How To Read 2020 Polls Like A FiveThirtyEighter

Beware: Reading polls can be hazardous to your health. Symptoms include cherry-picking, overconfidence, falling for junky numbers and rushing to judgment. Thankfully, we have a cure. Building on an old checklist from former FiveThirtyEight political writer Harry Enten, here are some guidelines you should bear in mind when you’re interpreting political polling — in primary season and beyond.

What to watch for during the primaries

People who try to discredit early primary polls by pointing out that, say, Jeb Bush led early polls of the GOP field in 2016 are being disingenuous. Should these polls be treated with caution? Sure, but national primary polls conducted in the calendar year before the election are actually somewhat predictive of who the eventual nominee will be. Earlier this year, fellow FiveThirtyEight analyst Geoffrey Skelley looked at early primary polling since 1972 and found that candidates who polled better in the months before the primaries wound up doing better in the eventual primaries. In fact, those who averaged 35 percent or higher in the polls rarely lost the nomination.

High polling averages foreshadowed lots of primary votes

Candidates’ share of the national primary vote by average polling level in the first half of the year before the presidential primaries and polling average in the second half of that year, 1972-2016

First half Second half
Poll Avg. Share who became nominee Avg. Primary Vote share Share who became nominee Avg. Primary Vote share
35%+ 75% 57% 83% 57%
20%-35% 36 27 25 25
10%-20% 9 8 9 12
5%-10% 3 7 10 10
2%-5% 5 5 0 4
Under 2% 1 2 1 1

We included everyone we had polling data for, no matter how likely or unlikely they were to run. If a candidate didn’t run or dropped out before voting began, they were counted as winning zero percent of the primary vote.

Sources: POLLS, CQ Roll call, DAVE LEIP’s atlas of u.s. presidential elections

And if we go one step further and account for a candidate’s level of name recognition, early national primary polls were even more telling of who might win the nomination. As you can see in the chart below, a low-name-recognition candidate whose polling average climbed past 10 percent in the first half of the year before the primaries had at least a 1 in 4 shot at winning, which actually put them ahead of a high-name-recognition candidate polling at the same level.

This is why we believe that national primary polls are useful (even this far out) despite the fact that they are technically measuring an election that will never happen — we don’t hold a national primary. For this reason, early-state polls are important, too, especially if they look different from national polls. History is littered with examples of national underdogs who pulled off surprising wins in Iowa or New Hampshire, then rode the momentum all the way to the nomination. And according to analysis from RealClearPolitics, shortly after Thanksgiving is historically when polls of Iowa and New Hampshire start to come into closer alignment with the eventual results.

But don’t put too much faith in early primary polls (or even late ones — they have a much higher error, on average, than general-election polls). Voters’ preferences are much more fluid in primaries than they are in general elections, in large part because partisanship, a reliable cue in general elections, is removed from the equation. And voters may vacillate between the multiple candidates they like and even change their mind at the last minute, perhaps in an effort to vote tactically (i.e., vote for their second choice because that candidate has a better chance of beating a third candidate whom the voter likes less than their first or second choice).

On the flip side, early general-election polls are pretty much worthless. They are hypothetical match-ups between candidates who haven’t had a chance to make their case to the public, who haven’t had to withstand tough attacks and who still aren’t on many Americans’ radar. And these polls aren’t terribly predictive of the eventual result either. From 1944 to 2012, polls that tested the eventual Democratic and Republican nominees about a year before the election (specifically, in November and December of the previous year) missed the final margin by almost 11 percentage points, on average — though it’s worth noting that they were more accurate in 2016, missing by around 3 points.1

Early general-election polls are usually way off the mark

Average error in general-election polls that tested the two eventual nominees in November and December of the year before the election, for presidential elections from 1944 to 2012

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

No odd-year November-December polling was available for the 1952, 1968, 1972 and 1976 elections.

Source: Roper Center for Public Opinion Research

In other words, at this stage in the cycle, primary polls can be useful but are by no means infallible, while general-election polls can safely be ignored. That may seem frustrating, but just remember that pollsters aren’t trying to make predictions; they’re simply trying to capture an accurate snapshot of public opinion at a given moment in time.

