Turns Out The NL East Didn’t Have Four Good Teams

One of the most entertaining series in baseball last weekend pitted the Atlanta Braves against the Philadelphia Phillies, with the teams splitting a pair of late-game comeback wins before the Braves ran away with a 15-1 laugher in Sunday’s rubber match. We should get used to this. One of these two clubs is probably going to win the National League East, and both could figure significantly into the NL’s postseason picture. In what once looked like a crowded division battle, the Braves and Phillies have emerged as clear favorites, largely leaving their rivals in the dust.

Before the season, we called the NL East the “tightest division race in baseball,” and that did hold true … for about a month. On April 28, the division’s top four teams — the Phillies, Braves, New York Mets and Washington Nationals — sat within three games of each other, even if Washington and (to a lesser extent) Atlanta had scuffled some coming out of the gate. Things have changed since then, however. The Phillies and Braves are a combined 53-36 since April 28, while the Mets and Nats are 41-49. (The fifth-place Miami Marlins have been more competitive recently as well, but they never really stood a chance of vying for the division or the playoffs.)

Although the division is far from locked up, the two teams at the top now have a combined 86 percent chance of winning the East, according to the FiveThirtyEight model. Here’s how our model has judged the state of the division race over time:

Atlanta pulled into the division driver’s seat in part by virtue of this weekend’s series victory over Philadelphia (which included that landslide 15-1 win) and yet another blowout over the Mets on Monday night. That’s nothing new; the team has generally been on a tear all month. Since the start of June, no club has added more to its Elo rating than the Braves, who have won 13 of 16 contests and have boosted their rating by 14 points — from 1513 (16th in MLB) to 1527 (10th) — over that span.

Rookie Braves left fielder Austin Riley, who made his debut on May 15, has hit a remarkable 11 home runs in his first 31 MLB games, while Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Josh Donaldson continue to enjoy strong seasons. (Even shortstop Dansby Swanson has begun to live up to his top-prospect billing from several years ago.) Moreover, the Braves’ pitching — already highlighted by 21-year-old ace Mike Soroka (2.12 ERA) and a resurgent Julio Teheran (2.92) — figures to improve depth-wise with the addition of free agent Dallas Keuchel, who is set to debut for Atlanta soon.

All of this helps explain how Atlanta has built a 59 percent probability of winning the East and a 78 percent chance of returning to the playoffs after its breakout season last year. But before the Braves pulled ahead this week, the Phillies had led the NL East in division win probability in each of the previous eight weeks.

Philly has loads of top-level talent on its side, among Bryce Harper, Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins and company. Some of that talent has underachieved — Harper (on pace for 2.3 wins above replacement)1 hasn’t quite been a dominant force in his first Phillie season,2 while Nola (4.89 ERA) has struggled to replicate last year’s near-Cy Young campaign. But others have stepped up: Hoskins is one of the game’s most underrated players, offseason pickups J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura are performing well, and Nola’s downturn has been mostly offset in the rotation by Zach Eflin’s better-than-expected numbers (2.81 ERA). Even when future Hall of Fame outfielder Andrew McCutchen was lost for the season with an ACL tear in early June, new acquisition Jay Bruce started raking (1.085 OPS) in his place.

The Mets and Nationals — who sit in third and fourth place, respectively — are running short on time if they want to stage their own comebacks. Our Elo ratings think that Washington (1523) is effectively interchangeable with the Braves (1527) and Phillies (1520) on a talent basis. But even if every remaining game is a coin flip, the Nats’ nine-game deficit will be difficult to dig out of, particularly with three teams ahead of them in the division race and six teams running ahead for the second wild card. Meanwhile, New York’s roster is a cut below (1508 Elo) regardless of its many offseason moves — and that’s in spite of breakout performances from Pete Alonso (on pace for 5.5 WAR), Jeff McNeil (3.5) and Dominic Smith (2.9).

For some hope, perhaps the Nats and Mets can look to Philly’s beneficial early luck in both close games (worth three extra wins) and sequencing (worth another four wins) as a sign that the Phillies might fall off the pace set by their 39-32 record. But the Braves have few such holes to poke in their resume, and the gap between the East’s top two and next two (5½ games) looks daunting as the second half of the season approaches.

Maybe that means the 2019 National League could be shaping up to look a little like 1993 all over again, when the Braves and Phillies battled all season for NL supremacy. Atlanta was stocked with Hall of Famers and still relatively early in a dynasty that would ultimately span into the mid-2000s; Philadelphia had a motley group of mulleted upstarts who weren’t supposed to contend but ended up winning 97 games. This time, the roles could be recast with Soroka playing Greg Maddux, Harper as Lenny Dykstra (a stark contrast in conduct but not talent), Realmuto as Darren Daulton and Acuña as Ron Gant.

Back in ’93, a Braves-Phillies NLCS determined a spot in the World Series. This year, the ever-dominant Dodgers (to whom our model assigns a near-certain playoff probability and a 103-win projection) will probably have something to say about the pennant. But the East, at the very least, appears to run through Atlanta and Philadelphia again.

Check out our latest MLB predictions.

What We Know (And Don’t Know) After 2 World Cup Games

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, assistant sports editor): We’re two games into group stage of the Women’s World Cup, and there’s a lot we already know: Nine teams have already advanced to the knockout rounds, and even though she has played only one game, Alex Morgan looks like the player to beat for the Golden Boot.

But there’s also plenty that we’re still waiting to learn. How will the seeding shake out? Which of the third-place teams will advance? And how will the American women fare against more robust competition?

After a first-game drubbing of Thailand, the U.S. took a subdued but still convincing win against Chile. What were your takeaways from Sunday’s match?

TerrenceDoyle (Terrence Doyle, contributor): I think it would be hard not to talk about the play of Chile’s goalkeeper, Christiane Endler, and how things could have been much worse without her sublime performance.

emily (Emily Scherer, designer): Christiane Endler!!!!!!!!!!!

TerrenceDoyle: She was unreal!

sara.ziegler: Christen Press will be having nightmares about Endler for a while.

emily: She even got into Carli Lloyd’s head in the penalty kick!

sara.ziegler: Endler had six saves on nine shots on target. Pretty impressive.

tchow (Tony Chow, video producer): The roster changes were a big story for the match against Chile, but I was really surprised at how some of those fringe players played. It feels really wrong to even call them second string, but players like Ali Krieger and Tierna Davidson and even Moe Brian played pretty well!

TerrenceDoyle: I think that’s right. The U.S. “bench” was a known entity coming into this tournament, but … wow. Just wow. There are a lot of great players in this tournament, but I don’t think any team has the strength in depth that the U.S. has.

sara.ziegler: It did feel like the starters might have finished some of those shots in the second half, but against a keeper like Endler, maybe not!

TerrenceDoyle: The eye test says Endler has been pretty remarkable in this tournament — some of the saves she’s made have looked impossible — but her goals prevented mark is actually in the red. One of those instances where the eye test and the analytics aren’t jelling.

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Endler leads the entire World Cup in saves right now, with 10. South Africa’s Andile Dlamini is second with nine saves. However, she has faced 27 shots. Endler has faced fifty.

TerrenceDoyle: FIFTY.

emily: That’s hockey numbers!

sara.ziegler: Holy crap.

