighter skin), work ethic (60.4 percent) and overall quality (62.8 percent), while 63.3 percent of criticism about a player’s intelligence was aimed at players with darker skin, along with 67.6 percent of criticism about a player’s quality.

The study also found that players with darker skin were often reduced to racist tropes about their speed and strength, which is often coded by commentators as “pace and power.”

“The study is important as it [communicates] what a lot of people already know,” said Jason Lee, the equalities education executive for the PFA and a former Premier League player, over WhatsApp. “Which is that people from different ethnic groups can do exactly the same things in a game and yet be described in a different way.”

[Related: Our Club Soccer Predictions]

While the study focused on in-game statements, Lee told FiveThirtyEight that it could certainly have included statements from studio segments. Take, for example, the comments from former Croatia manager and current West Bromwich Albion manager Slaven Bilić after Senegal beat Poland in the 2018 World Cup. After gesturing toward co-host Patrice Evra — who is Black, and who won five Premier League titles and a Champions League title with Manchester United and two Serie A titles with Juventus — Bilić said: “Senegal — which is not typical for African teams — they play for each other, and they deserved totally [to win]. They didn’t make any mistakes.”

Zito Madu scrutinized the media’s response to Senegal’s victory in a piece for SB Nation:

“As annoying as it always is, it’s never surprising to see commentators fall back on coded language when they have to discuss black players, especially Africans, in soccer. Before Senegal had even kicked the ball, they were being described not by their skill, creativity, or their decision making, but with the standard words you hear about African teams: Pace, power, physicality, raw talent, tactical naivety, disorganization, swagger, and all the other terms that are part of the same old language that pretends to compliment black players by reducing them to their physical bodies and derides them for not mentally understanding the game. It’s the historical idea of the black man as a senseless brute, repackaged in sporting language.”

In his piece, Madu also noted how seamlessly the racist language slips from commentators to social media accounts with massive followings. For example, after Senegal beat Poland, Twitter account Watch LFC — a Liverpool fan account with more than 85,000 followers — tweeted that winger Sadio Mané put in a “fantastic shift” for Senegal, citing both his pace and power.

Mané is perhaps the best player on Liverpool, which is perhaps the best soccer team in the world. His movement off the ball is second to none; he is relentless while pressing opposition defenders; he is almost singularly gifted at finding space that doesn’t seem to exist. There is hardly a more tactically brilliant player in world soccer than Mané. But as Madu noted, Black players are too frequently reduced to a racist trope by white commentators who fetishize their “pace and power” without also celebrating their tactical brilliance.

“It’s not that black players can’t be fast and powerful, it’s that in soccer, too often, it is the only thing they can be,” Madu wrote.

[Related: Liverpool Won It All This Year. Can The Reds Do It Again?]

Bilić’s comments aren’t the only racist ones that spring to mind, especially from high-profile white commentators. Former Liverpool and Scotland captain and current Sky Sports soccer pundit Graeme Souness has a history of criticizing the intelligence of Manchester United star Paul Pogba, a French player of Guinean descent, live on broadcasts.

In 2016, Souness said that Pogba had to “develop his football brain,” and that he didn’t believe he had “a great understanding of the game.” In 2017, Souness said he wished Pogba played more like Marouane Fellaini — a Belgian player of Morrocan ancestry, and who Souness referred to as a “thug” in the next breath — before calling the Frenchman “a bit of a YouTuber,” an apparent critique of the fact that Pogba often does seemingly impossible things with a soccer ball at his feet. Whenever Souness does compliment Pogba, it isn’t about the midfielder’s creativity or intelligence, but rather his “muscularity” or “athleticism.”

[Related: How Do You Play Sports In The Middle Of A Pandemic?]

Souness and Bilić are hardly the only white soccer pundits peddling this kind of barely coded racism, as we can see in this study. Lee suggested that all commentators receive unconscious bias training; a researcher from RunRepeat who worked on the study told FiveThirtyEight that about 94 percent of the commentators and co-commentators analyzed in the study were white. “There are Black pundits, but not many — if any — lead presenters or commentators,” Lee said.

And whenever any white commentator deploys “pace and power” or “athleticism” to describe a Black player — without also commenting on their tactical intelligence, skill, creativity or work ethic — they are not only missing the mark in terms of their soccer critique, but also denying Black players’ humanity.


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Cam Newton Brings Game-Changing Mobility To The Patriots (If He’s Healthy)

Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-30 17:56

Sunday night was surprisingly eventful for the New England Patriots. Within a span of less than 20 minutes, it was reported that the NFL had docked the Patriots a 2021 third-round draft pick and fined it $1.1 million for illegally videotaping the Bengals sideline and — seemingly out of the blue — that New England had signed free-agent quarterback Cam Newton to a one-year deal.

The loss of a third-round pick in next year’s draft could end up proving costly for New England. After all, the presumed starting quarterback prior to Sunday’s signing of Newton was Jarrett Stidham, a fourth-round pick out of Auburn. Less than a week ago, one league insider was speculating that Stidham would start all 16 games for the Patriots in 2020. But Newton — another Auburn QB and former NFL MVP — has upended that assumption. In the near term, Newton’s addition could improve the Patriots Super Bowl chances: At least one sports book moved the Patriots from a 3.9 percent shot to hoist the Lombardi trophy to 5.3 percent after the signing was reported.

[Related: The NFL Is Drafting Quarterbacks All Wrong]

Still, signing Cam isn’t without risk. Newton presumably comes with a high chance of future injury, making the prospect of future production uncertain. He’s had a series of surgeries over the past few years, the most recent of which was an operation on his foot in December for a Lisfranc injury. The injury uncertainty, coupled with reports that teams were unable to work him out because of COVID-19, may explain why New England was able to sign him to a league minimum contract. But putting injury risk aside, if we assume Cam is healthy enough to start, there is decent evidence that he can be a productive passer for the Patriots.

