Early-Voting Laws Probably Don’t Boost Turnout

The newly minted Democratic majority in the House chose to devote its first piece of legislation to election reform, signaling just how important that issue has become to the party. While H.R. 1 has little chance of passing as long as the federal government remains divided, Democrats did take control of six more state governments in the 2018 midterm elections, and they are already moving swiftly to expand voting access on the state level.

So far, New York has made the biggest changes. Last Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a package of election bills that consolidate New York’s state and federal primaries, allow teenagers to pre-register to vote1 and start the process of enacting same-day voter registration and making it easier to vote absentee. But arguably, the biggest reform was in-person early voting. Starting with this year’s local elections, New Yorkers will be able to cast their ballot over a period of nine days in late October and early November, spanning the two weekends before Election Day. The Empire State now joins 38 other states (plus the District of Columbia) that already allow people to vote prior to Election Day in one form or another.

Cuomo and other supporters hailed early voting as a cure for New York’s dismal voter turnout rate: The state ranked 44th in the nation2 in the 2018 general election and 39th in 2016. There’s just one problem: The data suggests that early voting actually doesn’t increase turnout — it just shifts when existing voters cast their ballots.

This is apparent at the national level: There is little correlation between the increased popularity of early voting and national turnout rates. From 2000 to 2014, early and mail-in votes went from accounting for 14.0 percent of all votes to 31.2 percent, according to Census Bureau calculations. Yet during that same period, the U.S. Elections Project found that presidential turnout rates ticked up only a few points, and midterm turnout rates held steady at around 40 percent.

We also see no increase in turnout at the state level. Massachusetts is the most recent state to implement early voting, which it did for the 2016 election. Turnout in Massachusetts that year was 67 percent — only one point higher than in 2012. That’s also the same amount that national turnout increased by, so it’s hard to attribute the state’s increase to early voting. Likewise, turnout in Massachusetts in 2016 was 8 points higher than the national average. That’s exactly the same as it was in 2012 and 2014, before early voting was implemented,3 so it looks like early voting has had little effect on turnout there so far.

Turnout also hasn’t increased in states where early voting is well established, such as Ohio, which enacted early voting4 in 2005. Its turnout rates have held steady relative to the national average in almost every election from 2000 to 20165 — between 2 and 8 points higher than the country as a whole.6 There is certainly no sign of consistently higher turnout post-2005.

Political scientists have arrived at the same conclusion. A 2007 paper out of Reed College looked at elections across the country from 1980 to 2004 and found no statistically significant link between early in-person voting and turnout rates. The study concluded that election reforms generally don’t affect turnout as much as campaign field efforts or voter enthusiasm do. Meanwhile, a more recent study by political scientists at the University of Wisconsin, Madison discovered that, when not accompanied by other reforms, early voting actually leads to lower turnout — perhaps because the social and campaign-driven pressure to vote is not as focused as it is when voting must all occur on a single day. Finally, the Government Accountability Office reviewed 20 early-voting studies in 2016 and found that most of them said that early in-person voting has either an insignificant or negative impact on turnout.

This doesn’t mean that early voting is a pointless reform; even if turnout remains steady, early voting can make the process more convenient or faster for existing voters. For example, a voter who might otherwise have to take time away from work to vote on Election Day can now cast her ballot on a weekend instead. But as a report from the Brennan Center for Justice points out, the main benefit might actually come from spreading voters out over multiple days, which makes Election Day lines shorter and eases day-of stress on polling places and poll workers. So while early voting can be useful, it should not be seen as a way to coax new voters out of the woodwork.

We’re Tracking 2020 Polls

Presidential election polls for 2020 are rolling in, and we’re collecting them all in one place for you!

You can check out the latest on our polls page, which we’ll update every day with polls of the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries, as well as head-to-head matchups for the general election. You can download the data at the bottom of the page or at data.fivethirtyeight.com. And if you see any polls that we missed, please shoot us an email at [email protected].

While we have you here, though, we thought we’d explain a little bit about the choices we made for displaying 2020 primary polls. Showing polls for a race that is still (relatively) far in the future creates some challenges. In particular, we had to come up with a design that works for polls that ask respondents about a lot of candidates — sometimes 25 or more. And those results have to be displayed along with the results of surveys, such as presidential job approval or generic congressional ballot polls, that have only two main answers.

So in the updated version of our polls page, the default view will show only the most popular choice in polls in which respondents were asked about multiple candidates. To see the rest of the candidates in the poll, click “more” to expand the list of results.

It’s not a perfect solution. This early in the primary season, any of the Democratic candidates could realistically become the front-runner, and we’d prefer not to display one and hide others. But this strategy allows us to keep all the polls in one central location where they are easily discovered.

As the volume of polling picks up ahead of the 2020 election, we’ll expand how we track the latest survey releases, but this page will fuel all FiveThirtyEight’s 2020 work to come.

There’s Really Never Been An NFL Dynasty Like The Patriots

The New England Patriots are back in yet another Super Bowl — No. 9 since 2001, for those keeping track — and this time they’re the favorite to beat the Los Angeles Rams, according to both Las Vegas and our Elo model. Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and friends have been doing this kind of thing for so long that sometimes it’s easy to take their greatness for granted. But with another championship potentially looming, we thought we’d zoom out and take stock of just how incredible New England’s success has actually been. Because, love or hate the Patriots, we’ve never seen anything like what they’ve accomplished over the better part of the past two decades.

New England has enjoyed some of the most dominant seasons of all time.

Let’s start at the single-season level. To grade a team’s Elo dominance, we like to use a blend of its final end-of-season rating, its peak rating and its season-long average rating.1 According to that metric, the Patriots own a number of the greatest teams of the Super Bowl era (since 1966) — including both the greatest team to win a Super Bowl (in 2004) and the greatest team to not win a Super Bowl (in 2007).

The best single-season teams of the Super Bowl era

NFL teams ranked by a blend of their final, peak and season-long average Elo ratings, since 1966

Super Bowl winners Didn’t win Super Bowl
Team Year Elo Blend Team Year Elo Blend
1 New England 2004 1792 1 New England 2007 1824
2 Denver 1998 1771 2 Baltimore 1968 1766
3 San Francisco 1989 1770 3 Washington 1983 1762
4 Miami 1973 1767 4 Green Bay 1997 1758
5 Chicago 1985 1767 5 Seattle 2014 1749
6 Dallas 1993 1765 6 Green Bay 2011 1748
7 Pittsburgh 1975 1760 7 Indianapolis 2005 1742
8 San Francisco 1984 1759 8 San Francisco 1990 1742
9 Washington 1991 1756 9 Indianapolis 2007 1737
10 Miami 1972 1754 10 New England 2011 1734

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Despite their loss to the New York Giants in one of the most thrilling Super Bowls ever, the 2007 Pats, who went 16-0 in the regular season, remain the highest-rated team in NFL history — in addition to being one of the most talented and influential teams ever assembled.2 And unlike that 2007 squad, the 2004 Patriots finished the job and capped off a 17-2 season with a Super Bowl crown, in a campaign that contained part of an NFL-record 21-game winning streak.