TerrenceDoyle: Chile, ah, need more of the ball?

tchow: I am curious to know how many of those shots were on target against her though. All 50? There’s no way.

neil: Nah. Only 15. But still, a lot of danger coming her way, most due to the U.S. just controlling so much of the play.

The Americans had a higher share of all shot attempts (on goal or not) against Chile than they did in the 13-0 romp over Thailand.

And the possession percentages were roughly even between the games.

tchow: Also, it’s worth keeping in mind that Endler has faced the U.S. and Sweden. Outside of the U.S., the Swedes are tied for second with Italy with the most goals in the tournament so far.

TerrenceDoyle: Still quite a fair amount. In terms of keepers who have played in both their nation’s games, Endler is facing more shots on goal per game than any other.

emily: Has Alyssa Naeher faced the least?

neil: Somehow Carly Telford of England has faced one fewer than Naeher. (But in one game.)

TerrenceDoyle: As has Sarah Bouhaddi of France (in two games).

sara.ziegler: But don’t forget Stephanie Labbé of Canada, who has faced a grand total of ZERO shots on target. (Against Cameroon and New Zealand.)

tchow: Canada, the U.S. and Germany have yet to be scored against in the tournament so far.

neil: From the U.S. perspective, all of these shot differential stats really point to the idea that these first two matches were glorified warmups. What have we learned about the Americans so far? Can you learn anything from these lopsided mismatches?

TerrenceDoyle: They’ve been ruthless in front of goal, which is good for confidence going forward. They’re outperforming their expected goal numbers so far. We’ll see how that holds up against Sweden, which gave them fits in 2015.

sara.ziegler: ^^^ and in 2016!

TerrenceDoyle: true!

tchow: All due respect to Thailand and Chile, that is a good perspective to keep in mind, Neil. The game on Thursday against Sweden will tell us a lot.

TerrenceDoyle: Opposition aside, the Americans have already far outpaced their goal tally from the group stage four years ago. (They scored just four times in 2015!)

sara.ziegler: We haven’t learned much about the goalkeeping, that’s for sure. The one time the U.S. came closest to giving up a goal against Chile — a play in which the Chilean striker was ultimately offside — Naeher made a pretty big mistake in coming off her line.

emily: I would have loved to see Ashlyn Harris get some minutes, but coach Jill Ellis has been very clear that it’s Naeher’s job.

tchow: Emily, I was surprised with all her changes in this second game that she didn’t give Harris some game time too.

emily: I wasn’t surprised! Ellis has been doing this since Hope Solo left.

TerrenceDoyle: Is it because goalkeeping is such a confidence-based position? You want your goalie to be in a groove.

sara.ziegler: Is it a confidence-boosting thing?

Ha — jinx

TerrenceDoyle: lol

emily: But come on, give me Harris and Ali Krieger on the field together!

tchow: It would have been great to see Harris and Krieger play together. I understand Ellis for wanting to stick with her goalie, but this would have been the perfect game to bring on someone else.

TerrenceDoyle: Agree on that. And you have to figure it won’t happen going forward, barring injury or a disastrous performance vs. Sweden.

tchow: I don’t think anyone was sure how much playing time or how well Krieger would play in this tournament, but she got a full 90 minutes and more than held her own: 84 percent pass completion as a right back, and she won 71 percent of her duels, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group.

TerrenceDoyle: The Carli Lloyd left-footed volley against Chile is the goal of the tournament so far, idc what anyone says. The degree of difficulty, while falling backward, to get anything on that ball, let alone as much as Lloyd got on it, is high.

sara.ziegler: idk, Terrence, that Julie Ertz header was pretty incredible:

tchow: What patriots you all are. Such U.S. bias. If we’re talking goal of the tournament, Amandine Henry’s in the opening game was ridiculous.

sara.ziegler: USA! USA!

neil: And what about Christen Press’s rocket out of a volley from the left side (even if it was saved)?

TerrenceDoyle: There have been some other *absolute bangers* so far! I just can’t get my head around the Lloyd finish.

emily: What a tournament for Alex Morgan. She’s been the face of the team for years, but this feels like her real breakout on the field after grabbing only one goal in the 2015 World Cup and two in 2011, and it’s only just started!

neil: It was great to see her do the bulk of the crazy scoring in the 13-0 win.

I think even she was surprised that the goals kept coming, and coming, and coming, and coming…

TerrenceDoyle: The Golden Boot race is going to be fun. Especially if Cristiane keeps this up for Brazil.

sara.ziegler: Curious about your opinions on this: Did the U.S. let up a little after the 13-0 game? Did that criticism affect them at all?

neil: Certainly it affected their celebrations against Chile.

sara.ziegler: That golf clap KILLED ME.

tchow: I don’t think they let up, and I would actually be really disappointed if we find out later that they did.

TerrenceDoyle: With all due respect to Thailand, I think Chile is a stronger side with a better goalkeeper. The U.S. still dominated play and even passed the ball better/more cleanly against Chile.

neil: Even though they scored 10 fewer goals, they could have scored more if not for the huge saves.

TerrenceDoyle: 100 percent, Neil.

tchow: I honestly can’t believe how long that 13-0 scoreline stayed in the headlines and my news feeds.

neil: In fairness, that is a WILD score for a soccer game.

TerrenceDoyle: Very much so. But agree, Tony. Had to not look at soccer Twitter for, like, a week. (Which, tbh, was a welcome vacation for my brain, which is filled with worms at this point because of soccer Twitter.)

sara.ziegler: Friend of the site Michael Caley posts expected-goal maps after every match, and that one was AMAZING:

tchow: thErEs nOt EnOUgh scOrInG iN SOcCeR. tHeRes TOO MUCH ScORinG iN socCeR

sara.ziegler: 🤣

emily: It’s familiar for Thailand, but this was the first time they’ve been on the other side of things. In 2018, they beat Indonesia 13-0 and Cambodia 11-0.

TerrenceDoyle: “OK, so the point of all sports is to score as many goals/points as possible.”

“WHY DID YOU SCORE AS MANY GOALS AS POSSIBLE?!?!?!”

sara.ziegler: But also, make sure you don’t celebrate your accomplishments, or celebrate the accomplishments or your teammates.

But if you don’t celebrate the accomplishments or your teammates, WHY AREN’T YOU FRIENDSSSSSSSS?

There is truly no winning.

emily: There’s never any winning in women’s sports.

sara.ziegler: Ain’t that the truth.

TerrenceDoyle: Imagine your friend worked for, like, half a decade or more to reach the pinnacle of their career, then they got there, and they celebrated, and you were like, “Sorry, your celebrations are a little MUCH.”

tchow: Nuengruetai Srathongvian, Thailand’s coach, spoke about the loss, and I think what she said should have ended all discussion about whether the scoreline was problematic. So with that in mind, let’s move on.

sara.ziegler: Let’s look ahead to Sweden, a very familiar foe. This match doesn’t matter THAT much, but it’s important for seeding, and of course the U.S. doesn’t want to lose its last group game. What can we expect out of this game?

TerrenceDoyle: (if they win and france wins, they’re on the same side and can see one another in the quarters, yes?)

tchow: (yes)

TerrenceDoyle: THE U.S. SHOULD TANK.