Based on work by Eric Eager and George Chahrouri of Pro Football Focus, we know that a quarterback’s passing performance from a clean pocket is one of the best predictors of his future production, and Newton has been very consistent on those throws throughout his career.

With the exception of 2019, when he started just two games, Cam has not had a QBR below 50 on clean pocket throws since entering the league.23 Completion percentage over expected, or CPOE, can also help us forecast future performance, and in 2018 Newton completed passes 4.2 percentage points over what we would expect from a league-average QB, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. As Newton enters his age-31 season, there’s no reason to believe he won’t return to his previous form if his health cooperates.

But Cam’s passing might just be secondary to the value he brings to New England as a runner. Mobile quarterbacks make defenses account for an extra player, negating the numbers advantage in the running game defenses usually enjoy versus pocket passers, who they can often safely ignore. And Cam’s size brings an extra dimension of difficulty to the problem of defending the run because he’s so hard to bring down. Since 2011, Newton leads NFL quarterbacks with 110 missed tackles forced, according to Pro Football Focus. But these runs aren’t just broken plays and scrambles: Newton is a smart, instinctual player who a team can trust with option plays like zone read. Since 2011, Newton leads the NFL with 13 touchdowns on 242 zone-read rush attempts, the highest number of attempts among quarterbacks in that span.

Newton is effective at zone read

Cam Newton’s regular-season zone read rushing plays, 2011-19, with expected points added (EPA) per play and success rate*

Season Zone-Read Rushes Touchdowns EPA/Play Success Rate
2011 22 3 +0.08 54.5%
2012 41 1 +0.07 46.3
2013 21 1 +0.02 47.6
2014 34 0 +0.07 58.8
2015 35 2 +0.05 42.9
2016 20 1 +0.00 47.6
2017 31 3 +0.11 64.5
2018 36 2 +0.05 50.0
2019 2 0 -0.31 0.0

*Successful plays are those with positive expected points added.

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

Smart football analysts believe that the Patriots will adapt their offense to maximize Newton’s strengths. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels likely has run concepts from his time in Denver with Tim Tebow that he can dust off and tailor to Cam’s specific strengths, and the Patriots defense is widely regarded as good enough to keep games close, despite the unpredictability of defensive performance from year to year. There’s a lot that will need to break right for the Patriots to make a deep playoff run in 2020. But even if all Newton’s signing did was to divert attention away from yet another round of league sanctions for questionable competitive behavior, it may have already been worth it.


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For Black Americans, Wearing A Mask Comes With Complicated Anxieties

Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-30 14:44

Over the past few months, mask-wearing in public has become the norm. In some states, it’s even required. But for Black Americans — and young Black men in particular — wearing a mask can feel like a catch-22. Public health experts now say masks are crucial for preventing the spread of the virus, which has disproportionately affected Black people. But putting on a mask can be an intense source of anxiety for many Black people — particularly Black men — who worry that they’ll be harassed or profiled while they’re wearing one.

“Almost immediately after mask-wearing became widespread, there were anecdotal reports of Black men being followed and asked to leave stores because they were wearing masks,” said ReNika Moore, director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program.

A new study underscores just how widespread this kind of profiling could be. Researchers at the University of North Carolina found that in a survey experiment, non-Black respondents who scored high in racial resentment — a measure that’s designed to assess negative attitudes toward people of color — were much likelier to perceive a young Black man as threatening or untrustworthy if he was wearing a homemade mask or a bandanna, compared to a white man around the same age.

“There’s no doubt at this point that masks keep people safer from COVID-19,” said Marc Hetherington, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina and one of the authors of the study. “But certain types of masks may also be putting young Black men in danger of harassment or profiling.”

[Related: Where The Latest COVID-19 Models Think We’re Headed — And Why They Disagree]

Researchers had all respondents read a short fictitious news story about a young man who said he had been laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the photo of the man that accompanied the narrative varied by race (white or Black) and face covering. In some pictures, the man was wearing no mask; in others, he was wearing a surgical mask, a homemade cloth mask or a bandanna.

The respondents were then asked to rate how “threatening” and “trustworthy” the young man was. The study found that non-Black respondents who scored high in racial resentment were significantly more likely to say the young Black man was threatening or untrustworthy when he was wearing the bandanna or the homemade mask. Michael Jeffries, a professor of American studies at Wellesley College, said this study further affirms the fears of Black people wearing certain masks in public. “Our reactions are based on the way that we’re treated. These are not figments of our imagination.”

CalvinJohn Smiley, a sociology professor at Hunter College, said the findings reminded him of a lively conversation that sprang up in a WhatsApp group earlier in the pandemic. He and the other Black men on the thread were swapping thoughts on which kinds of masks and bandannas would be safest for them to wear. “The standard darker blue or standard red colors were ones that we all kind of said, we’re definitely not going to wear that,” he said, because of the colors’ associations with street gangs. “It’s really a horrible decision to make — do I wear this mask and potentially be stopped and profiled by the police? Or do I not wear it and risk my health and livelihood?” he said.


Subscribe to our coronavirus podcast, PODCAST-19


The UNC team’s findings have serious health implications, especially given how the coronavirus has disproportionately affected Black people. But the research has also turned up one potential solution. Since the researchers found that surgical masks didn’t increase negative perceptions of Black men the way homemade masks or bandannas did, cities and states could make those masks more widely available. And some places have already done something like this: In Rochester, NY, the city mailed out almost 500,000 surgical masks to residents.

Several experts and activists pointed out, though, that simply mailing out surgical masks won’t solve the underlying issues that make some Black people feel unsafe covering their faces in public. Tyler Whittenburg, chief counsel of the Justice Systems Reform group at the advocacy organization Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said that the anxiety about wearing face masks isn’t just about the masks themselves. It’s linked to the larger systemic issues around police violence and the surveillance of Black people that have been raised by protesters across the country in the past month. “If you want to help mitigate that anxiety, then listen to the people that are out in the streets,” he said. And Lauren Hill, an assistant professor of public health at the University of North Carolina, said it’s important that businesses and local governments ensure that Black people aren’t harassed in public, regardless of what kind of mask they’re wearing.