This year’s Pats are not in that conversation. But the 2016 version was the 16th-best team to win a Super Bowl, according to Elo, and the 2017 version that lost to the Eagles last February ranks as the 14th-best nonwinner of the Super Bowl era.

The Pats’ dynasty is the most impressive of the Super Bowl era (according to Elo).

Sometimes it’s difficult to pin down when a dynasty begins and ends, but one way to look at it is to find the stretch of seasons that would be the most difficult for a generic contender to replicate. (We also did this for the NBA last summer when looking at the Golden State Warriors’ place in history.)

To do that for any given franchise, we take the single-season blended ratings from above and calculate their harmonic mean over every possible span of seasons. (The harmonic mean is a special kind of average that rewards high marks across every value in a set — in this case, elevating teams that were consistently great.) Then we compare that number to what a team with an initial Elo rating of 16173 would be expected to have over the same number of seasons. Since it becomes progressively harder to maintain a high mean Elo as more seasons pass, this helps balance short bursts of greatness against longer, more sustained periods of dominance.

The most impressive dynasties are the ones that exceed expectations the most. And after filtering for teams that won at least two Super Bowls in a given span (plus tossing out duplicate overlapping stretches for the same franchise), the NFL’s best stretch of seasons belongs to the Patriots since 2003 — potentially including this year, if they beat the Rams. (And if not, then the stretch from 2003 through 2017.)

The Super Bowl era’s most impressive dynasties

Among franchises with at least two Super Bowl titles, the most impressive (nonoverlapping) spans of seasons, according to Elo ratings, since 1966

Team Span Seasons Titles Mean Elo vs. Expected
New England* 2003-18 16 5? 1711 +169.4
1 New England 2003-17 15 4 1714 +169.8
2 San Francisco 1984-95 12 4 1706 +155.1
3 Dallas 1992-95 4 3 1740 +150.7
4 Pittsburgh 1974-79 6 4 1712 +139.0
5 Miami 1972-74 3 2 1739 +138.5
6 Dallas 1968-83 16 2 1667 +125.7
7 Oakland/L.A. Raiders 1967-85 19 3 1654 +115.3
8 Denver 1996-98 3 2 1704 +103.9
9 Washington 1982-92 11 3 1653 +99.1
10 Pittsburgh 2004-11 8 2 1656 +93.9
11 Green Bay 1966-68 3 2 1688 +87.7
12 Green Bay 1995-15 21 2 1619 +81.7
13 Baltimore 2000-14 15 2 1599 +54.6
14 N.Y. Giants 1985-90 6 2 1627 +54.3

*The current Patriots’ run will be No. 1 if New England wins Super Bowl LIII.

Mean Elo is the harmonic mean of a team’s seasonal blended Elo ratings (which mixes the average, final and peak Elo during the season) over the span of the seasons in question.

Expected Elo is the mean Elo we’d expect for a generic Super Bowl contender (from a starting Elo of 1617) over the span of the seasons in question. Teams are ranked by how much they exceeded this expectation.

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Among stretches of anywhere near the same length, the only other dynasty in the same neighborhood as the Patriots is the San Francisco 49ers’ run during the 1980s and ’90s. Built by Bill Walsh and quarterbacked by Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young, the Niners won their five Super Bowls in a span of 14 years (including four in the 12-year span listed as their most dominant above). That’s two fewer than it took the Patriots to get five of their own from 2001 to 2016. (Those 49ers also weren’t embroiled in various cheating scandals, but that’s a matter for another story.) But the 21st century Pats have also visited almost twice as many Super Bowls as did the Niners (who, granted, won all five they made it to in this stretch). With the chance to tack on a sixth championship in 18 years, the Patriots would solidify the most impressive stretch of football the game has ever known.

New England’s main dynasty also contains several GOAT-level mini-dynasties.

As incredible as the entirety of the Brady-Belichick era has been, you can also pick out just about any subset of it that you want, and there’s a good chance that the Patriots will be the best in NFL history over that length of seasons. For example, using the same mean-Elo approach as above, the best five-season span of the Super Bowl era4 is the Patriots’ run from 2003 through 2007. But they also own a separate, nonoverlapping five-season span from 2013 through 2017, which is the third-best such “mini-dynasty” since 1966. They also own both the best and third-best seven-year mini-dynasties, the best and fourth-best eight-year mini-dynasties, the best and fourth-best nine-year mini-dynasties, and so forth. (You get the picture.)

Pick a span of years; the Pats are one (or two) of the best

Best dynasties of N seasons during the Super Bowl era (since 1966) based on Elo ratings over that span

3-Year Dynasties 6-Year Dynasties
Team Seasons Titles Mean Elo Team Seasons Titles Mean Elo
DAL 1992-94 2 1748 SF 1989-94 2 1720
MIA 1972-74 2 1739 NE 2011-16 2 1720
NE 2014-16 2 1728 NE 2003-08 2 1720
SF 1988-90 2 1727 PIT 1974-79 4 1712
PIT 1974-76 2 1725 DAL 1991-96 3 1694
9-Year Dynasties 12-Year Dynasties
Team Seasons Titles Mean Elo Team Seasons Titles Mean Elo
NE 2010-18 3? 1714 NE 2006-17 2 1712
SF 1987-95 3 1711 SF 1984-95 4 1706
PIT 1972-80 4 1685 DAL 1971-82 2 1671
NE 2001-09 3 1683 PIT 1972-83 4 1659
DAL 1971-79 2 1676 OAK 1969-80 2 1653
15-Year Dynasties 18-Year Dynasties
Team Seasons Titles Mean Elo Team Seasons Titles Mean Elo
NE 2003-17 4 1714 NE 2001-18 6? 1699
SF 1984-98 4 1696 SF 1981-98 5 1681
DAL 1969-83 2 1668 DAL 1966-83 2 1658
OAK 1966-80 2 1653 OAK/LA 1967-84 3 1655
MIA 1971-85 2 1643 MIA 1970-87 2 1625

Teams needed at least two Super Bowl wins during the span of seasons to qualify.