What to keep in mind generally

There are some guidelines you should remember at any time of the year, however. First, some pollsters are more accurate than others. We consider the gold standard of polling methodology to be pollsters that use live people (as opposed to robocalls) to conduct interviews over the phone, that call cell phones as well as landlines and that participate in the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s Transparency Initiative or the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research archive. That said, the polling industry is changing; there are some good online pollsters too. You can use FiveThirtyEight’s Pollster Ratings to check what methodology each pollster uses and how good its track record has been. (And if a pollster doesn’t show up in our Pollster Ratings, that might be a red flag.)

Another reason to pay attention to the pollster is for comparison purposes. Because pollsters sometimes have consistent house effects (their polls overestimate the same party over and over), it can be tricky to compare results from different pollsters. (For this reason, FiveThirtyEight’s models adjust polls to account for house effects.) When looking for trends in the data over time, it’s better to compare a poll to previous surveys done by that same pollster. Otherwise, what looks like a rise or fall in the numbers could just be the result of a different methodological decision or, especially for non-horse-race questions, the way the question is worded. The order in which questions are asked can matter too; for example, asking a bunch of questions about health care and then asking for whom respondents would vote might bias them to pick the candidate they think is best on health care.

In addition, note who is being polled and what the margin of error is. Polls conducted among likely voters are the best approximation of who will actually cast a ballot, although when you’re still several months away from an election, polls of registered voters are much more common, and that’s fine. For non-electoral public opinion questions, like the president’s approval rating, many polls use a sample that will try to match the demographic profile of all adults in the U.S., and that’s fine, too. As for margin of error … just remember that it exists! For example, if a poll of the 2018 Florida governor race showed former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum ahead of former Rep. Ron DeSantis 47 percent to 46 percent with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 points, you’d want to keep in mind that DeSantis may actually have been leading at the time. Remember, too, that the margin of error applies to each candidate’s polling number, not to the difference between the candidates. So if both numbers are off by the margin of error, the difference between them could be off by twice as much. In this case, that could mean Gillum dropping to 43 percent and DeSantis jumping up to 50 percent, going from a 1-point deficit to a 7-point lead.

Sample size is important too — a smaller sample means a larger margin of error — but good polling is expensive, so the best pollsters may wind up with smaller samples. And that’s OK. As long as you heed the margin of error, a poll with a sample size of, say, 300 isn’t inherently untrustworthy. That said, don’t dive too much into one poll’s crosstabs — that’s where sample sizes do get unacceptably small and margins of error get unacceptably big. This is one reason not to trust commentators who try to “unskew” a poll by tinkering with its demographic breakdown, or who say that a poll’s results among, say, black voters are unbelievable and therefore the whole poll is too. These people are usually trying to manufacture better results for their side, anyway.

Speaking of which, consider the motive of whoever is sharing the survey. Polls sponsored by a candidate or interest group will probably be overly favorable to their cause. You should be especially suspicious of internal polls that lack details on how they were conducted (e.g., when they were conducted, who was polled, their sample size and their pollster). If you get your news from a partisan outlet, it may also selectively cover only polls that are good for its side. And even the mainstream media might be inclined to overhype a poll as “shocking” or a margin as “razor-thin” because it makes for a better headline.

Next, beware of polls that have drastically different results from all the others. They often turn out to be outliers — although not always (every new trend starts with one poll), which is why you shouldn’t throw them out either. Instead, just use a polling average, which aggregates multiple polls and helps you put the outlier into proper context. We at FiveThirtyEight use averages for that very reason.

And even if a new trend does emerge, wait a bit before declaring it the new normal. Big events — candidate announcements, debates, conventions — can have dramatic effects on the polls, but they are often fleeting.

Finally, come to terms with the fact that polls won’t perfectly predict the final results. Polls are a lot more accurate than people sometimes give them credit for, but polling error is real. Since 1998, polls conducted within a few weeks of the election have missed by an average of 3-10 points, depending on the type of campaign. So trust the polls, but hold onto some uncertainty right up until the moment election results start rolling in.

Link Building: Redirecting Expired Domains Backlinks

Link building is one of the harder  aspects of SEO and because of this one of the least done. Unfortunately it is many times more powerful than anything you do to your page and content.  No level of optimization of content will trump the power of well placed relevant backlinks.

Its so hard few ever do it, and those same people probably say that “SEO is dead.”  It is if all you’re doing is keyword optimization.  75% of what decides the results for a search have nothing to do with what is on the page.