[Related: How Americans View The Coronavirus Crisis And Trump’s Response]

Smiley told us that listening to Black Americans and paying attention to their experiences is especially important because even if surgical masks don’t trigger damaging stereotypes now, that might change. It’s possible, for example, that because they haven’t been readily available until recently, the masks — and people who wear them — might be perceived more negatively if masks start being distributed for free. And that change could disproportionately impact Black Americans, given the difficulties they already face with other types of face masks.

On a personal level, Smiley has prioritized wearing a mask from the start, since he believes he was actually sick with the virus earlier this year. And now, he’s mostly worried about being harassed on the rare occasions when he forgets to wear a mask. But he understands many Black people may still feel uncomfortable putting one on — and he said that complexity and ambivalence is one reason this problem may not have a simple fix. “This really is a matter of health and people’s lives, so we can’t ignore it,” he said, adding, “But it is probably going to be more complicated than just finding a neutral mask.”

FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast: Biden Is Currently Competitive In Georgia And Texas


If Texas Is Competitive, Trump Has Problems

Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-30 12:30

In this week’s FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the team looks at new polling that clarifies the presidential race in battleground states.


What You Need To Know About Today’s Elections In Colorado, Oklahoma And Utah

Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-30 11:00

30On Tuesday, primary voters in three states decide who will take on some of the nation’s most vulnerable incumbents. In Colorado, Sen. Cory Gardner is generally considered an underdog in November, but would he be replaced by a moderate Democrat or someone further left? And in Oklahoma and Utah, Republicans pretty much have to defeat Reps. Kendra Horn and Ben McAdams if they have any hope of taking back the House. Whom will the GOP nominate? We hope to bring you the answers tomorrow — depending on how fast we get results — as well as the long-awaited results from Kentucky and New York.

Colorado

Remember John Hickenlooper? After he dropped out of the Democratic presidential race in August 2019, the former Colorado governor announced he would instead run for U.S. Senate at the behest of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. His entry into the race mostly cleared what had been a crowded primary field, with attention soon turning to whether Hickenlooper could beat Gardner in the general election. (The answer seems to be yes.)

But Hickenlooper still faces a primary challenge from one high-profile candidate: former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. While Romanoff had a fairly centrist record in the legislature, he has recently embraced progressive policies like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal in an effort to position himself to the left of Hickenlooper, who governed and ran for president as a moderate.

Hickenlooper outspent Romanoff $6.7 million to $2.2 million through June 10, but as the campaign has drawn to a close, Hickenlooper has run into trouble. On June 5, the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission ruled that two trips he took as governor paid for by corporations had violated a state law prohibiting elected officials from receiving gifts. Hickenlooper also drew bad headlines when the commission initially held him in contempt for defying a subpoena to testify in the case (he quickly changed his mind). In addition, Hickenlooper stumbled over answers to questions about racial justice, saying “every life matters” and referencing the “shooting of George Floyd” (a Minneapolis police officer killed Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes). He also had to apologize for a video from 2014 in which he compared the relationship between a politician and a scheduling staffer to that of a slave and a master.

[Related: John Hickenlooper Is Running For Senate. But Did He Miss His Chance?]

Romanoff is now cleverly using a new TV commercial that riffs off a well-known Hickenlooper ad from 2010 to attack Hickenlooper on these very issues, and Republicans have started their negative ad campaigns early too, which could redound to Romanoff’s benefit in the primary. But the cavalry has recently come to Hickenlooper’s rescue: A mysterious new PAC has dropped more than $1 million on TV ads attacking Romanoff for overseeing the passage of strict anti-immigration laws in the legislature, and the last two weeks have seen $1.1 million in TV ad spending from Hickenlooper’s campaign and at least $1.6 million from his allies at Senate Majority PAC.

At the end of the day, Hickenlooper’s money and name recognition may be too much for Romanoff to overcome: The latest poll, conducted June 19-24 by SurveyUSA for KUSA-TV, gave Hickenlooper a 58 percent to 28 percent lead.

Oklahoma

It’s not a primary, but the biggest race on Oklahoma’s ballot today is arguably State Question 802, a ballot measure that would expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Currently, Oklahoma is one of 14 states that has not expanded Medicaid, and supporters of the measure say that it would make about 200,000 Oklahomans eligible for Medicaid benefits. Medicaid expansion generally polls pretty well, even in red states (three of them passed it at the ballot box in 2018), and early on at least, Oklahoma’s proposal was no exception: A February poll by Change Research found that 67 percent supported expanding Medicaid in Oklahoma. (However, there are two pretty big caveats: The poll was paid for the Yes on 802 campaign and ballot measures tend to lose support over the course of the campaign.)

In terms of actual primaries, there’s one we’ll be keeping a close eye on: the GOP primary in Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District. It was a huge shock on election night 2018 when Democrat Kendra Horn flipped this district that voted for President Trump by 13 points in 2016. Now, sensing an opening, nine Republicans are lining up to face Horn in this Oklahoma City-based district. For a party that has struggled to elect female members of Congress, it’s notable that three of the four most serious candidates are women: state Sen. Stephanie Bice, businesswoman Terry Neese and former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi.

[Related: Why The Republican Party Elects So Few Women]

Bice has spent the most money on the race ($854,946 as of June 10) and enjoys the endorsement of two groups trying to elect more Republican women, but she’s also been on the receiving end of some nasty attack ads by the Club for Growth, including one obliquely tying her to convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein. With the help of $450,000 of her own money, Neese has spent the second-most, at $629,419. Barresi has also almost entirely self-funded her campaign, but a fourth contender, businessman David Hill, has narrowly outspent her, $389,047 to $383,718.