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Most great teams get only one truly historic period of dominance before they begin to break apart — particularly in the salary-cap era, when talent became tougher to hold on to and build around. The Troy Aikman/Emmitt Smith/Michael Irvin Dallas Cowboys, for instance, rank as our third-most impressive overall dynasty, but that run ultimately lasted only a few years: Aikman, Smith and Irvin stayed in Dallas for the rest of the 1990s, but as they got older, the rest of the roster wasn’t strong enough to compensate, in part because the cap forced the Cowboys to shed talent. The Patriots, though, have numerous nonoverlapping subsections of years that would each be the pinnacle of most franchises’ entire histories, and they’ve done it all in an era when the NFL is (theoretically) trying to promote parity.

And one of the most interesting things about the Patriots’ micro-dynasties is that many were accomplished with different styles of football, despite the constant tandem of Belichick and Brady. As my colleague Mike Salfino pointed out last week, the Pats’ playoff offenses this decade have run the gamut from some of the least dependent on running backs to some of the most. It’s a testament to the chameleon-like way Belichick and staff have been able build their teams that they’ve maintained New England’s run of dominance despite constantly shifting their strategic tendencies.

2018 might be Belichick’s most impressive coaching job yet.

Sure, we’re tired of the Patriots’ current “nobody believes in us” schtick. But it is true that this incarnation of the Patriots is comparatively underpowered, at least compared with previous versions of the team in the Brady-Belichick era. By whatever measure you want to use to account for New England’s talent level — star performances or team strength — this team looks less impressive on paper than usual.

Not only is this the worst Pats Super Bowl team since 2001, according to our blended Elo dominance metric from above, but New England also had its fewest Pro Bowlers (two) and players with double-digit Approximate Value5 (five) in any of its Super Bowl seasons over that span, and its second-fewest first-team All-Pros (one, Stephon Gilmore). In fact, there were numerous Patriot teams that fell short of the Super Bowl entirely that, according to all of the categories above, had more talent than the 2018 version. Suspensions (Julian Edelman) and off-field headaches (Josh Gordon) certainly played a role in New England’s reduced star power, but it was also a roster Belichick had to cajole more wins out of than usual.

Regardless, it worked — and it helped the Patriots extend their historic dynasty. The only thing left is to see whether Brady, Belichick and company can add yet another ring to their collection versus the Rams, the opponent it all started against.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

Why Trump Blinked

President Trump blinked. The 35-day partial government shutdown appears to be ending.

From the start of the shutdown, congressional Democrats said they would not negotiate regarding Trump’s proposal for a border wall until the government reopened. Trump said he would not agree to legislation opening the government unless it included money for the border wall. That standoff lasted until Friday. Congress is expected to pass a bill that funds the government through Feb. 15 and does not include wall money, and Trump said that he would sign it in a Rose Garden address.

Why did Trump back down? Well, for all of the reasons we’ve been talking about for weeks. Polls consistently showed that the public was largely blaming the president, more than congressional Democrats, for the shutdown. That “blame Trump” view had recently gained more traction:

Moreover, Trump’s approval ratings were declining amid the impasse:

The public response had clear effects in Congress. Congressional Republicans had been unified behind the president in the early stages of the shutdown, but cracks started to emerge as it dragged on. In public, this was demonstrated on Thursday by six Senate Republicans voting for legislation put forward by Senate Democrats that would fund the government without money for the wall. And, in private, disagreement with the president’s strategy extended beyond those six. A meeting between Senate Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday reportedly turned into a venting session, with some senators scolding Pence for the White House’s strategy. Among the critics was Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has the power to bring forward legislation, whether Trump likes it or not.

We don’t know much about the private discussions between McConnell and the White House, but it’s possible that Trump folded in part because McConnell suggested Senate Republicans would likely move forward soon with legislation funding the government without paying for the wall — with or without the president’s support. Although Trump, in a Rose Garden speech on Friday, acted as if it were his decision to end the shutdown, the decision to fold may not truly have been Trump’s to make, and the speech may have been McConnell allowing the president to save face and concede before the Republicans in the Senate fully broke with him.

To be clear, it’s not certain that Trump has lost the broader fight over the wall. It’s hard to see congressional Democrats offering much funding for it, but maybe they will agree to some kind of compromise that includes a few billion dollars. (I wouldn’t bet on this, as liberal Democratic opposition to the wall seems to be hardening.) Or, as he suggested on Friday, Trump could declare a national emergency and reallocate funds from other parts of the government to finance a wall. Such a move will almost certainly draw legal challenges. But Trump might win in the courts, as he (eventually) did on his executive order banning travel from certain countries into the United States.

For now, however, we’re back to where we were when the shutdown began. Trump and Congress have three weeks to figure out a solution. In public, at least, all sides are staking out the same positions they held when the shutdown started. Trump will likely need a different strategy going forward. The one he employed over the last month — shutting down the government (which is unpopular) to get the wall (which is unpopular) — could not keep his party united forever.

In short, it was another example that Trump is not immune to broader political dynamics, despite his surprising win in 2016. The health care policy legislation he was pushing for much of 2017 was deeply unpopularand it failed. He had high disapproval ratings going into the 2018 midterms — and his party lost a ton of House seats. And now, he pushed a shutdown strategy that seemed doomed to fail — and it did.

What The Roger Stone Indictment Does (And Doesn’t) Tell Us

Roger Stone’s indictment wasn’t a surprise. On Friday morning, the Republican strategist and longtime adviser to President Trump was arrested by FBI agents and indicted in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign. Stone has been predicting for months that he would eventually be criminally implicated in Mueller’s investigation, and sure enough, he was charged with seven counts, including witness tampering, obstruction of an official proceeding, and making false statements.

The charges are related to Stone’s communications with WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign, when the organization released thousands of emails from Democratic officials that were allegedly hacked by Russian agents. According to the indictment, Trump campaign officials were interested in learning about WikiLeaks’ releases of the stolen information that might be damaging to Hillary Clinton and an unnamed senior campaign figure was even “directed” to reach out to Stone to ask about the timing of future releases and the nature of the information WikiLeaks had about Clinton.

The documents don’t spell out a clear connection between the Trump campaign and Russia. Stone left his official role with the campaign in August 2015 and was only serving as an informal adviser in the summer and fall of 2016, when he was allegedly in touch with WikiLeaks. But the latest development is significant because unlike previous indictments of people close to Trump, which were for charges like unrelated financial wrongdoing or making false statements about a real estate deal, Stone’s indictment is the first time Mueller has charged someone connected to Trump’s campaign with misconduct related to Russia’s election interference. The indictment also indicates that Mueller has evidence that Trump campaign officials were aware of the existence of the stolen emails before they were released.