Kidding, but only sort of.

tchow: Don’t say it, Terrence. Don’t say it. Ahhh, damn it.

sara.ziegler: Hahahaha

TerrenceDoyle: lolol sorry

sara.ziegler: But if the Americans lose to Sweden, they could face Germany in the quarters! No easy roads.

tchow: Going back to Sara’s question, I would expect Ellis to go back to her A-team lineup for this game.

An A-Team that doesn’t include Lloyd or Press or Pugh. LOL, the US are ridiculous.

emily: Ridiculously stacked.

TerrenceDoyle: You can only play the opponent in front of you, and if that happens to be France, it happens to be France. They’re probably going to have to beat them at some point if they want to win the whole thing, so if that’s in the quarters, it’s in the quarters.

So, yeah, roll that A-Team out and exact revenge on Sweden.

Sorry, that was aggressive. I mean Sweden no harm.

sara.ziegler: The U.S. is the only team with more expected goals so far (11.28) than Sweden’s 8.09, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group.

They’ve played the same competition, of course, but that has to be a little worrying to the Americans.

TerrenceDoyle: And Sweden hasn’t been taking full advantage of that high xG mark either.

sara.ziegler: Yeah. And they’ve had just 18 shots on target to the U.S.’s 29.

TerrenceDoyle: Kosovare Asllani and Madelen Janogy have both been quietly good so far for Sweden. I think this match could be about containing them, honestly.

sara.ziegler: Leaving the U.S.-Sweden match behind, which other teams have impressed you all the most?

TerrenceDoyle: ITALY

tchow: I was just about to say Italy too. We gave them just a 59 percent chance of advancing to the round of 16 before the tournament. They’ve already qualified.

TerrenceDoyle: Canada are low-key looking very dangerous right now.

They’re scoring less than their xG numbers say they should be and winning anyway. If they start taking their chances, they’ll look a threat. Especially if Christine Sinclair starts burying her chances. Which, I mean, she will.

emily: ARGENTINA 🇦🇷

sara.ziegler: Argentina has been really surprising! They had a very smart game plan against England.

TerrenceDoyle: Goalkeeper Vanina Correa has been absurd.

sara.ziegler: The one time they deviated from their plan … England scored.

TerrenceDoyle: The Correa save on the Nikita Parris penalty kick was SPECIAL. Also LOL that it was England’s first ever pen miss at a World Cup. The men should take notes.

Correa leads in goals prevented per 90 among goalies who have played in both of their team’s games as a result. She’s also the main reason Argentina still has a chance at advancing.

tchow: Argentina is another squad our projections were down on and probably wrong about. They have a 25 percent chance of making it now, which still seems low to me.

sara.ziegler: They’re looking up at quite a few teams that already have 3 points. And they just have the 1.

TerrenceDoyle: Cruel sport. They’ve played better than their points total suggests.

neil: Somehow our model had Argentina rated lower than both Chile and Thailand (!) before the tournament. (Still does, actually.)

emily: They lost their funding from the Argentine soccer federation for a few years.

sara.ziegler: Is that part of the consequence of not being able to schedule enough matches?

It’s been great to see them play so well, though, given what they’ve been through.

tchow: Argentina could still get second place if England ends up beating Japan in the final group game.

TerrenceDoyle: As a Correa fan boy, I hope they make a run at it.

tchow: There’s been a lot of talk about goalkeeper performance in this chat already, but Correa has been ridiculous. She has an 89 percent save percentage right now.

sara.ziegler: As the first of the third matches get started right now, what are your final thoughts on what we’ve seen so far?

emily: Sinclair is four goals away from breaking Abby Wambach’s record. Will she do it?

TerrenceDoyle: VAR is bad and is turning the sport into a surveillance state. That yellow on the pen save for Sydney Schneider in Jamaica v. Italy was … I mean, it was terrible. It’s soooo hard to save a pen. The success rate for shooters is something like 70 percent. It’s taken from so close, the net is so big, goalies should be able to do whatever they want.

sara.ziegler: It will be very interesting to see if any changes come to VAR after all of this.

Seems worse than last year in the men’s World Cup.

TerrenceDoyle: Straitjackets for defenders because everything is a handball now.

tchow: Next chat, can we devote the entire thing to kit talk? I’ve been dying to talk to someone about China’s gray away kits.

sara.ziegler: LOL. Totally, Tony.

emily: Australia’s kit ❤ ❤ ❤

tchow: There are so many exciting games that don’t involve the U.S. to close out these group stages! Netherlands vs. Canada in Group E. England vs. Japan in Group D. Group C is all kinds of crazy with Brazil, Australia and Italy. More soccer!!

TerrenceDoyle: Group C is definitely in for a wild finish, Tony. Soccer is fun, the World Cup is fun!!!

sara.ziegler: But also: USA! USA!

emily: 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸

Check out our latest Women’s World Cup predictions.

How Inefficient Can You Make Your Walk To Class?

Welcome to The Riddler. Every week, I offer up problems related to the things we hold dear around here: math, logic and probability. There are two types: Riddler Express for those of you who want something bite-size and Riddler Classic for those of you in the slow-puzzle movement. Submit a correct answer for either,9 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

From Al Crouch, a little bit of mathematical history:

The following set of number pairs refers to some coincidences in American history, spanning the period from the founding of the nation in 1776 to the present.

2, 6

?, ?

9, 23

17, 36

26, 32

What number pair should be in the second position?

Submit your answer

Riddler Classic

From Benjamin Danard, a collegiate constitutional:

You are a professor at a university. Each day you walk from one building to another through a square courtyard that is 50 feet by 50 feet. You enter the courtyard from the center of the west wall and exit from the center of the south wall. You don’t like sharp turns, so you make sure your turns have at least a 5-foot radius. You also don’t like to cross your own path when walking.

Here’s an example of how you might walk across the courtyard:

One day while walking this courtyard you begin to wonder: What is the longest path you could take?

Extra credit: You want your walk to be some certain length (say, 350 feet). Can you calculate a path of that length through the courtyard?

Submit your answer

Solution to last week’s Riddler Express

Congratulations to 👏 Daniel Elegant 👏 of Naperville, Illinois, winner of last week’s Riddler Express!

Last week brought us Riddler Nation’s first ever mystery story, which had to do with you, a very wealthy individual, being kidnapped, marooned on a small desert island, and abandoned with little more than some sandwiches and a satellite phone. (I refer you to last week’s column for the full and somewhat lengthy story.) Your challenge was to determine what you should say when you called your people to help them locate you.

This puzzle’s co-submitter, Mark Baird, has the life-saving answer:

You call your people, knowing that what you say will be communicated to the best person to receive it, at exactly daybreak. You tell them, “I’m OK, it’s precisely sunrise. I’ll call again at sunset.” At exactly sunset, you make the second call, saying, “It’s exactly sunset, and I’m still OK.” You even have a few seconds left on the battery for contingencies, but none should arise.

Your call at sunrise locates you along the great circle between the poles at the penumbra — the space between shadow and light. You don’t know what time it is, but your people do, so the line of penumbra at that moment constitutes a line of longitude between the poles of globe illumination. Your second call provides a crucial piece of information: how long daylight lasted where you are, which fixes your latitude.

Had you been kidnapped at equinox season, when daylight has the same duration the world over, finding your latitude would be more involved, requiring, for example, finding the ratio between a shadow’s length and the height of a water bottle at noon, and identifying the hemisphere by which side of the bottle the shadow extends from (north or south).