On paper, Bice has the strongest chance to beat Horn, as she’s an elected official who already represents part of the district and ran ahead of Trump’s 2016 vote share in her 2018 reelection campaign. Someone like Barresi may have a harder time: During her one term as state schools chief, she faced a revolt over the adoption of new educational standards (she initially supported, then backed away from, Common Core) and lost reelection in the primary. Local political observers told Bloomberg Government that some suburban voters may still hold her tenure against her. Barresi is also the only one of the top four candidates not identified by the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” program as a potentially competitive contender.

If no candidate wins a majority today, the top two finishers will advance to a runoff on Aug. 25.

Utah

Utah Republicans, meanwhile, are abuzz over three competitive Republican primaries. Two races — one for the governor’s mansion, one for a House seat — have major consequences for November, given the jurisdictions’ deep-red hues, while the third is liable to be competitive.

The GOP primary for Utah governor is shaping up to be a close race between Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and former Gov. Jon Huntsman, though former state House Speaker Greg Hughes is also in the mix.

Huntsman has been targeted for his connection to former President Barack Obama, which could play poorly in the conservative state. An outside group, Protecting Our Constitution, has sent mailers to voters attacking Huntsman for leaving Utah to become Obama’s ambassador to China, arguing that Utah needs a leader “who will be there for us.” (Huntsman later served as President Trump’s ambassador to Russia.) Still, Huntsman was quite popular during his time as governor, as his job approval sometimes topped 80 percent. However, Cox has the backing of popular Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who took over for Huntsman, as well as many business leaders in the state. Hughes, the contest’s third man, has tried to run to the right of Cox and Huntsman as head of the self-proclaimed “conservative ticket” for governor.

Recent public surveys show a race that is too close to predict. Last week, a poll by Dan Jones & Associates, sponsored by Salt Lake City’s chamber of commerce, found Cox at 30 percent and Huntsman at 29 percent, while a Y2 Analytics survey from the week prior put Cox up 4 points, 34 percent to 30 percent. These are largely in line with surveys over the last couple of months, though Hughes was within shouting distance in the most recent polls, garnering between 15 and 26 percent support, so he could pull off a surprise upset. There is a fourth contender in the race — former state GOP chair Thomas Wright — but he’s mostly polled in the single digits.

[Related: Our 2020 National Polling Averages]

We’re also keeping an eye on who wins the Republican primary in Utah’s 1st Congressional District, as like the gubernatorial race, they will likely win in November — no Democrat has won more than 30 percent of the vote here in recent years. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that there’s a crowded Republican race to replace outgoing Rep. Rob Bishop, who is now running for lieutenant governor on Wright’s ticket. All four candidates appear to have a chance, too, but the race has offered plenty of negative headlines. Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt was censured by her city council because she supported hosting a public concert aimed at protesting coronavirus-related restrictions. Meanwhile, businessman Blake Moore has drawn accusations of being a carpetbagger, as he does not live in this northern Utah district. Former Weber County Commissioner Kerry Gibson has attracted controversy over the years, including accusations of helping a company win a state contract to grow medical marijuana while he was Utah’s agricultural commissioner and misappropriating funds as a county commissioner.

These controversies might be good news for Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson, who led in the most recent public poll of the race not sponsored by a campaign: In late May, a Y2 Analytics survey found Stevenson at 38 percent, followed by Witt at 26 percent, Gibson at 20 percent and Moore at 16 percent, but the poll had a very small sample size (just 127 respondents) and a big margin of error. A more recent internal poll from Moore’s campaign found him and Stevenson tied with 16 percent, with Gibson at 13 percent, Witt at 7 percent and a whopping 48 percent of respondents undecided. (But since this was from an internal poll, we should be cautious about reading too much into it.) As no single candidate has dominated the fundraising game, the money figures also point to an uncertain outcome. Moore and Stevenson have raised a bit more than Witt or Gibson, but not by much.

Lastly, Utah’s 4th Congressional District is one of the few elections in the state that will be really competitive in November. And on Tuesday, Republicans decide who will face Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams in this swing seat. There’s a crowded four-way primary race here, too.

Former NFL player Burgess Owens, a regular guest on Fox News, has raised the most money. But state Rep. Kim Coleman isn’t that far behind Owens, and she’s also earned the endorsement of former Rep. Mia Love, who narrowly lost to McAdams in 2018. Owens and Coleman both qualified for the primary through the party convention process in April, suggesting they may have the most ardent conservative support. But don’t discount the other two contenders in the race. Former radio host Jay Mcfarland (who goes by “JayMac”) came up short at the convention but he still gathered enough signatures to make the primary ballot, and while he hasn’t attracted as much financial support, he may have a fair bit of name recognition from his time on the airwaves. Nonprofit CEO Trent Christensen is also in the race, though he hasn’t raised much money.

The only public poll we have here is, like in the 1st District, a small-sample survey (148 respondents) from Y2 Analytics that put Owens at 36 percent, McFarland at 28 percent, Coleman at 23 percent and Christensen at 13 percent. Whoever wins will take on McAdams in the least Republican seat in Utah, which Trump won with 39 percent to Hillary Clinton’s 32 percent in 2016 (independent Evan McMullin garnered 22 percent of the vote).

[Related: The Elections In Kentucky And New York Are High-Stakes For The Progressive Movement]

So there’s a lot to keep an eye on today, including results from elections that happened last week in Kentucky and New York. We’ll be back on Wednesday with quick reactions to the available results and what they might mean for November.

'Trump's getting into underdog territory': Nate Silver

CORRECTION (June 30, 2020, 10:08 a.m.): An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Huntsman led Cox in a Y2 Analytics survey by 4 percentage points. But it was Cox who led Huntsman by 4 points.


In 2008, Everyone Thought The Recession Was Bad. But in 2020, Many Americans’ Views Depend On Their Party.

Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-30 09:58

The U.S. economy is objectively awful right now. The unemployment rate is at levels not seen since the Great Depression and this quarter’s decline in gross domestic product is expected to be the worst on record. Most economists believe it will take years to recover from this recession.

Not everyone thinks the economy is doing so poorly, though.

In the most recent Quinnipiac University national survey, 69 percent of Republicans described the U.S. economy as “excellent” or “good.” Similarly, nearly two-thirds of Republicans in both Civiqs’s daily tracking polls and in a June 11-15 Associated Press/NORC Poll said that the nation’s current economy is at least leaning toward good. By contrast, only around 10 percent of Democrats thought that the national economy was doing well in those surveys.

In fact, a closer look at Civiqs’ data24 shows that Democrats’ and Republicans’ views of the economy are more polarized now than they’ve been at any point during President Trump’s time in office.

That isn’t to say that Democrats and Republicans have seen eye to eye on the economy at previous points in Trump’s presidency. They haven’t.

As you can see in the chart above, there has been a fairly large — and persistent — gap in how Democrats and Republicans think about the economy. However, that gap did shrink after the pandemic’s dire economic effects became apparent, and by early May, only one-third of Republicans still thought that the economy was in good shape.

Republicans’ economic optimism, however, quickly rebounded in June as states allowed businesses to reopen and the May jobs report was released with better-than-expected news.

Even when Republicans’ outlook on the economy was at its lowest point this year, according to Civiqs data, they still felt more upbeat about the state of the economy than at any point in 2016 before Trump was elected, when the economy was objectively better.

[Related: What Economists Fear Most During This Recovery]

This isn’t necessarily surprising, though, as political science research has found that a strong economy might not benefit a president as much as it once did, in part because voters’ views on whether the economy is healthy tend to be linked to whether their preferred party is in power. That says a lot about how polarized our politics have become, and it also underscores a key point that John Sides, Lynn Vavreck, and I have repeatedly made about the 2016 election: The widespread economic dissatisfaction and anxiety driving much of the media narrative about Trump’s political rise and the 2016 presidential campaign wasn’t a reflection of actual economic realities, it was largely a consequence of partisanship.

Of course, the difficulty is that these attitudes aren’t just partisanship either. After eight years of Obama’s presidency, racial and economic anxiety became increasingly intertwined to the point that racial resentment was a much stronger predictor of economic pessimism under Obama than it had been under George W. Bush. That is, white people — especially white Trump voters — believed that Black people were getting ahead while they were left behind.

Take the 2016 American National Election Studies survey. Before Trump took office, the more racial discrimination white people thought their own group faced, the more likely they were to say that the economy was worse than it had been a year earlier. These voters largely voted for Trump. But under Trump’s presidency, a similar poll found that white voters were less likely to say the economy had gotten worse if they believed white people faced high levels of racial discrimination.

In addition, nearly three-quarters of the 69,000 respondents surveyed for the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape in the past three months have said that the economy is worse than it was a year ago. But only around half of white respondents who think their racial group faces a lot or a great deal of discrimination shared this economic pessimism. (This was true even after controlling for several other factors, such as partisanship and income.)

In other words, Americans’ political allegiances and views on race influence their views of the economy. That marks a significant departure from the last time there was an economic downturn during a presidential election campaign. Americans, regardless of their partisanship and racial attitudes, universally thought the economy was in terrible shape after the financial collapse in 2008.

But that isn’t the case now. So why is the coronavirus recession so different?

[Related: The Economy Is A Mess. So Why Isn’t The Stock Market?]

One reason is that even though the national economy is in shambles, it’s also ticking back up. It’s unclear how fast the economy will recover, but this uncertainty opens the door for voters to adopt their own partisan and racialized explanations for the economy’s performance. Additionally, in a presidential election where the incumbent had long planned to base his case for reelection on a strong economy, Americans are all the more motivated to view the economy through political lenses.

Not to mention, Trump has also tried to bend the country’s bleak economic reality to his will. He has said that the economy is springing back from the coronavirus recession like “a rocket ship,” claiming that the economic recovery is “the greatest comeback in American history.” This is very different from 2008, when few Republicans made the case that the economy was in good shape. At the time, GOP presidential nominee John McCain was even widely mocked for saying “the fundamentals of our economy are strong” before quickly reversing his position to say the economy was in “total crisis.”

[Related: Our 2020 National Polling Averages]

But now the fact that most economists disagree with the president’s optimism about a quick rebound may not matter. As we’ve seen with the Civiqs data, more Republicans think the economy is in good shape now than thought so in 2016. And a long line of social science research shows that when political elites are sharply divided — as they are now over the economy — the public follows the lead of the elites. That is, partisan messaging is now so powerful that Americans tend to adopt their party’s standpoint even when that position runs counter to science or objective facts.

And that’s what makes the coronavirus recession so different. Americans are increasingly unlikely to abandon their partisan and racialized views of the economy. So as long as Trump projects economic confidence, Republicans will likely continue to have a much more positive view of the economy than Democrats do.

FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast: Biden Is Currently Competitive In Georgia And Texas


Politics Podcast: Biden Is Currently Competitive In Georgia And Texas

Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-29 22:41

A slew of new, high-quality polls provides the clearest picture yet of the presidential race in swing states, and it isn’t looking good for President Trump. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew discusses polling showing Joe Biden leading in every swing state and essentially tied in Georgia and Texas. The team also looks at how Republican politicians are responding to new outbreaks of COVID-19 across the Sun Belt.

FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast: Biden Is Currently Competitive In Georgia And Texas

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 Mondays and Thursdays. 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.


The Supreme Court Struck Down A Louisiana Abortion Law. Here’s Where The Fight Could Head Next.

Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-29 18:37

On Monday morning, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s liberals yet again to strike down a restrictive Louisiana abortion law that could have left the state with a single clinic.