Stone is the 34th person charged in Mueller’s probe.

On its face, the Stone indictment doesn’t include much information that wasn’t already in the public eye. Stone talked in public and in private about the leaks of the stolen Democratic emails throughout the 2016 campaign and claimed in August 2016 to have communicated with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Previous reporting had also outlined how Stone promoted himself to the Trump campaign as a backchannel to WikiLeaks and revealed his attempts to intimidate Randy Credico, a radio talk show host and “Person 2” in the indictment.

Overall, though, Stone also hasn’t been charged with anything that actually occurred during the campaign, like conspiring with WikiLeaks. The wrongdoing outlined in the indictment revolves around various attempts by Stone to mislead congressional investigators in 2017 by making false statements about his communication with WikiLeaks and then bullying Credico into backing up his story.

The details do make for a much more colorful read than your typical court document: According to the indictment, Stone threatened Credico’s therapy dog, Bianca, and told Credico to “do a ‘Frank Pentangeli’ before HPSCI [the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence] to avoid contradicting Stone’s testimony” — a reference to “The Godfather: Part II,” where a character lies in congressional testimony.

But the real unknown is how Stone’s alleged misconduct fits into the broader picture that Mueller has been painting through court documents for over a year. In his previously filed indictments, which have been quite detailed, Mueller has told the story of a complex campaign by the Russians to influence the 2016 election to Trump’s benefit, both through online influence campaigns and email hacking.

What’s still not clear is whether Trump campaign officials — or even the candidate himself — actively coordinated with Russia in these efforts. The Stone indictment doesn’t answer that question, which could mean a few things. It may be that Mueller’s team doesn’t have evidence to show that direct communication with WikiLeaks went any higher than Stone or that the Trump campaign was working with Russia in other ways. Or it could mean that Mueller is still filling in the story and that more answers are coming in future indictments.


Why The NFL Can’t Rely On Defense

In an NFL season marked by historic offensive production and a championship round that was conspicuously absent a top-10 defense,2 aficionados of low-scoring rock fights, filled with punts and field goals, have been left disappointed. The best defensive teams to make the playoffs were eliminated early in the tournament, with the Bears, Ravens and Texans all losing in the wild-card round. A week later, Joey Bosa and the emerging Chargers defense were dismantled by the Patriots, and the Cowboys — perhaps the best defensive team left in the divisional round based on their end-of-season play — lost to the Rams. Extracting the strong defensive teams with relatively weak offenses led to historically exciting playoff football, producing two overtime games in the championship round for the first time in NFL history. Now we have a Patriots and Rams Super Bowl pitting perhaps the greatest QB of all time in Tom Brady against the hottest young offensive mind in the league in Sean McVay.

We shouldn’t be surprised that great offensive teams have made it this far. Teams are more reliably good — and bad — from game to game and year to year on offense than on defense. Individual defenders often have wild swings in performance from season to season, and defensive units forecast to be dominant often end up being merely average. The Jacksonville Jaguars’ defense took them as far as the AFC championship a year ago, but that same defense led them to five wins this season. Meanwhile, performance on offense is generally easier to forecast, making investments on that side of the ball more reliable.

Even then, football is largely unpredictable. When an otherwise sure-handed Alshon Jeffery3 lets a well-thrown Nick Foles pass sail through his fingers for an interception to end the Eagles season, or when Cody Parkey double-doinks a partially blocked field goal to end the Bears’ playoff hopes, we are essentially cheering, or bemoaning, randomness. Most vexing for forecasters and league observers trying to make sense of things is that the plays that matter the most in football are often the most unpredictable. But again, this is particularly true on the defensive side of the ball.

Turnover margin is the canonical example. Teams that win the turnover battle go on to win their games at a very high rate. Home teams win about 73 percent of their games when they are plus-1 in turnover differential, according to data from ESPN’s Stats & Information Group, and the home team win rate climbs to more than 86 percent when it’s plus-2 or better.

Yet despite their clear importance, the number of turnovers a team creates in one season has no bearing on how many turnovers the team will create in the next. Both interceptions and fumbles are completely unpredictable from season to season at the team level. And this pattern holds true for defense in general. If we measure the stability of defensive stats from one year to the next,4 we find that compared with offensive performance, most defensive stats are highly variable from year to year.

Defensive performance is unpredictable

Share of performance across various team-level metrics predicted by the previous season’s performance in the regular season, 2009-2018

metric Share predicted
Total offensive DVOA 18.9%
Offensive passing DVOA 18.8
Defensive passing DVOA 10.0
Offensive rushing DVOA 9.7
Total defensive DVOA 9.7
Defensive rushing DVOA 8.3
Sacks 3.6
Interceptions 2.4
Fumbles 1.6

Source: Football Outsiders

High-impact plays on defense turn out to be the least predictable. And while we’re by no means great at identifying which teams will succeed on offense, offensive DVOA is about twice as good at forecasting future performance as defensive DVOA.5

For teams like the Chicago Bears, who won 12 games despite fielding the 20th best offense in the NFL, this has major ramifications. The Bears were third in the league in turnover margin and third in sacks — feats we shouldn’t expect to repeat based solely on this season’s results. (Just ask the Jags.) Casting even more doubt on their ability to field an elite defense in back-to-back years, Chicago also lost its defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, who left to become the head coach in Denver, further destabilizing the strength of the team.

Still there is some hope for lovers of the three-and-out. While rare, there are plays a defense makes that do tend to carry over from year to year. One of the most stable defensive stats is hits on the quarterback, which has a relatively impressive year-to-year r-squared of 0.21 — better even than total offensive DVOA, which is the gold standard for stability in team metrics. Quarterback hits include sacks — 43.5 percent of QB hits end in a sack, and those by themselves tend to not be predictive — but also plays in which the passer is contacted after the pass is thrown, and that contact is incredibly disruptive to a passing offense.

When a quarterback is hit, his completion percentage is affected on a throw to any part of the field.6 Teams that can generate pressure that ends with contact on the opposing QB greatly improve their chances of causing incompletions and getting off the field. And best of all, teams that are good at generating hits on the quarterback tend to stay good at it.