Expired Domain Backlinks

Every day thousands of domains expire.  The owner just didnt renew it, maybe they forgot it.  Whatever the reason the domain is now available to anyone for registering again.  But what happens to all those pages on the internet that linked to that expired domain?  Nothing usually….each site would have to go through and update their own conten.

As a site owner you can probably understand that means the bcklinks of an expired domain usually remain active.  This link building strategy involves you purchsing that domain, then redirecting the existing backlinks to your relevant content.  

This video series walks you through three steps.  First, finding the expired domain. Second, reviewing the domain anchor text.  Third, setting those redirects to your site.

For more info on assessing a site’s value continue reading after the videos below under the SEO Site Audit header.

Video 1 – Finding and sorting through expired domains

All links below, open in a new window.

You’ll use expireddomains.net in this video.  Other resources are available, but this is the one I use that is free.

Video 2 – Assessing the expired domains use through anchor text.

You’ll use SEMrush.com to review the anchor text of a site’s backlinks.  SEMRush does cost monthly to use but you can ret the free trial.  There are other sites available as well but for the value I prefer SEMRush for backlink auditing..

Video 3 – Setting up 301 Redirects to your site

You’ll use a cPanel hosting account provided by many hosting companies.  Ultimate SEO Hosting is our hosting solution offering these capabilities for a few dollars a month. 

301 Redirects Transfer 100% SEO

Google’s John Mueller shared how Google passes 100% of “PageRank” with 301 redirects now.  This is an update and change to the policy which used to cause a 10% penalty.

They don’t always pass PageRank though.  You can’t redirect backlinks for a bakery to your political campaign site for instance.  Redirects should also be assigned on a 1:1 ratio.  So redirecting all 404 errors to your homepage will not make your homepage any better on Google.  But redirecting a link that used to go to an article about Search Engines to an article about Search Engines should be fine.

google on 301 redirect page rank

You can read SearchEngineJournal.com’s take on this as well.

SEO Site Audit

Ultimateseo.org has a DA 19, that seems pretty low. But keep in mind it used to be a DA 40 before Moz changed it’s scoring. Keep also in mind that change in scoring showed no reflection in the site’s ranking. I recommend 301 redirecting based on anchor text not necessarily on the score a site earns.

Longer Answer: What backlinks should be 301 redirected from another domain?

While it is a Domain Authority 19 now it is a CF 34, and a TF 14. It has a DR 45, and a DS 24, TS 22, AS 36 ….. head spinning yet? As a reminder here are what those abbreviations mean … and to whom.

SEO Metrics

  • DA is Domain Authority created by Moz
  • CF is Citation Flow created by Majestic
  • TF is Trust Flow created by Majestic
  • DR is Domain Rank created by AHREFS
  • DS is Domain Score created by SEMRush
  • TS is Trust Score by SEMRush
  • AS is Authority Score by SEMRush

DA is Unreliable To Me

The DA metric lost a lot of credence in my mind when they redid their formula, it made it more obvious that it’s just a number in a vacuum. What we saw after Moz released DA2.0 was as a DA40 became a DA19 it wasn’t reflective by what Google saw.

The day before this site ranked as it did the day after DA2.0. Google doesn’t use DA and what we care about is what does Google think about a site.

So Id say if we want to redirect 301 links we can …. and I do. But I do it because the anchor text is what I want, not because a site’s DA is low.

Assessing A Site’s SEO Value

When we assess if a site is high or low we have to consider all of the SEO metrics we have available and use these numbers together. Keep in mind they are not intended to be apples to apples. For instance Citation Flow is how influential a site appears where Trust Flow and Trust Score are meant to tell us how trustworthy a site is considered. AS is Authority Score which I lump in with CF. I think of DA, DR and DS as comparable metrics.

So assessing if this site is low or high I’d say we have the following metrics:

Overall scores: DA: 19 DR: 45 DS: 24

Trustworthiness: TF: 14 TS: 22

Authority: AS: 36 CF: 34

It’s also important to look at some of the raw indicators to understand the values we are seeing above. I use Majestic, SEMRush And Moz to answer these questions, and I always expect Majestic to have higher numbers because it crawls more of the web than Moz.

Moz likely would say they crawl more of the relevant web … but who are they to decide whats relevant and I dont care what they think is relevant … just what Google crawls.