This case was one of the most-watched items on the docket this term for a reason. It was the first ruling on abortion since President Trump appointed two new justices to the court, which meant abortion-rights opponents were optimistic that a new conservative majority might be willing to undo past decisions on abortion rights — even though the Louisiana law was basically identical to a Texas restriction that was struck down by the court in 2016. The laws banned doctors from providing abortions unless they had admitting privileges at a local hospital.

[Related: The Supreme Court Put DACA’s Fate In The Hands Of Voters]

It turned out this was a bad bet. Roberts ultimately wasn’t willing to backtrack on what the court had so recently decided. “The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons,” he wrote in a separate opinion from the majority. “Therefore Louisiana’s law cannot stand under our precedents.”

But this could turn out to be only a temporary setback for anti-abortion activists. Roberts made it clear that he still thinks the 2016 ruling was incorrect. This means abortion rights will likely be back on the Supreme Court’s docket soon, and it’s very possible that in a future case, Roberts will be willing to uphold other restrictions that could severely limit access to the procedure.

As the map below shows, states have passed plenty of different types of restrictions already.

Today’s ruling means that the center of gravity in the abortion debate will likely shift away from requirements placed on clinics — particularly those that are similar to the ones struck down in Texas and Louisiana. According to the Guttmacher institute, a research organization that supports legal abortion, 14 states, including Louisiana and Texas, have passed admitting-privileges restrictions since 2011. The Supreme Court striking those laws down is a significant victory for abortion-rights supporters, because those types of restrictions were very onerous for doctors to comply with. A ruling in favor of Louisiana in this case would have almost certainly made it even harder to get an abortion in the state — and perhaps also in other parts of the country.

But as you can see in the chart above, there are still hundreds of other laws that limit abortion rights on the books. And a few kinds of laws that several Republican-controlled legislatures have recently passed could turn into the next big front in the abortion wars.

[Related: If The Supreme Court Lets The Electoral College Vote However It Wants, Will Chaos Ensue?]

One such category includes bans on a specific second-trimester abortion procedure that involves dilating the patient’s cervix and removing the fetus in pieces (on the chart, these are represented by the blue dots — the category for restrictions on a certain type of abortion or for specific reasons). And according to Mary Ziegler, a professor at Florida State University College of Law and the author of “Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v. Wade to the Present,” anti-abortion advocates could argue that these bans are in line with a Supreme Court case decided in 2007, where the court upheld a federal ban on another commonly used method of second-trimester abortion.

Another possibility is that anti-abortion opponents will start to focus on laws that ban abortion solely for specific reasons — like when the fetus has genetic abnormalities, or if the goal is to ensure a child of a specific sex or race (these are also represented by blue dots on the chart). The Supreme Court sidestepped ruling on one of these bans last year, leaving the possibility that they could return to the court in the future.

[Related: Here’s Why The Anti-Abortion Movement Is Escalating]

There are also many outright bans on abortion at different stages of pregnancy — including laws like the one passed earlier this month in Tennessee, which would prevent a woman from obtaining an abortion starting around the sixth week of pregnancy.25

As I wrote last year, these types of bans are increasingly popular in the anti-abortion movement. But they’re riskier propositions from a legal perspective, because they directly challenge the court’s original precedent in Roe v. Wade — and they’re also not really in line with most Americans’ views about when abortion should be legal. That is, most Americans think Roe v. Wade should not be reversed, and many think abortion should be legal in the first trimester.

[Related: Will The Supreme Court Finally Force Trump’s Tax Returns To Be Released?]

So another option that could be more palatable — both to Roberts and the general public — is a set of restrictions that land closer to the threshold for fetal viability, which is around 22 weeks. That wouldn’t necessarily involve a full-scale reversal of precedent, which Roberts seems reluctant to consider at this point. For instance, in today’s case the court brushed aside anti-abortion advocates’ request to revisit several decades of precedent that allows abortion doctors to sue to protect or expand abortion rights on behalf of their patients, rather than forcing patients themselves to sue.

It’s hard to predict which of these restrictions are most likely to end up at the Supreme Court or how quickly that would happen. But Leah Litman, a law professor at the University of Michigan, said that while Roberts’s emphasis on maintaining precedent may prompt anti-abortion advocates to change their strategy, some of these other laws could get a warmer reception from the chief justice. “There are just so many varieties of restrictions on abortion that the Supreme Court hasn’t definitively weighed in on,” she said. “This kind of ruling is an invitation to bring them different kinds of restrictions.”

FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast: Biden Is Currently Competitive In Georgia And Texas


How Do You Play Sports In The Middle Of A Pandemic?

Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-29 18:30

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): Cases of COVID-19 are spiking in places across the U.S. that weren’t hit hard initially. Some areas that had reopened are shutting down bars and reducing capacity in restaurants. People are throwing tantrums in grocery stores when asked to put on masks. And in the middle of all of that … we’re trying to bring back sports.

American sports leagues are just now coming out of their coronavirus hibernation, with some already started and some finalizing their schedules for play. They’re ramping up testing of their players, so every day, it seems like there’s another announcement of a team full of athletes afflicted by the coronavirus. Players (and staff) across MLB, the NBA and college athletics have tested positive. The Orlando Pride of the National Women’s Soccer League had to pull out of the Challenge Cup tournament after several positive tests. And golfers have withdrawn from PGA Tour events two weeks in a row after testing positive — and that’s not even counting caddies.

We wanted to understand these headlines better, so we brought together two science journalists and two sports journalists to see if we could figure out what this all means for the safety of the athletes and the reality of the leagues’ returns. Maggie Koerth and Kaleigh Rogers have been covering the science and politics of the novel coronavirus since the earliest days of the pandemic, while Neil Paine has been examining its effects on the world of sports.