Philadelphia led the league in QB hits but not sacks

Total quarterback hits, sacks and expected sacks for teams’ defensive lines in the regular season, 2018

Sources: NFL, Elias Sports Bureau

The Eagles, Jets and the Seahawks all appear to have better days ahead of them on defense. Each team racked up more than 100 QB hits in 2018. But they also experienced bad fortune, converting their hits into sacks at a rate below what we’d expect. If these teams generate similar pressure next season, we shouldn’t be surprised to see their sack totals rise just based on reversion to the mean. Meanwhile, Chicago, New Orleans and Kansas City experienced good fortune in 2018, converting their QB hits at a rate higher than we’d expect. Assuming the defensive lines return largely intact, we probably shouldn’t be surprised to see their sack totals dip next season.

Stats like QB hits are rare to find on defense. And because of the high variance in defensive performance, teams built with a defense-first mindset end up controlling their own destinies less than we might expect. When it comes to team-building, this suggests that investments on offense are better long-term bets for stability. The results this year are particularly encouraging. Lighting up scoreboards by focusing on scoring points instead of preventing them has proved to be both successful and incredibly entertaining to watch. For this season at least, defense isn’t winning anyone a championship.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

What Happens When Dozens Of Wave-Year Freshmen Join The House?

It might be hard to tell at the moment, but there are freshmen Democrats in the House other than New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. While Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive women have become the face of the new class in Congress, a total of 64 newly elected Democrats joined Congress this month, each of them with their own platform and political leanings. Yet all of them won their seats in the same wave election that swung at least 40 House seats to the Democrats1 — an election that has media wags wondering if the new Democratic representatives will cause headaches for the old guard.

The data suggests … probably not.

American politics have been inundated by big waves before, and a close look at how those freshmen classes voted may shed light on how today’s wave might affect the government. In 1994, for example, under the banner of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” the GOP ushered in a so-called Republican Revolution, swinging Congress 54 seats to the right. In 2010, Republicans did it again, this time powered by the tea party; the GOP picked up 63 seats. But American politics are turbulent. In 2006 and 2008, it was the Democrats’ turn to surf — they picked up 31 and 21 seats those years. While there is no widely accepted definition of a “wave” year, there seems to be some consensus that these four elections were waves, so that’s where I’m going to focus my analysis.

After they were elected, all of these wave-riding freshman representatives actually had to go to work and cast votes. Votes are data, and data, in this case, turns into ideology scores. Specifically, we can use Nokken-Poole ideology scores to see whether wave-year freshmen voted demonstrably differently from their more veteran peers. (This method boils down actual congressional votes into a single dimension, meaning that bigger negative numbers represent more liberal positions and bigger positive numbers represent more conservative positions.)

With a possible exception of Republicans elected in 2010, when the tea party was big, first-year representatives entering Congress in a wave year don’t look all that different from any of the other representatives — they tend to be distributed across the ideology score spectrum in about the same way as their longer-serving peers. That could be good news for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she tries to keep her caucus in line.

But it’s not just the wave-riding freshmen who aren’t that different from the veterans. Freshmen of all classes tend to vote similarly to — or, if anything, slightly to the right of — their party elders. These are the ideological distributions of all freshmen and all non-freshmen from 1994 through 2018.

But what became of these freshmen who rode into Congress on electoral waves? Did those who were re-elected (and, in some cases, re-elected and re-elected and re-elected …) begin to alter their legislative behavior after they’d served for a while? Where could Ocasio-Cortez and her peers end up, ideologically speaking, in a decade’s time, if they follow roughly the same path as those who came before them?

There is some weak evidence that those congresspeople who rode in on recent waves — be they Democrats or Republicans — shifted to the left over time. (For the universe of all congresspeople, there is some evidence that spending more time in Congress means a person takes, on average, a slightly more extreme ideological position.) The Republicans of the class of 1994, for example, became on average more moderate than their fellow congressmen, while the Democrats of the classes of 2006 and 2008 became on average more liberal. Practically speaking, however, these effects appear small, especially when each wave-year class is viewed as an aggregate. The single red and blue lines on the chart below represent the careers of each newly elected member of that year’s wave party, while the thick black lines show a smoothed trend for each class. The members of the wave classes thin out over time and, in some cases, shift their ideologies.

There are a couple of notable outliers clearly visible above. In 1999, Rep. Michael Forbes, who had been a freshman in the Republican Revolution class, announced he was becoming a Democrat. And in 2009, Democratic Rep. Parker Griffith became a Republican while still a freshman — he’d been elected in a Democratic wave just over a year before.

There’s an important caveat to all this: the Nokken-Poole scores are built only on how congresspeople vote. The scores don’t tell us anything about what the congresspeople are voting on, or the ripple effects that freshmen may have on senior members by, for example, threatening to vote as a bloc, introducing legislation the House might not otherwise have considered, or using their public appearances to rile up segments of senior members’ electorates who might not normally contact their representatives. For instance, some pundits have argued that the tea party changed “the very DNA of the GOP.” (Congress has tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act many times since 2010, for example, which was one of the main planks of the tea party movement.) Others have argued that Gingrich’s Republican Revolution is linked to “the upheaval now taking place around the globe.” Only time will tell what effects the recent and ongoing blue wave might have. Already, we can see how young left is trying to expand which ideas Democrats are willing to entertain — including, perhaps, remaking the country’s very economic system.

We don’t yet have ideological measures for the freshmen swept into the House on 2018’s wave, of course — they haven’t participated in enough votes in D.C. But if today’s freshmen stick around long enough to become senior statesmen, there are hints here that they may shift the House even further to the left. Cowabunga, dude.



Does Larry Hogan Have A Shot Against Trump In A 2020 GOP Primary?

In 1974, Rep. Lawrence Hogan Sr. became the first Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee to call for President Richard Nixon’s impeachment. Now there’s speculation in Washington that his son, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, might challenge President Trump in the 2020 Republican presidential primary. So we decided to take a look at what might prompt Hogan to run and how he might fare against Trump. Hogan would not have an easy go of it, but we can see why he might run — and why he might find some success.

First, a look at his record. Larry Hogan became the governor of Maryland after pulling off an upset victory against Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown in 2014. In 2018, Hogan cruised to re-election, winning by 12 percentage points despite Maryland’s deep-blue hue and a Democratic-leaning national environment. Hogan was the first Republican governor to win re-election in the state since 1954. But that came as no surprise: Just before the election, Hogan had the second-highest approval rating of any governor in the country, at 67 percent, according to polling by Morning Consult. Hogan can’t run for governor again because of term limits.