Solution to last week’s Riddler Classic

Congratulations to 👏 François Maillot 👏 of London, winner of last week’s Riddler Classic!

Last week brought further international intrigue with the challenge faced by the fictional Dr. Lana Gurtin, a mathematician hired by British intelligence in 1942. The Germans were rolling out a new tank, the Uberpanzer, each of which was stamped with a serial number according to when it came off the line — so the first one built was numbered 1, the second one 2, etc. A number of the tanks were spotted by British scouts, who dutifully recorded their numbers. They sent this data to intelligence headquarters. However, it was intercepted along the way by a German spy, who destroyed most of the data. By the time the British agents caught up to the spy, they could recover only two pieces of information. First, the lowest serial number recorded was 22. Second, the highest serial number recorded was 114. Given that, what was Dr. Gurtin’s best estimate of the total number of Uberpanzers the Germans had built?

She estimates that there are 135 tanks.

Theodore James, this puzzle’s submitter, explains why:

This is a variant of the classic German tank problem, which goes as follows: Set T is a set of consecutive integers from 1 to N, where N is not known. Give a random sample (with no duplicates) from T with k observations, what is the best method for estimating N? The “standard” answer to this problem is M + M/k – 1, where M is the maximum value of the random sample. This is intuitive — the answer is simply the maximum value plus the average distance between observations, i.e. M + (M-k)/k = M + M/k – 1.

However, in last week’s riddle, we were denied k — we didn’t know the size of the set of observations. Our best bet, then, was to use L – 1, where L is the minimum value of the set of observations, to estimate the average distance between observations. This gives us M + L – 1 = 114 + 22 – 1 = 135.

Solver Steve Langasek put it this way: “If the tanks are a random sample, then the most likely distribution is that the lowest serial number is as close to the beginning of the sequence (No. 1) as the highest number is to the end of the sequence. So for a single guess, this is what the good doctor would guess.”

Solver Marc Lischka explained it like this: “Due to symmetry, the distribution of ‘lowest serial number recorded’ is the same as the distribution of (2 × ‘average serial number’ – ‘highest serial number recorded’). Thus, the sum (‘lowest serial number recorded’ + ‘highest serial number recorded’) has an expected value of (2 × ‘average serial number’), which is (‘number of tanks’ + 1). Hence, ‘number of tanks’ is estimated to be (‘lowest serial number recorded’ + ‘highest serial number recorded’ – 1).”

Finally, solver Laurent Lessard provided a useful discussion of biased versus unbiased estimators — with an application to German tanks, of course — and the tradeoff between precision and accuracy.

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 me at [email protected]

Should We Take These Early General Election Polls Seriously? $#!% No!

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

A lot of people are talking about hypothetical 2020 general election polls, including the president of the United States.

A national Quinnipiac University poll released this week, for example, showed Joe Biden with a 53-40 lead against President Trump. But it wasn’t just Biden — all the Democratic contenders Quinnipiac included in matchups with Trump were significantly ahead of the president: Bernie Sanders 51-42, Kamala Harris 49-41, Elizabeth Warren 49-42, Cory Booker 47-42 and Pete Buttigieg 47-42. Meanwhile, in an interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos, Trump dismissed any polls that showed him trailing the Democrats.12 “No, my polls show that I’m winning everywhere,” Trump said.

So, just how seriously should we take hypothetical general election polls more than a year out and before the Democratic nominee has been selected?

Not seriously.

In the runup to the 2016 presidential election, this same question came up, and FiveThirtyEight analyzed general election polls from 1944 to 2012 that tested the eventual nominees and were conducted in the last two months of the year before the election (so for 2012, that would be November and December of 2011). On average, these polls missed the final result by 11 percentage points.13

Polling Accuracy A Year Before The Election
Election Average GOP Poll Lead GOP Election Margin Absolute Error
1964 -50.3 -22.6 27.7
1992 +21.0 -5.6 26.1
1980 -15.5 +9.7 25.2
2000 +11.9 -0.5 12.4
1984 +7.2 +18.2 11.0
1988 +18.0 +7.7 10.3
2008 -0.3 -7.3 6.9
1956 +22.0 +15.4 6.6
1944 -14.0 -7.5 6.5
2004 +8.7 +2.5 6.2
1996 -13.0 -8.5 4.5
1960 +3.0 -0.2 3.2
2012 -2.8 -3.9 1.0
1948 -3.8 -4.5 0.7
Average 10.6

The last presidential election featured one of the more accurate sets of early polls for this point in the cycle: Hillary Clinton led Donald Trump 46.2 percent to 41.2 percent in an average of all polls conducted in November and December 2015, missing the eventual national popular vote margin by about 3 points.14 (The actual result was Clinton 48.0 percent, Trump 46.0 percent.)

But that’s more the exception than the rule, as the table above shows. And remember, these are polls conducted at least five months later in the cycle than where we are now. Jump back to roughly this point in the 2016 cycle, for example, and Clinton was ahead of all eight of her hypothetical GOP opponents in a May 2015 Quinnipiac poll, with a whopping 50-32 advantage over Trump.

There’s just soooo much that can and will change. To take the two biggest ones: Democrats have an entire primary to get through and a nominee to pick. And we really have no idea what the economy will look like by Election Day 2020.

OK, maybe you’re not shocked that very early general election polling isn’t particularly predictive. Do these numbers tell us anything at all? Maybe. I think they hint at two things.

First, the Republican Party under Trump has had a ceiling so far — and it’s south of 50 percent of American voters. The president won 46 percent of the vote in 2016. House Republicans won 45 percent of the national House vote in 2018. Trump’s approval rating for the past two years has been between 37 percent and 43 percent. I doubt that Trump will get just 42 percent of the national vote (and most other national polls pitting him against the Democratic candidates have him in the mid-40s). At the same time, it’s pretty hard right now to see Trump getting the majority of the electorate behind him.

That doesn’t mean he can’t win. But Trump may need, like in 2016, to overperform in the Electoral College relative to the popular vote and for third-party candidates (perhaps Justin Amash or Howard Schultz) to take some of the anti-Trump vote from the Democratic nominee.

Secondly, this poll is more evidence that Trump should probably spend less time courting his political base and more time appealing to voters outside of it. He’s getting more than 90 percent of the Republican vote in head-to-head matchups against these Democratic candidates (even against Biden), according to the Quinnipiac survey. And that’s consistent with other data. Gallup polling suggests that Trump’s approval rating among self-identified Republicans is around 90 percent. In the 2018 midterms, exit polls suggested that about 94 percent of self-identified Republicans backed the GOP House candidate, as did 88 percent of those who approve of President Trump.

Trump’s real political problem is self-identified independents and voters who don’t love him or hate him. In the 2018 midterms, independents broke heavily for the Democrats in U.S. House elections (+12), as did voters who “somewhat” disapproved of the president (+29), according to exit polls. In this Quinnipiac survey, all the Democratic candidates had double digit leads over Trump among independents, and those are the numbers that should worry the president and his political team.