So let’s dig in. Should we be surprised that athletes have been struck with the virus, given what we know about the prevalence of cases in the general, nonathlete population?

maggie (Maggie Koerth, senior science writer): I don’t think it’s surprising that a bunch of people who share a locker room and run around breathing heavily on each other might contract a virus from one another.

kaleigh (Kaleigh Rogers, science and politics reporter): Exactly. We know that the virus spreads from prolonged, close contact. Sports are a natural hot spot. Even though the actual sports-ing often takes place outdoors, in the open air, there’s enough time spent close together inside that viral spread is inevitable. Social distancing is effective, but team sports are the opposite of social distancing.

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): There are also a LOT of pro athletes in these leagues. Last year, 1,410 players played at least one Major League Baseball game.

The NFL has even more players. And the NBA and WNBA still number in the many hundreds. So it was inevitable that some — or even many — players would come back with positive tests as they were eased into these bubbles, right? (This is before we even get into the many, many college players out there.)

kaleigh: And most of them have not yet been exposed. A Stanford study of MLB employees that came out in May found less than 1 percent had tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies.

sara.ziegler: The point about sports being the opposite of social distancing is a good one. But these positive tests are coming before a lot of the play has even started! These athletes were theoretically just living their lives as normal people.

kaleigh: Sara, that’s a good point and also gets at a big question mark when it comes to plans to resume play: What rules will be placed on athletes off the field? I know the MLB plan, at least, is relying on just asking athletes to “exercise care.”

neil: Saying “exercise care” seems like a big ask from a group of people who are young and probably feel an extra level of invincibility over the average person (seeing as they’ve basically never run into physical limitations before in their lives, up until this).

kaleigh: And Neil, that’s not even mentioning college athletes who, along with being young and, y’know, in college, also have other obligations like class to contend with.

neil: LOL, class.

kaleigh: Surely sometimes, right?

neil: (For sure.)

maggie: Those underwater baskets aren’t gonna weave themselves.

sara.ziegler: 🤣

maggie: And we haven’t even added the spectators to the equation either. West Virginia University recently did a study where they looked at influenza data between 1962 and 2016 and found that you can actually see an increase in flu mortality in a city that’s correlated with bringing in a new sports franchise.

Like, sports teams make flu season deaths rise in those cities by between 4 and 24 percent. Bring in a new team and that flu season (and every one after it) had more deaths.

sara.ziegler: Oh, wow! That does not make me feel great about all the non-pandemic games I’ve attended.

maggie: That’s building on previous research that had found making it to the Super Bowl (i.e., extending the football season further into peak flu season and increasing time fans spent watching football together, even inside their own houses) increased flu mortality in a team’s home city by 18 percent among people over the age of 65.

neil: That’s incredible. Something we never really think about at all.

(Although one takeaway from this whole thing is how underappreciated the risk of the flu is anyway.)

maggie: Now seems like a nice time to plug flu shots. Get your flu shot this fall, people.

sara.ziegler: It seems like almost all of the athlete cases in this round of testing have been asymptomatic — or, at least, we’re not hearing of many more serious cases, like we did with athletes earlier on in the pandemic. Does that surprise any of you?

kaleigh: I think some of that speaks to the high level of physical health that many athletes have to maintain. If you’re already in peak shape, it’s not shocking that you’re experiencing a less severe infection.

maggie: That’s not wildly surprising to me, either, given what we know about how this virus operates. Younger people generally have less severe infection. And even though there are exceptions to that, it’s still generally true.

kaleigh: Yeah, Maggie, those exceptions are still pretty rare.

neil: Will the relatively mild cases among athletes be the saving grace for bringing sports back? Or are we just deluding ourselves and a severe case is inevitable?

kaleigh: Neil and Sara, you’d have an answer for this: Is there any concern about athletes and more severe cases of COVID? I can’t imagine being intubated is something anyone who relies on their body for a living wants to experience.

Isn’t there also a financial risk to putting players’ health on the line?

neil: There’s definitely been negotiations to increase the amount of insurance for NBA players.

(And it won’t be held against NBA players if they choose not to play the rest of the season.)

kaleigh: Severe cases in young, otherwise healthy people are rare, but not unheard of. And there are lots of reports of lingering impacts from more serious infections.

sara.ziegler: And there have been some more serious cases among athletes. Von Miller of the Denver Broncos was sick this spring, and he’s been worried about the damage to his lungs. There’s just so much we don’t know about the long-term effects of the virus.

maggie: I’ve also been thinking about all the stories I’ve read where “mild” nonhospitalized infections were still … not a walk in the park.

kaleigh: Totally, Maggie! Often, “mild” only means “anything less than needing a respirator,” which is a pretty broad range of severity.

maggie: I’m waiting for a severe case in a coach, myself. Or owners.

kaleigh: I think we also need to consider that the people who make sports happen aren’t only athletes in the prime of their life.

maggie: Trainers. Staff. There’s lots of people who work with those athletes who are not 24-year-old demigods.

kaleigh: And then there’s the fact that if they’re getting sick, they could be spreading the virus to their families and the wider community.

A young, healthy person getting a mild or asymptomatic case and recovering has never been what we’ve been trying to avoid.

maggie: Exactly.

sara.ziegler: Right. The bubbles aren’t needed just to keep people inside of them safe — they’re needed to keep everyone outside of them safe, too!

neil: I guess that’s a big argument in favor of the “bubble” approach, compared with the leagues that are doing it in a less structured way.

maggie: Bubbles definitely make a lot of sense. The YMCA has reported (although this isn’t independently confirmed data or anything) that they’ve had no outbreak clusters associated with their childcare centers … and that’s partly because they’ve been keeping little kids in nine-kid-plus-teacher bubbles that don’t interact with other bubbles at the center.