According to OnTheIssues, which tries to measure a politician’s positions based on votes and public statements, Hogan’s views are notably more moderate than those of either Trump or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — the most powerful Republican in Congress — which might help explain Hogan’s continued success in Maryland. His candidacy also had a feel-good element: Hogan overcame cancer during his first term — twice, actually.

Hogan has been critical of Trump. In the aftermath of August 2017’s violent white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Hogan called Trump’s “both sides” response a “terrible mistake.” And in his second inauguration speech, Hogan said that Americans like his father, who bucked partisanship for the sake of the country, made people “yearn for something better and more noble than the politics of today.”

Practical considerations might also push him to run. Although Marylanders have sent Hogan to the governor’s mansion twice, a Senate seat might still be out of reach (partisanship tends to matter more in congressional races than in gubernatorial contests). And at 62, Hogan might feel like this is his moment to try for the presidency — not, say, in 2024, when he will have been out of office for two years.

So if Hogan were to challenge Trump for the GOP nomination … could he actually win? Well, it depends on what your definition of “win” is. (Bear with me for a second.)

In the modern era of presidential primaries, no incumbent president has ever lost renomination.1 Heck, the last time a president didn’t win renomination was in 1884, when Republican President Chester A. Arthur lost to James Blaine at the GOP convention. Moreover, among rank-and-file Republicans, Trump’s approval rating remains high — north of 80 percent. So actually defeating Trump in a Republican primary contest would be quite difficult, based on what we know now.

But if Hogan’s goal is to win a substantial share of the vote while making the case for a different kind of Republicanism, that seems more attainable. National polls find Trump in reasonably good shape against potential primary foes, but surveys suggest that at least some Republicans in the early primary states of New Hampshire and Iowa might be open to alternatives.

And the president’s national numbers could present an opening. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2018, Republican leaners — independents who say they “lean” toward the Republican Party — were less likely than self-identified Republicans to approve of Trump. And among all voters — so, not just Republicans — somewhere between one-third and half of those who approve of the president’s job performance say they only “somewhat” approve, as opposed to “strongly” approve, according to recent polls. It’s possible, though far from certain, that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election could help Hogan attract some Republicans if serious negative revelations about the president come out. Although polls show that most Republicans believe the Mueller investigation is a “witch hunt” and that the president is handling the matter appropriately, Trump’s numbers could worsen in the face of damning evidence and make an alternative choice like Hogan more attractive.

Hogan’s centrism could also make him competitive in New Hampshire, long known for its relative moderation. Other recent Republicans running as middle-of-the-road candidates have garnered a substantial share of the primary vote there, albeit without an incumbent president in the field. In 2016, Ohio Gov. John Kasich finished second in the New Hampshire primary, with 16 percent; in 2012, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, now the U.S. ambassador to Russia, finished third, with 17 percent.

Still, Hogan could have a tough time breaking through. If Trump’s popularity among Republicans holds steady, he’ll go into the 2020 primary with one of the highest intra-party approval ratings of any recent president running for re-election. Also, Hogan has generally shied away from social issues such as abortion — though he’s personally against it — which means he might have trouble attracting support among socially conservative Republicans. Although that might not be much of a problem for Hogan in less socially conservative states like New Hampshire, it’s difficult to see him building meaningful support in other early primary states such as Iowa or South Carolina (if they even participate in the GOP primary in 2020). One can imagine Hogan winning over some suburban voters in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and West Coast, but it’s not clear that he could win a state beyond his own, which probably won’t vote until April 2020.

All in all, it would be tough sledding for Hogan to defeat Trump in the 2020 GOP presidential primary. Nonetheless, he’s a popular governor who would present a clear-cut alternative to the president. So perhaps Hogan could make a splash and win over a substantial chunk of the Republican electorate. That alone would be significant: The past three presidents to endure a notable primary challenge — Gerald Ford in 1976, Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1992 — all went on to lose in the general election.

The Rams And Patriots Have Reversed Roles Since Their First Super Bowl Meeting

One of the most wonderfully ironic moments in Super Bowl history happened just before kickoff in February 2002, when St. Louis Rams wide receiver Ricky Proehl turned to NFL Films’ cameras during warmups and declared: “Tonight, a dynasty is born!”

Proehl was right, of course. A dynasty was born that night — just not the one he was imagining. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots ended up toppling the heavily favored Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, using it as a springboard for the greatest run of sustained success any NFL team has ever known.

The Patriots were the up-and-coming team back then, while the Rams were the established champions with the veteran, future Hall of Fame quarterback. This time around, though, the roles will be reversed for the two franchises — with the Patriots serving as the elder statesmen, while the Rams are the team on the rise. It’s a fitting turnabout, one featuring what the Elias Sports Bureau determined was the largest gap in age between both starting quarterbacks (Tom Brady is 17 years and 72 days older than Jared Goff) and head coaches (Bill Belichick is 33 years and 283 days older than Sean McVay) in Super Bowl history.

The Rams opened the betting Sunday night as slight favorites with some sportsbooks (so yes, you can say you were an underdog, Tom), though that didn’t last long. A flood of bets for the Patriots pushed the line to favor New England by 2½ points, according to the current consensus in Vegas. Here’s what our Elo ratings think about the matchup, using both the classic version from our interactive and one with the experimental quarterback adjustments we’ve been tinkering with:

OK, Elo — who ya got in the Super Bowl?

Win probabilities for Week 21 games according to two methods: standard Elo and adjusting for starting quarterbacks

Standard Elo QB-Adjusted Elo
Team Rating Win Prob. Base Rtg Starting QB QB Adj. Win Prob.
LAR 1667 47% 1656 Jared Goff +4 46%
NE 1686 53 1645 Tom Brady +42 54

Elo quarterback adjustments are relative to average, based on a rolling average of defense-adjusted QB stats (including rushing).

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

The Patriots still somehow have two very important components from that original Super Bowl against the Rams: Brady and Belichick. At age 41, Brady had his worst passing numbers in several years, yet he also was still a top-10 QB (at worst), a Pro Bowler and — it bears emphasizing — impossibly productive for his age. All of that came despite throwing to a revolving-door cast of receivers and a less-dominant version of longtime security blanket Rob Gronkowski. All told, Brady led an offense that still ranked fourth in scoring and eighth in expected points added, albeit with a lower per-game EPA average than any Pats team with Brady as starter since 2013.