Backlinks: So how many links to my site are there?

Backlinks . Moz: 18445 Majestic: 139903 SEMRush 1000000*

Backlinks are fine and dandy but keep in mind a million from one website vs a hundred from a hundred sites says something. So what is the “Domain Pop” … how many domains link to our site?

Domain Pop: MAJ 1302 SEMRush: 4,000

Domains can be owned and operated easily from the same cheap shared host. So how many seperate IP Addresses link to our site?

IP Pop: SEMRush 885 Majestic 905

These numbers above 885 and 905 seem a lot more comparable to each other than some of the other numbers.

Now consider a site that may have a DA: 50 vs Ultimate SEO’s DA: 19. I’m willing to bet 9 times out of 10 Ultimate SEO will out rank the other site as long as the other site has 500 or less domains on different IP addresses.

Better Backlinks and Best Backlinks

Trustworthy

Now to be fair this explanation above is overly simplifying the answer. You may wonder how that could be … it seems rather complicated. Well ask yourself which site would you rank higher … a site that has a link to it from 20 research universities or a site that has 200 links to it from random weirdly named domains? Obviously the 20 research universities suggests a more authoritative and trustworthy site.

Authority On The Topic

But getting more complicated what if the page we are considering for ranking is about 2000 dance mixes. The 20 research universities are all medical schools and the anchor text reads “open heart surgery mortality rates” … do we think that the site should rank that high now…and how authoritative do we think the site is on dance remixes of 2000?

301 Backlinks Based On Backlinks Not Your Domain

So the best answer I can give for when to 301 redirect a domain or not is to ignore any one metric completely. If multiple numbers lead you to believe a site isn’t going to be good then sure consider each backlink individually. Keeping in mind what earned the site a low metric across the board IS mostly those backlinks.

If you find a .gov or .edu link using the anchor text you are after on another site then yes … thats the time to 301 redirect that backlink to the best content you have that is relevant to that anchor text. That last part is essential.

You can’t expect long term gains by redirecting a backlink to content that isn’t able to hold its own. User behavior is a big factor in Google’s ranking of a site. And it should be, you can’t prevent what you cant predict.

After all is said and done if no one stays on a site for more than 10 seconds or if they always click the result after yours in Google’s search results you must ask yourself why users hate your content.

And I mean it … people hate your content if you have 301 redirected, optimized your on page and studied your backlinks but users still go elsewhere. Google may rank you high for a time but without users liking your content and staying for awhile you will drop in rankings due to user behavior.

https://ultimateseo.org/link-building-redirect/

Can You Construct The Optimal Tournament?

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,4 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 Tyler Barron, where in the square?:

You are given an empty 4-by-4 square and one marker. You can color in the individual squares or leave them untouched. After you color as many or as few squares as you’d like, I will secretly cut out a 2-by-2 piece of it and then show it to you without rotating it. You then have to tell me where it was (e.g., “top middle” or “bottom right,” etc.) in the original 4-by-4 square.

Can you design a square for which you’ll always know where the piece came from?

Submit your answer

Riddler Classic

From Erich Friedman, conscientious competition construction:

Imagine a competition in which players are ordered in ability, but we do not know what that order is. Assume the better player will win two-thirds of the time in any one game, independent of any other games. We want to construct a tournament to maximize the probability that the best player wins.

For example, if there are four players and three games, the best tournament is the standard simple elimination tournament: A vs. B, C vs. D, and the winners play for the championship. The best player wins this \((2/3)^2\) = 4/9 = 44.4 percent of the time. Not as good, say, is a lopsided tournament: A vs. B, winner plays C, and winner plays D for the championship. The best player wins this just \((2/4)(2/3)^3 + (1/4)(2/3)^2 + (1/4)(2/3)\) = 23/54 = 42.6 percent of the time.

Your challenge: Construct the optimal tournaments for four players and four games, and for five players and five games.

Extra credit: How often does the best player win the optimal tournaments for N players and M games?

Submit your answer

Solution to last week’s Riddler Express

Congratulations to 👏 Lucas Gredell 👏 of St. Louis, winner of last week’s Riddler Express and ROFL Coach of the Year!