But bubbles are harder for sports teams, I think, when, you know, the bubbles have to play one another on the field or court.

sara.ziegler: Bubbles bumping into each other, left and right.

maggie: Maybe it’s time for intramural sports? Players from the same team just play each other all season.

sara.ziegler: I guess that’s sort of the idea with the NBA/WNBA — it’s just one very large intramural tournament.

kaleigh: One thing that stands out to me about the plans to reopen are the efforts to test very frequently. This will surely help curb the spread somewhat by allowing teams to identify and isolate actively infectious individuals. And it can help avoid false negatives, because even mild cases are usually detectable if tested in the first five to seven days of infection, according to one expert at UCLA. But testing is not a panacea. Some of the spread will have already happened by the time someone tests positive. And that’s where community spread becomes more concerning.

sara.ziegler: Can that regular testing tell us anything about the virus itself that we don’t know from the much more irregular testing going on among all of us regular folk?

kaleigh: Well, one thing I’m learning from reporting I’m doing for a story (stay tuned!) is that testing is only part of the equation. There is a lot of useful data we can get from testing, including historical data we can study when this is all over, but in terms of controlling the active outbreak, it’s only half of the answer. Without proper containment and contact tracing, testing can only do so much.

maggie: I would certainly be interested in getting my hands on this data later, after the leagues have had a longer period of testing, and seeing how changes in positives correlate with different behaviors by the team members

neil: With player testing, is it valuable because it’s everyone in a population pool (so less bias) … or less valuable because that population is heavily biased towards the young and very fit?

kaleigh: Yes, Neil.

sara.ziegler: LOL

kaleigh: In the MLB antibody testing study, for example, the sample was 60 percent male and 80 percent white.

maggie: If you have this population you’re testing regularly, over and over, that might tell us something about which behaviors really are more or less risky.

neil: Good point, Maggie — the time-series aspect of it is probably the most valuable part.

maggie: But, of course, that won’t really be available for a while.

It will be interesting in retrospect, though! And given that COVID-19 is probably not just going to go away any time soon … useful in the long term.

kaleigh: We’ve learned a lot in the course of this pandemic from “natural experiments.” I think about that choir group that met for practice and taught us so much about just how this virus spreads.

neil: One thing is for sure: Researchers love anything that looks like a natural experiment!

So I bet this data shows up in a lot of papers eventually.

kaleigh: To me, the bigger question (especially as a non-sports person) is: Is any of this necessary? We’re making a big effort to take something that is, quite simply, not essential and make it safe enough to bring back during a pandemic.The best course of action would be to just wait it out, but I realize there is a lot of money and emotion on the line.

maggie: Lots and lots of money.

neil: Yeah. I think there’s the rush to feel a sense of “normalcy” again, but mainly it’s money.

maggie: Let’s not discount the way that lots and lots of money represents a return to normalcy, too. Like, sports is a whole damn economy. The feeling of normalcy people are seeking from it is both symbolic and practical.

neil: We’ve talked often about how the losses might be painful for leagues in the short term but they’re at least manageable if they finish the season. But if leagues start to default on these TV contracts promising playoff games, it could have long-lasting consequences.

kaleigh: That’s really the tension for a lot of our reopening decisions: the desire (and need) to reopen the economy versus the need to control this pandemic.

sara.ziegler: Yeah, the issues around sports restarting are the same issues that the entire economy faces.

maggie: And downstream businesses, from restaurants to transportation companies to, heck, our colleagues over at ESPN.

kaleigh: And our colleagues here at FiveThirtyEight! (Though you guys have been doing great work in the absence of any actual sports.)

neil: Hah, yep. (Thank you!)

kaleigh: I can’t imagine what I would do if science and politics just … stopped.

sara.ziegler: It’s been a pretty strange thing, that’s for sure.

maggie: Yeah, sorry, Neil. You guys are doing amazing. My head was just on those TV contracts.

neil: One of our colleagues said sports are the toy aisle of the journalism store, which is kind of true. And it’s also true that sports are a luxury a functioning country gets to have.

Are we that right now? Probably not. 😬

sara.ziegler: We’re lucky here that we can cover other stuff at FiveThirtyEight. (Hello, economics!) But sports-specific websites are really struggling, and I think that’s been a factor in the coverage of sports returning.

I’m not surprised that people whose livelihoods are tied to sports want them back right away.

neil: And that includes the players too!

sara.ziegler: For sure.

maggie: America is in a weird situation of maybe having more culture/money in sports than pretty much any other place … AND having less control over its COVID outbreak than any other place.

kaleigh: But as we saw with Novak Djokovic’s tournament, even trying to bring back sports in areas where COVID cases have dipped doesn’t guarantee immunity.

neil: Of course, it didn’t help that nobody wore masks (and the person putting on the tournament doesn’t believe in vaccines).

At least that is one area where NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has the edge!

sara.ziegler: LOL

So, positive tests of prominent athletes are undoubtedly going to continue as long as there are positive tests of everybody else. Silver said the NBA has “no choice but to learn to live with this virus.” Is that true? Is this the only option for the NBA and every other league that wants to start up again?

kaleigh: If leagues want to start up again in 2020, I can’t imagine how they will avoid people in the league getting sick, short of moving everyone to Antarctica and hosting the whole season there.

maggie: I mean, yeah, no one has any choice but to learn to live with the virus. That’s sort of reality for us all. HOW you choose to learn to live with it, though … there’s a lot of choice in that.

“Have to learn to live with the virus” =/= “welp, I guess we just go back to normal.”

Unless you decide that’s what it means. And then you’re choosing the consequences of that, too.

neil: Yeah, pretending it’s not happening is not a viable way of living with the virus. (As we’re seeing a lot of states learn right now.)

kaleigh: Speak for yourself, guys. I’m moving to the South Pole.

neil: 🐧

maggie: Ironically, Kaleigh, McMurdo seems like it would be a hotbed of virus spread.

But you do you.

kaleigh: Yeah they absolutely would not let me in, coming from New York City.


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Do You Buy That … Trump Should Be Worried About The Recent Polls?

Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-29 13:59