Other polling bites

  • 63 percent of Americans favor allowing transgender people to serve in the U.S. military, according to a Public Religion Research Institute survey released this week.
  • According to a new Monmouth University poll, Biden leads among Democratic presidential candidates with 36 percent of the vote in Nevada, which votes third in the Democratic nomination process. Warren (19 percent) and Sanders (13 percent) are the only other two candidates polling in double digits.
  • 79 percent of Iowa Democrats said that to get their vote, a Democratic presidential candidate must support “a woman’s right to abortion,” according to a recently released by Selzer & Co. for the Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa poll; 12 percent said that position was not a must-have.
  • In the same poll, 23 percent of Iowa Democrats said that a candidate must support offering all Americans free tuition to a public four-year college; 15 percent said they would oppose a candidate who took that position.
  • 33 percent of Americans favor Congress starting impeachment proceedings against Trump, compared with 61 percent who do not, according to a Quinnipiac survey released this week; 44 percent believe he “deserves to be impeached,” while 50 percent do not.
  • 72 percent of Americans oppose a proposal to increase the salaries of members of Congress by $4,500, compared with 14 percent who support the idea, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll released this week. The proposal would have meant members’ salaries were $178,500 per year.
  • 49 percent of Americans support the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding of abortions, compared with 32 percent who oppose it, according to the Politico/Morning Consult survey.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.3 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 52.9 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.6 points). At this time last week, 41.5 percent approved and 53.6 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -12.1 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.4 percent and a disapproval rating of 52.5 percent (for a net approval rating of -10.1 points).

Congressional generic ballot

According to FiveThirtyEight’s congressional generic ballot tracker — which returned this week! — about 46.1 percent of Americans would vote for a Democratic candidate for Congress, compared with 39.9 percent who would choose a Republican.

Check out the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections, including all the Democratic primary polls.

Playoff Kawhi Leonard Is The New Playoff LeBron James

This year’s NBA postseason has been a striking reminder of the difference between regular season and playoff basketball, particularly with respect to individual performance. The three finalists for the MVP award — James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George — all failed to match their production from the regular season in this year’s playoffs. On the other end of the spectrum is Kawhi Leonard, who after “load-managing” his way through the regular season, is now considered one of, if not the, best basketball players alive and has the Toronto Raptors one win away from their first NBA championship. (That win could come Thursday night in Game 6 in Oakland.)

Before this year, LeBron James was the often-cited case of the rare player who took his already outstanding game to an even higher level in the playoffs. But during this year’s postseason, it’s Leonard, the two-way force of nature, who has become the go-to example of a player who seemingly flips a switch and magically turns into a better version of himself once the playoffs start.

During the regular season, Leonard posted a +5.0 box plus/minus (BPM), a catch-all stat designed to capture a player’s all-around impact. Leonard’s regular season BPM was 15th best in the league. But in the playoffs, Leonard’s BPM has risen to +9.0, tied for second-best among all postseason players.

It’s rare to see a player of Leonard’s stature lift his BPM at all in the playoffs. Of the 15 players that had a regular season BPM of +5.0 or better,1 only Leonard and Nikola Jokic increased their output in the playoffs. It’s even rarer to see someone as productive as Leonard lift his BPM by as much as he did.

Leonard’s BPM playoff bump — +4 — is tied for the 16th largest increase since the NBA-ABA merger among players that logged at least 2,000 regular season minutes and 500 playoff minutes in a single year. Some other players to increase their BPM by at least 4.0 points include Hakeem Olajuwon during the 1997 playoffs, Tim Duncan during his 2003 title run and LeBron James during his 2016 title run, to name a few.

And this isn’t anything new for Leonard: He’s been upping his game in the postseason ever since he came into the league as a role player with the San Antonio Spurs.

Below is a similar chart to the first, but this time we’re looking at career performance — comparing a player’s career average BPM in the regular season to their career average BPM in the playoffs since the merger in 1977. (In order to make sure our sample consists of players who played often in both the regular season and deep into the playoffs, each player’s career average BPM has been weighted by both their minutes played in the regular season and playoffs.2 This gives us a better representative sample of players to compare Leonard’s career against.)

Most of the players that have a similar career BPM in the regular season to Leonard are right at or just below the dotted line, meaning they either get worse during the playoffs or at best they don’t improve. The few players who buck that trend include Michael Jordan, LeBron, Olajuwon and Leonard himself. Each of these players consistently dominated the league in the regular season and even more so in the playoffs.

The players with the biggest difference between their regular season and playoff career BPM tend to be toward the middle of the pack in regular season BPM for the simple reason that the lower a player’s regular season number, the more room they have to improve their playoff production. Still, despite having one of the higher career BPMs in the regular season, Leonard ranks sixth on the list. The players in front of him are Isiah Thomas (the Pistons legend, not the other more recent one), Draymond Green, Rajon “Playoff” Rondo, Derek Fisher and Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry. Those are the type of guys Green was referring to when he talked about the difference between 82-game players and 16-game players.

Kawhi steps up his numbers in the postseason

Biggest average change in Box Plus/Minus (BPM) between the playoffs and regular season, among NBA players with at least 10,000 regular season and 2,500 playoff minutes since 1977

Reg. Season Playoffs
Player Minutes BPM Minutes BPM Diff.
Isiah Thomas 35,516 +2.8 4,216 +6.4 +3.6
Draymond Green 14,979 +3.8 4,332 +6.5 +2.7
Rajon Rondo 26,119 +2.4 3,944 +4.6 +2.2
Robert Horry 27,069 +2.8 6,823 +4.8 +2.0
Derek Fisher 32,719 -0.8 6,856 +1.1 +1.9
Kawhi Leonard 14,404 +5.7 3,806 +7.4 +1.8
Boris Diaw 28,768 +1.1 3,144 +2.8 +1.7
Ron Harper 31,199 +2.2 3,000 +3.8 +1.6
Hakeem Olajuwon 44,222 +5.4 5,749 +7.1 +1.6
Michael Cooper 23,635 +1.1 4,744 +2.7 +1.6
Vinnie Johnson 24,308 +0.0 2,671 +1.6 +1.5
Michael Jordan 41,011 +8.7 7,474 +10.2 +1.5
Bryon Russell 19,805 +2.4 3,081 +3.8 +1.4
LeBron James 46,235 +9.7 10,049 +11.1 +1.4
Tayshaun Prince 31,576 +1.1 4,977 +2.4 +1.3

Career regular season and playoff BPM averages are weighted so as to give more importance to seasons where a player logged many minutes in both the regular season and playoffs

Source: Basketball-Reference.com

Regardless of whether the Raptors ultimately finish off the Golden State Warriors and win the NBA title, Leonard’s performance this postseason will instill dread in opposing fan bases of “Playoff Kawhi” for years to come. Leonard wasn’t kidding when he referred to the 82 games during the regular season as “practice” and that the “playoffs is when it’s time to lace them up.”

Neil Paine contributed to this article.

Silver Bulletpoints: Iowans Seem To Like Warren And Buttigieg

We’re less than two weeks from the Democrats’ first debate in Miami on June 26 and 27. I’m looking forward to the occasion — not so much because I’m eager to hear Bill de Blasio trying to drop some too-clever-by-half insults on the front-runners, but because the debates should help us exit a doldrums phase of the Democratic primary in which not a lot has been happening.