For Belichick’s part, this season saw his Patriots improve significantly on defense, jumping from 24th in EPA in 2017 to seventh in 2018. Although New England tied for the second-fewest sacks in the league, it generated the third-most pressure (according to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group), forced the second-lowest completion percentage and generally was the best Patriots pass defense in a while. And this team was also a celebration of Belichick the (de facto) general manager: In addition to shrewd veteran acquisitions such as CB Stephon Gilmore and LB Kyle Van Noy, a large share of the Pats’ production came from draft picks made over the past few years, including DLs Trey Flowers and Malcom Brown, OLs Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney, and rookie RB Sony Michel.1 All of those pickups helped fuel a Pats roster that still relied heavily on Brady to work his magic but also blocked well and played sound defense.

The Patriots’ run wasn’t always easy, of course. The 2018 edition had the second-worst points per game differential and lowest Elo rating of the franchise’s Super Bowl-bound squads since … you guessed it, the 2001 team. But maybe that’s just further proof that everything truly has come full circle in New England. They’re certainly hoping the story ends the same way this time around.

As for these current Rams, they are not too dissimilar from their Greatest Show on Turf forebears, either. Los Angeles outscored opponents by 143 total points in the regular season (third-best in football) and got high marks in every power ranking out there, including Elo (which ranks them No. 2), Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (No. 2), ProFootballFocus’s rankings (No. 2), Jeff Sagarin’s ratings (No. 2), Andy Dolphin’s predictive rating (No. 3) and Pro-Football-Reference.com’s Simple Rating System (No. 3). Though they never actually ranked first in Elo at any point during the season, the Rams were consistently one of the game’s top contenders all year long.

And they got that way just about as quickly as those fabled 1999 Rams, who went 4-12 the year before Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk changed the franchise’s fortunes forever. The 2018 season culminated a remarkable two-year turnaround arc under soon-to-be-33-year-old coach Sean McVay, who took L.A. from a 4-12 disaster in 2016 under former coach Jeff Fisher to an 11-5 record last year, and now a Super Bowl. Over that span, the Rams went from an Elo rating of 1346 to 1667, a gain of 321 Elo points. Only four other Super Bowl teams in history have gained more rating points from the end of two seasons prior to the start of the big game itself — the 1998 Atlanta Falcons (+368), 1981 San Francisco 49ers (+360), 1992 Dallas Cowboys (+357) and 1971 Miami Dolphins (+339). Even the ’99 Rams had “only” gained 246 points of Elo from the end of 1997, though they do own the largest single-season gain ever for a Super Bowl team.

How did L.A. do it? The cornerstones of the 2018 team — Goff, DT Aaron Donald and RB Todd Gurley2 — were all drafted by the club from 2014 to 2016. But general manager Les Snead did his best work over the 2017 and 2018 offseasons, snagging the majority of the current team’s other starters either via the draft or in a flurry of win-now moves that mostly look smart in hindsight. The other key ingredient was coaching, where (with a few weird exceptions on Sunday) McVay has shown a fantastic knack for incorporating analytical thinking into his play-calling, and he remains the master of keeping defenses off-balance by running almost all of his plays out of the same personnel package. While there are very legitimate questions as to whether Goff or Gurley could be as successful in a different system, the pair has powered a Super Bowl run under McVay’s scheme.

Each team needed luck to get here, too. The Rams likely wouldn’t be headed to Atlanta without a blown pass-interference call that kept New Orleans from running down most of the clock in regulation, instead giving L.A. the chance to force overtime and eventually win the game. The Patriots benefited from a phantom roughing-the-passer penalty and a (legitimate) offside call that negated what would have been a game-ending interception, then rattled off what felt like a million straight third-and-long conversions in overtime. But there isn’t a single Super Bowl team in history that didn’t have big moments when fortune smiled on it. You have to be lucky and good to win a championship, and these teams fit both criteria.

Now, they’ll get a chance to battle on the game’s biggest stage. Will a new dynasty be born? Or will an old one keep rolling? Will the new Greatest Show on Turf avenge the old one? Or will Belichick draw up another brilliant game plan to shut down this latest version? Either way, it should be a fitting way to end one of the most entertaining NFL seasons in a while.

FiveThirtyEight vs. the readers

As you prepare for the Super Bowl, be sure to check out FiveThirtyEight’s NFL predictions page, which uses our Elo ratings to simulate the game 100,000 times, tracking how likely each team is to win. You can also make your Super Bowl pick against the Elo algorithm in our prediction game and make one last bid to climb up our giant leaderboard.

According to data from the game, here’s how readers did against the computer last weekend:

Elo’s smartest conference championship picks

Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 20 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game

OUR PREDICTION (ELO) READERS’ PREDICTION
PICK WIN PROB. PICK WIN PROB. Result READERS’ NET PTS
NO 64% NO 62% LAR 26, NO 23 -4.6
KC 61 KC 59 NE 37, KC 31 -7.1

Home teams are in bold.

The scoring system is nonlinear, so readers’ average points don’t necessarily match the number of points that would be given to the average reader prediction.

After a divisional weekend in which all the home teams won, both home squads lost their conference championship games for just the fifth time in the Super Bowl era. Elo tends to love home teams, especially in the playoffs, so you might think that would be bad news for its picks. (Indeed, the average probability set by the reader was closer to picking the road team than Elo’s default probabilities.) However, Elo still came out ahead on net points because more individual readers made extreme picks in favor of the Saints and Chiefs, costing the field points on average. It’s an instructive example of something we discussed back in Week 9 — that, because of the nonlinear scoring system in our contest, overly confident picks can really wreak havoc on your point totals. When in doubt, set a conservative probability! (Unless, say, you are in 59th place going into the Super Bowl and need a Hail Mary to move up the rankings. Know anybody like that?)

Congratulations are in order to reader Deryl Mundell, who leapfrogged long-standing leaderboard-toppers Neil Mehta and Greg Chili Van Hollebeke to claim first place on the season, checking in with 1,202.5 points. Deryl is also our No. 1 (identified) player on the postseason, with 294.2 points since the playoffs started. Thanks to everyone who has been playing — and the game isn’t over yet! You now have one last chance to make your Super Bowl pick. Make it count!

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

How Kamala Harris Could Win The 2020 Democratic Primary

Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who officially said she is running for president in an announcement on Good Morning America on Monday, has the potential to be among the strongest contenders in the 2020 Democratic field. There may be no other candidate who better embodies how the modern Democratic Party has changed over the last few decades in identity and ideology.

Harris, the daughter of an India-born woman and a Jamaica-born man, spent much of her childhood in Berkeley, California, before going to college at Howard University. She was the first woman, first person of South Asian descent and first black person to be elected district attorney in San Francisco. In that job, she irritated one of the Bay Area’s most influential Democrats, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, by refusing to push for a death sentence for a man accused of killing a police officer because of Harris’ personal opposition to capital punishment. In endorsing Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2007, she broke with much of the state’s political establishment, which was then behind Hillary Clinton. Harris, as a senator, has embraced the causes of the party’s liberal wing on issues of gender and racial equality. She gave a speech last year criticizing people who say Democrats spend too much time and energy on “identity politics.”

In short, post-Obama, the Democratic Party is increasingly the party of women and the “woke”, and Harris’ biography and politics align well with where the party has moved.

So Harris could have broad appeal across the Democratic primary electorate. You can see that in my colleague Nate Silver’s analysis of how each potential 2020 candidate might appeal to five key constituencies in the primary — Harris comes out looking stronger than any other potential candidate:

Her biography and record make it easy to imagine Harris doing well with African-Americans, who likely will represent about one-in-five primary voters in the Democratic primary electorate, as well as Asian-Americans. Harris narrowly lost the Latino vote in her 2016 election to a fellow Democrat1 who is Mexican-American (Loretta Sanchez), but there isn’t any particular reason to think she is disliked by Latino voters. The way Harris is likely to position herself on policy issues during the campaign — liberal as any candidate on noneconomic issues but not as liberal on economic issues as, say, Bernie Sanders — echoes Hillary Clinton’s platform in 2016 (Harris’ sister Maya was Clinton’s policy director.) So I’m sure party loyalists, particularly black voters and older women, who backed Clinton will give serious consideration to Harris. The California senator is not particularly young (54), but you could imagine millennials galvanizing around electing the first Asian and first female president in the same way they embraced Obama in 2008. (We’ll come back to The Left in a moment.)

Moreover, looking at the current primary calendar,2 I’m not sure about her prospects in Iowa and New Hampshire (more on that in a bit), but the order of the states is set up well for Harris after that. The third contest is in Nevada, a state that borders California, so voters there may more familiar with Harris than other candidates. South Carolina is next, and African-Americans will likely constitute a majority of voters there.

After those four early contests, nine states are currently scheduled to vote on March 3, and that could be a great day for Harris. Those nine primaries and caucuses include California — Harris’ home state, which also has a large Asian-American population — as well as four states in which the Democratic electorate will likely be more than a quarter black:

The racial breakdown of the March 3 primaries

Percentage of Democratic voters by race according to 2016 exit polls

State Asian Black Latino White
Alabama 1% 54% 1% 40%
California* 11 9 26 56
Massachusetts 4 4 6 85
North Carolina 1 32 3 62
Oklahoma 1 14 4 74
Tennessee 1 32 2 63
Texas 3 19 32 43
Vermont 1 1 0 95
Virginia 2 26 7 63

*No exit poll was conducted for California in the 2016 Democratic primary; these figures come from a pre-election Field Poll that found top-line results well in line with the actual vote. The Field Poll also released results by race with “Asian” and “Other” respondents combined; that number is the one shown here.

Sources: Edison Research, Field Poll, Pew REsearch Center

Also in terms of her strengths, Harris has stood out among colleagues during Senate hearings, putting her prosecutorial skills on display with her sharp and quick questioning of witnesses. Debate performances can really matter in primaries, and the hearing performances suggest she might be strong in debates.

She’ll need to be. To be clear, all of Harris’ strengths outlined above are really potential strengths. In most national primary polls conducted so far, she’s been in the single digits. Those polls mostly reflect a lack of national name recognition, but Harris will have to build her support almost from scratch. And a lot could go wrong for her.

The biggest potential problem for Harris may be that her campaign simply never really catches on with voters. Despite seeming to reporters like me to be a strong candidate on paper, Harris could be the 2020 Democratic version of Marco Rubio or Scott Walker, who both struggled in the GOP’s 2016 primary despite being hyped for years as potential GOP nominees because of their potential to appeal to a broad swath of their party.

After all, Harris likely will be competing for attention with a lot of candidates. And if she doesn’t do well in one of the first two contests, in mostly white Iowa and mostly white New Hampshire, then I don’t think there is any guarantee African-American voters or even California voters will get behind her. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey or former Vice President Joe Biden (his close relationship with Obama will help) could become the top choice among black voters — or African-Americans could split their votes among several candidates. I think a candidate who won Iowa and another early state and had momentum could carry Harris’ home state of California.

Harris’ performances in Iowa and New Hampshire are also relevant in regard to a second challenge for the California senator: Overcoming doubts from some Democrats about her “electability.” As I have written before, research on elections does not support the idea that female candidates do worse than male ones. Black and Latino candidates seem to do slightly worse with white voters but boost turnout among their identity groups, so the story is complicated there too. But discussions of electability are often used as a cudgel against candidates who are not male, Christian and/or white, because such candidates are perceived as having less appeal to swing voters. Right now, some prominent Democrats are publicly fretting about nominating a woman in 2020, fearing the American electorate is too sexist to elect a female candidate and voters with sexist views will find Trump’s persona and politics appealing, as they did in 2016. And some Democrats privately say they are even more concerned that swing voters in the Midwest won’t embrace a black woman. Harris has to worry that Democrats might decide she is too “risky” and embrace one of the male candidates mainly for this reason.

To be clear, this is a surmountable problem. Some African-American voters were doubtful of Obama’s viability in a general election in 2008 — until he won the Iowa caucuses. This is both an unfair part of the process (why should a minority candidate have to do well in a state with basically no minorities to prove viability) and kind of an odd one (winning the Democratic caucuses in Iowa does not tell you that much about a candidate’s ability to win the general election.) But I tend to think Democratic voters will be much less focused on Harris’ perceived electability if she wins a lot of voters in Iowa or New Hampshire.

Third, I expect Harris to struggle with The Left. Some voters in this group are broadly wary of criminal prosecutors, arguing they have played a key role in America’s much-maligned criminal justice system. Harris’ professional life has been as a prosecutor and some on the left already are highlighting what they view as flaws in her record — being too hard on low-level offenders of crimes like truancy but not aggressive enough in taking on those accused of white-collar offenses, for example.

Harris can overcome The Left if she is strong among other blocs of the party. But if she wins a few primaries, I can see liberals casting her as too establishment and opposing her fiercely, similar to how this bloc unsuccessfully tried to stop Clinton in 2016.

Overall, I would not be surprised if Harris won the nomination. But I don’t see her as the favorite. She ranks No. 1 in some betting markets, but with so many candidates, “the field” is really favored against any individual contender.