Until then, we’re left with some pretty slim pickings for Silver Bulletpoints. So I want to focus this week’s edition around the recent Selzer & Co. poll of Iowa, which was conducted on behalf of CNN, the Des Moines Register and Mediacom. While I’m a little bit reluctant to give that much attention to a single poll, this is one of the only recent high-quality polls of Iowa — and Selzer & Co. is pretty much as good as pollsters can get.

Bulletpoint No. 1: Things are looking up in Iowa for Warren and Buttigieg

The Selzer poll shows a closer race in Iowa than what we’ve been seeing nationally, with Joe Biden on top with 24 percent of the vote, followed by essentially a three-way tie for second with Bernie Sanders at 16 percent, Elizabeth Warren at 15 percent and Pete Buttigieg at 14 percent. Kamala Harris is next at 7 percent, with no one else above 2 percent.

That’s already a pretty decent result for Warren and Buttigieg — but, in fact, the poll is a bit better than it looks for them on the surface. Selzer also asked voters for favorability ratings on each candidate; I translated those ratings to a 5-point scale in which 5 means “very favorable” and 1 means “very unfavorable,” throwing out voters who didn’t know enough about a candidate to formulate an opinion.

On average, Buttigieg had the highest favorability ratings on the scale (4.1), with Harris (4.0) and Warren (4.0) close behind him. Biden’s (3.8) and Sanders’s (3.7) favorability ratings were decent but behind the top three. Meanwhile, while Cory Booker (3.7), Amy Klobuchar (3.6) and Beto O’Rourke (3.6) have little first-choice support, they retain decent favorables.

Buttigieg, Harris, Warren are viewed most favorably in Iowa

Favorability ratings in the Selzer & Co. Iowa poll, June 2-5, 2019

Candidate Very fav. Mostly fav. Mostly unfav. Very unfav. Favorability score* First-choice support
Buttigieg 32% 29% 7% 5% 4.1 14%
Harris 30 33 8 5 4.0 7
Warren 37 34 10 7 4.0 15
Biden 36 37 14 9 3.8 24
Sanders 32 38 17 8 3.7 16
Booker 20 36 13 6 3.7 1
Klobuchar 12 32 13 4 3.6 2
O’Rourke 15 39 13 8 3.6 2
Castro 7 27 10 4 3.5 1
Inslee 5 16 7 3 3.4 1
Bullock 5 14 8 2 3.4 0
Swalwell 5 17 9 4 3.3 0
Gillibrand 7 31 17 6 3.3 0
Hickenlooper 6 18 12 4 3.3 0
Bennet 3 16 9 3 3.3 1
Delaney 6 21 12 5 3.3 1
Yang 5 14 10 5 3.1 1
Moulton 3 9 8 3 3.0 0
Ryan 2 14 10 4 3.0 0
Gabbard 5 18 11 9 3.0 1
Williamson 2 7 11 7 2.5 0
de Blasio 2 14 27 13 2.4 0
Messam 1 1 6 3 2.2 0

* Calculated based on a weighted average of favorability ratings, giving a candidate 5 points for a “very favorable” rating, 4 points for “somewhat favorable,” 2 points for “somewhat unfavorable” and 1 point for “very unfavorable,” and ignoring voters who don’t know or don’t have an opinion about the candidate.

Favorability ratings were calculated by a weighting of 90 percent of the responses from those who plan to caucus in person and 10 person of responses from those who plan to participate in the caucuses virtually.

I don’t have any hard-and-fast rule about how much to emphasize favorability ratings against first-choice support. It’s probably worth noting that President Trump’s favorables were often mediocre in polls of 2016 Republican voters, but he won the nomination anyway. Still, the Selzer poll is consistent with a story where voters who are paying more attention to the campaign are ahead of the curve on Warren and Buttigieg. And Warren and Buttigieg are good candidates for Iowa with a legitimate shot to win there.

Bulletpoint No. 2: Who makes for a good Iowa candidate, and who’s campaigning there?

What do I mean by a good candidate for Iowa? If I designed a candidate in a lab to win the Iowa caucuses, I’d want them to have four characteristics:

  • Perform well with liberal voters, since voters in the Iowa caucuses are pretty liberal.
  • Perform well with white voters, since Iowa is pretty white.
  • Be strong retail campaigners with good organizational skills.
  • Be from the Midwest.

Warren checks three-and-a-quarter boxes: She polls well among white liberals, she has a strong organization in Iowa, and she sorta counts as Midwestern if you think of her as being from Oklahoma rather than Massachusetts (and if you count Oklahoma as Midwestern). Buttigieg checks at least three boxes: He overperforms with white voters (and underperforms with minorities), he’s Midwestern, and by most accounts he’s a good retail campaigner. Sanders also checks three boxes (everything except the Midwest one).

But are the candidates who are the most Iowa-appropriate actually campaigning there more often? Last month, my colleague Nathaniel Rakich looked at which candidates have campaigned the most in Iowa and New Hampshire. I’m going to provide a twist by accounting for how long a candidate has been in the race. For instance, John Delaney has spent the most days in Iowa, but he’s also been campaigning for president since July 2017 (!).

Bullock, O’Rourke and Ryan are focusing the most on Iowa

Share of days with an Iowa event since campaign launch for the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, through June 12, 2019

Candidate First day of CAMPAIGN No. of Days Days with Iowa events Share of days with Iowa events
Bullock 5/14/19 30 7 23.3%
O’Rourke 3/14/19 91 19 20.9
Ryan 4/4/19 70 12 17.1
de Blasio 5/16/19 28 4 14.3
Swalwell 4/9/19 65 8 12.3
Williamson 1/28/19 136 15 11.0
Klobuchar 2/10/19 123 13 10.6
Warren 12/31/18 164 17 10.4
Sanders 2/19/19 114 11 9.6
Bennet 5/2/19 42 4 9.5
Gillibrand 1/15/19 149 14 9.4
Booker 2/1/19 132 12 9.1
Hickenlooper 3/4/19 101 9 8.9
Delaney 7/28/17 685 57 8.3
Biden 4/25/19 49 4 8.2
Buttigieg 1/23/19 141 11 7.8
Gabbard 1/11/19 153 11 7.2
Inslee 3/1/19 104 6 5.8
Yang 2/10/18 488 28 5.7
Castro 1/12/19 152 8 5.3
Harris 1/21/19 143 7 4.9
Moulton 4/22/19 52 1 1.9
Gravel 3/19/19 86 0 0.0

The five leading candidates in the most recent Selzer & Co. poll of Iowa are highlighted.

Campaign launch dates reflect when candidates formed an exploratory committee, even if they hadn’t formally launched their campaign, since candidates generally do engage in campaign-style events during the exploratory phase. However, events only count if they occurred on or after the launch date listed in the table.

Source: Des Moines Register Candidate Tracker

Measured by the proportion of days with an Iowa event since their campaigns began, the most Iowa-centric candidates have been Steve Bullock, O’Rourke and Tim Ryan. Among the top tier, Harris has spent a notably lower share of her time in Iowa than the others. Perhaps that makes sense — she doesn’t check a lot of the boxes I described above. But it may also explain why she isn’t converting high favorability ratings into much first-choice support.

Bulletpoint No. 3: Biden is falling back to the pack

Six weeks ago, amidst Biden’s polling surge, I put him an extra step ahead of the other Democrats in my periodically updating, not-to-be-taken-too-seriously presidential tiers, demoting Sanders, Buttigieg and Harris from tier 1b to tier 1c and leaving tier 1b blank to indicate the distance between Biden and everyone else.

But we’ve promised to make these tiers fairly polling-driven, and while the decline in Biden’s national numbers is predictable — pretty much all the previous candidates to get bounces have also seen them fade — I err on the side of paying more attention to Iowa and New Hampshire polls than to national ones. So that Selzer poll in Iowa is enough for me to repromote Sanders, Buttigieg and Harris back to tier 1b and to move Warren to there for the first time.

Nate’s not-to-be-taken-too-seriously presidential tiers

For the Democratic nomination, as revised on June 13, 2019

Tier Sub-tier Candidates
1 a Biden
b Warren ↑, Sanders ↑, Buttigieg ↑, Harris ↑
2 a O’Rourke
b Booker, Klobuchar
3 a Yang, Castro, Abrams*
b Inslee, Gillibrand, Gabbard
c Bullock, Hickenlooper, Ryan, Bennet, de Blasio, Williamson

* Candidate is not yet officially running but may still do so.

For Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg, the case for promotion is reasonably clear. They’re all plausible Iowa winners — and if they win Iowa, they’ll have a pretty good shot at New Hampshire. I continue not to be super-duper impressed by Sanders’s polling, but he’s fairly consistently held on to second place nationally, and I’m not going to try to overthink things too much. Warren has some momentum, even if it’s a little overstated by the national media. Buttigeg’s modest name recognition could give him room to grow later, as he already seems to be doing in the early states.

Harris is the trickiest case, but her favorables remain pretty good, she’s a decent bet to do well at the debates, and it seems unlikely that a party in which 40 percent of voters are nonwhite is going to be entirely content choosing between three or four white candidates. All that said, Harris could also have a Marco Rubio-esque problem of being broadly acceptable but few voters’ first choice.

 

Which 2020 Candidates Have The Most In Common … On Twitter?

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidates use Twitter like an earlier generation of politicians may have used a soapbox: to announce policy plans, solicit donations, marshal their supporters and criticize the current administration.

Each of these candidates is speaking to his or her own virtual village square. But how many people spend time in more than one village? How much overlap is there between, say, Elizabeth Warren’s audience and Bernie Sanders’s? And which candidates are most often associated with one another, based on their Twitter followers?

Twitter isn’t real life, of course; it’s an often-ridiculous short-burst social network that is decidedly not representative of the electorate at large. But it’s still a slice of life. The people following candidates on Twitter are those who want to receive a steady stream of information about at least part of the 2020 campaign. Understanding how that tribe operates can tell us something about an influential slice of the electorate.

So off our web-scraper went, dredging up every follower of the 20 Democratic presidential candidates who FiveThirtyEight considered “major” in early May, when we ran our script.9 The result was a data set with almost 20 million entries, which you can download on GitHub.

This data reveals the obvious, such as raw follower counts. It also reveals more subtle trends, such as which candidates’ followers are loyal, which cast a broad net, which seem to have a similar appeal and which apparently have nothing in common.

For starters, here are the candidates ranked by the share of their followers who don’t follow any other 2020 Democratic candidate.

Candidates whose followers are loyal only to them

Share of each 2020 candidate’s followers who don’t follow any other candidates

Account
FOLLOWERS
Exclusive FOLLOWERS
@marwilliamson 2,610,335
74.8%
@BernieSanders 9,254,423
63.2
@Hickenlooper 144,816
56.3
@CoryBooker 4,246,252
52.5
@JoeBiden 3,558,333
43.8
@AndrewYang 267,897
43.4
@TulsiGabbard 349,443
34.7
@BetoORourke 1,424,745
26.5
@amyklobuchar 692,985
24.0
@PeteButtigieg 1,033,834
23.7
@SenGillibrand 1,410,303
23.3
@KamalaHarris 2,640,072
22.3
@JulianCastro 212,582
21.4
@sethmoulton 138,450
20.1
@JayInslee 51,504
19.0
@ewarren 2,486,101
16.4
@TimRyan 20,080
15.6
@JohnDelaney 20,266
12.9
@MichaelBennet 21,053
11.7
@ericswalwell 84,415
9.2

Among candidates who were considered “major” by FiveThirtyEight as of May 8. Follower lists for each candidate’s primary accounts (according to a CSPAN Twitter list) were scraped from May 8-15, except for @Hickenlooper, which was scraped on June 6 to correct a coding error.

Almost three-quarters of the people who follow Marianne Williamson — a “spiritual and inspirational author, lecturer, non-profit activist,” per her Twitter bio — don’t follow any other Democratic candidate, putting them in a loyalty class all their own. Similarly, of the over 9 million people who follow Bernie Sanders, almost two-thirds follow no other candidate.

The 2.5 million people who follow Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, are more gregarious — 84 percent of them follow at least one of her Democratic rivals. Ditto the 2.6 million people who follow Kamala Harris, 78 percent of whom also follow another candidate.

Digging a little deeper into the follower interaction information, we can find out, for example, which other candidates Warren’s followers are paying attention to. The Venn diagrams below try to answer that question, showing the overlap in followers between every candidate who had more than 500,000 followers in early May.

This chart reveals relatively large intersections between followers of Sanders and Warren, who share progressive policy platforms; between followers of Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke, who are both young, male and white; and between Harris and other major female candidates such as Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar.

Follower overlap patterns seem to share some similarities with Democrats’ vote preferences, too. Morning Consult has been tracking voters’ second-choice candidates, and according to the latest poll, respondents who planned to vote for Warren said their top backup choices were Harris and Sanders. Similarly, on Twitter, 60 percent of Warren’s followers also follow Sanders, and 37 percent each follow Harris and Biden — her largest overlap groups.

With some simple calculations, we can look past the sheer size of each Twitter overlap and get a sense for which pairs of candidates share some quality (ideology, Twitter skills, who knows) that makes them appeal to the same people. Theoretically, people could be following multiple presidential candidates at random, but that’s not how Twitter really works — if one account speaks to my interests, I’m likely to be interested in similar accounts.

To figure out which candidates are getting paired up more often than we’d expect based on chance alone, we rely on a number that data miners call “lift,” which is the ratio of how many followers a pair actually has to how many followers we’d expect them to have based solely on their individual Twitter popularity.10 For example, say we have 100 total Twitter users, and 50 of them follow Sanders while 10 of them follow Warren. If the reasons that a person followed Sanders had nothing to do with the reasons they followed Warren, we’d expect the overlap between the two to be five users. If it turns out that 10 users follow both Warren and Sanders, then we have a lift value of two (twice as many as expected), which means we can speculate that the two candidates share some quality that appeals to the same people. If only one user follows both, then we have a lift of 0.2 (one-fifth as many as expected), and we would suspect that there’s something about each candidate that drives away some people who follow the other candidate.

In the chart below, candidate pairs are organized by lift value, so those above the dotted line have more followers in common than you’d expect by chance while those below the line have fewer.

Some of the pairs that float above the line on this chart also stood out in the Venn diagrams, such as Harris and Warren, Harris and Gillibrand and O’Rourke and Buttigieg. O’Rourke and Julian Castro also have a relatively large overlap, perhaps because they’re both from Texas. The small dots at the very top capture overlaps that are tens of times larger than we’d expect to see if the candidates’ appeals to followers were unrelated. That’s probably because users who follow one lesser-known candidate such as Michael Bennet or John Delaney are likely to be highly engaged in the race and follow the other candidates as well. For example, the average Delaney follower also follows more than six other Democratic candidates.

The chart also reveals the candidate pairs who are not followed together. Williamson appears in most of these pairs, but the combination of Sanders and Booker also sinks to the bottom; their follower overlap is about half the size of what we’d expect given their individual popularity.

Twitter is just one front on which the fight for the Democratic nomination is being waged, but it does provide some insight into how candidates are using social media and who is listening. Democrats are, after all, looking for a candidate who can beat President Trump, who redefined how we view Silicon Valley’s little blue bird.

We want to hear how you’re using this data! If you find anything interesting, please let us know. Send your projects to @guswez or @ollie.

Dhrumil Mehta and Julia Wolfe contributed research.

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How Close Is The Rest Of The World To Catching The U.S.?

The U.S. is No. 1 again in the FIFA world rankings, and while the Americans are not the favorites in the Women’s World Cup, it’s always a surprise when the world’s elite program does not win the title. It was that way in 2007, when the top-ranked Americans lost in the semifinals, and again in 2011, when Japan stunned the top-ranked Americans in the final. The U.S. did win it all in 2015, though it wasn’t at the top of the rankings that year. The question, once again, is how much longer the U.S. can stay at the top of the heap.

The rest of the world has been catching up to the U.S. women’s national soccer team for the past 30 years, though the achievements haven’t been evenly distributed around the globe. European teams in particular have narrowed the gap, but teams from South American and Africa are still searching for success.

Entering this year, seven of the top eight World Cup squads of all-time by Soccer Power Index were from either the U.S. or Germany. In this World Cup, France and Australia are in that conversation, both rated more highly than the world champion U.S. team of 1999. This year’s teams from the Netherlands, England, Japan and Canada are close behind.

This is no accident. The European federation reported almost 2.1 million registered female players in FIFA’s 2014 women’s football survey, just shy of the 2.3 million registered in the U.S. and Canada alone. Elsewhere in the world, though, progress has been slower. The developing African and South American federations reported just 54,055 and 25,459, respectively. The top 20 nations in FIFA’s rankings had 91 percent of the registered players.

Since the U.S. won the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991, the primary reason given for the Americans’ international success has been Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibits gender discrimination in federally funded educational programs. The national team still faces inequality: Players filed a gender-discrimination lawsuit in March and have used some of the interest in the World Cup to spotlight unequal pay. Still, the American players are the products of the world’s most successful player development organization. If a country set out to build an international powerhouse from scratch, the process would look a lot like what has happened in the U.S. in the past 47 years: Require equal scholarship funding for male and female college athletes; furnish rosters with the fruits of a nationwide travel soccer system; and pump money into the national team for the best players to train together and test themselves against the most skilled opponents in the world.

In Europe, the best clubs, leagues and national teams are funneling money into the women’s game like never before. The number of professional and semipro players is up from 1,680 in 2013 to 3,572 in 2017. The number of girls’ youth teams is up from 21,285 in 2013 to 35,183.

Europe may also have an advantage that isn’t universally present: the interest in soccer that has made so many of its nations dominant on the men’s side. The total women’s football budget across the continent has more than doubled from 50.4 million euros in 2012 to 111.7 million euros in 2017, according to a report from the European federation. Barclays, the title sponsor of the English Premier League, has signed a three-year sponsorship deal with the Women’s Super League, the top women’s professional league in England. Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona’s women’s teams played in March before an announced crowd of 60,739, a world record for club matches. That’s an anomaly for anywhere, including Europe, but it also far exceeds any club crowd in the U.S.

With more resources, European clubs are attracting more of the world’s top players, and the most successful women’s soccer organization in the world is not an American franchise but France’s Olympique Lyonnais, which has won six of the past nine Champion’s League finals. France has the highest-paying women’s soccer league in the world, according to Sporting Intelligence’s 2017 global sports salaries report. The average player salary in France’s top league was $49,782, compared with $43,730 in Germany, $35,355 in England and $27,054 in the American NWSL. The maximum salary this year in the NWSL is $46,200, while Lyon reportedly pays several players in the six figures. Fifteen of the club’s players are on World Cup rosters: eight for France and seven spread across six other countries.

On other World Cup contenders, though, women face myriad issues, primarily that the national federations pay them little or nothing and that international matches are difficult to schedule. Teams in developing countries play in the World Cup and the Olympics (if they qualify) and in their continental tournaments, but they rarely find matches outside of those years. By August 2016, only four of 10 teams in the South American federation were in FIFA’s rankings because they had played so infrequently that they were deemed “inactive.”

Argentina, ranked 37th on the women’s side, may be the biggest example of that disparity. Its players went on strike in 2017 after going unpaid, and they have had to pay for their own travel, uniforms and health insurance. In March, the national federation gave the 16-team women’s league professional status — but the teams were allocated just $2,600 per month for the top eight players, or about $330 each.

In Africa, the conditions are similar. The Super Falcons of Nigeria have won 11 of 13 African titles and have qualified for every Women’s World Cup. But their coaches and players have often worked without pay. The team protested at its hotel after winning the 2016 African Cup of Nations, refusing to leave until the federation paid the salaries and bonuses the players were owed. “This is a fight about the welfare of the team,” forward Asisat Oshoala told BBC Sport at the time. “It’s about the way the team has been handled over the years. We are champions. We went out to fight for the nation even without being paid. Not everything is about money, but of course it is an issue.”

With women’s soccer development still emerging in much of the world, several countries have struggled to schedule even friendlies. Last year, with another World Cup trip looming, Nigerian midfielder Ngozi Okobi implored her country’s federation to arrange “something big” for the team. “We’ve witnessed how the gap is gradually closing on the continent between us and others,” she said. “We can’t wake up one morning without top matches and then start traveling to France.” Governing bodies, though, have lagged in providing funding for such matches, placing another roadblock between these countries and international success: When they do put together a group of 20 competitive players, who do they play?

In all of these areas, the quadrennial World Cup is critical for assessing progress and laying the foundation for more development. For Thailand, South Africa or Argentina, a win in the group stage — or even a goal or two — can help raise the profile of women’s soccer back home. An important piece in the equation is FIFA, which has taken steps in recent years to move toward promoting the women’s game. The world governing body established a women’s football division in 2016 with an eye toward reaching 60 million female players worldwide.

Khalida Popal is an activist for women’s soccer, the kind the sport has relied on for years. She grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, playing in hiding during the Taliban regime. She founded the Afghan women’s football league and practiced on a NATO base before later leaving the country amid death threats from extremist groups and seeking asylum in Denmark. Now an administrator for the Afghan women’s national team, she works to bring sports to European kids in refugee camps. Count her among many who see the World Cup as a potential spark for developing countries to place more resources in women’s soccer and for girls to become familiar with the sport. “There’s still a long, long way to go, but if we compare … it is happening,” Popal said. “Many positive changes are taking place.”

Stipends of $330 per month for the Argentine players and endorsement deals for European leagues are marginal, but they are steps. Countries of all kinds are working to build women’s soccer programs the way the U.S. did — they’re just a few decades behind.

Check out our latest Women’s World Cup predictions.