Last week, every Riddler reader became the coach of a team in the Riddler Official Football League, or ROFL. Each coach prepared his or her team to take and defend a penalty kick. The goal was divided into two rows (upper and lower) and three columns (left, center and right). A shooter could aim at any one of these six areas, and a goalie could choose to defend any one of the six. If a goalie chose the same area as the shooter, the shot was blocked. If the goalie did not choose the same area as the shooter, the shot had a chance of scoring, per the probabilities shown below.

Knowing that, each coach then submitted a selection for his or her shooter and his or her goalie. I matched each coach’s plan against every other coach’s — there were over 1,520 teams in the league and millions of randomly generated penalty kicks — and adjudicated all the shootouts. Overall, a goal was scored on about two-thirds of the shots. The coach with the most net goals at the end of all that won.

And that coach was Lucas Gredell, who scored 1,218 goals and gave up 902 for a total of 316 net goals. Here were the league’s Top Five performers, a leaderboard dominated by coaches from the soccer powerhouse that is the American Midwest:

Riddler Official Football League’s top coaches
Goals
Name Hometown For Against Net
Lucas Gredell St. Louis 1,218 902 316
Matthew Beale Denver 1,211 898 313
Julian Wellman Ann Arbor, MI 1,223 911 312
Kevin Collins Davison, MI 1,204 893 311
Michael H. Streator, IL 1,216 905 311

All of the top performers had their shooter aim at the upper middle and their goalie defend the lower middle. But because the outcomes of many shots were random, there is a good deal of luck baked into the results, just as there is a good deal of luck baked into life itself.

Our winner explained his decision: “I chose to defend lower middle because it represents the largest risk — any shots attempted at that area will score. Eliminating that certainty means that all other shots have at least some probability of missing. I chose to shoot at upper middle because it is one of the 90 percent regions. I believe it likely that many will mirror my strategy of defending lower middle, so I wanted to maximize my shot probability against that strategy. Even for those who decided to defend a 90 percent region instead, there is only a 1/2 chance that they’ll select my shooting zone.”

Shooters go for the center
Left Middle Right
Upper 98 461 138
Lower 144 446 236

Indeed, shooters overall heavily favored the upper and lower middle areas, where there were 90 and 100 percent chances of scoring, respectively, if those zones were left unguarded.

And goalies very heavily favored the lower middle area — where an unguarded shot was sure to score. Fully half of all keepers defended it.

Goalies choose lower middle
Left Middle Right
Upper 56 191 89
Lower 109 753 325

And our winner’s 90-percent gambit clearly paid off: If a goalie did defend a 90-percent region, it was far more likely, for whatever reason, to be lower right rather than upper middle, despite their tactical identicality. Upper middle, therefore, became the juicy scoring spot. Lower middle, while very well defended and not juicy in the least, remained a popular choice among shooters given its scoring guarantee if the goalie doesn’t stay there.

We can also analyze this game through the lens of game theory, which is made easy with an online calculator. The Nash equilibrium of this game is in mixed strategies — that is, players randomize over their location choices with certain specific weights. The equilibrium of this game has the shooter placing the most weight on the riskiest upper left area (which ROFL did not do) and the goalie placing the most weight on the surest lower middle area (which ROFL did do). In equilibrium, the goalie also mixes equally between the two 90-percent zones (which definitely did not happen in ROFL). In equilibrium, a goal is scored about 70 percent of the time (somewhat more than in ROFL).

This column’s motto bears repeating … Riddler Nation: Out of equilibrium since 2015.

Solution to last week’s Riddler Classic

Congratulations to 👏 Christopher Clark 👏 of Boston, winner of last week’s Riddler Classic!

Last week’s Classic continued the sports theme, taking us in this case to the basketball court for a friendly game of HORSE. The two competitors, Alice and Bob, were equally good shots and both were perfectly aware of their abilities — they could select a particular shot that they knew they would make 90 percent of the time, for example, or 2 percent, or 50 percent, or whatever difficulty they chose. Alice and Bob were also both sharp strategists who selected their shots optimally in an effort to win the game. Your challenge: If Alice went first, what type of shot should she take to begin the game?

Alice should take the surest shot she can, perhaps one with a 99 percent chance of going in. (Bob, if and when it becomes his turn, should do the same.)

Intuitively, the only advantage Alice has in this game is that she goes first. It’s a bit like having the serve in volleyball — only you can score. Anything less than Alice’s surest shot cedes some of this advantage to Bob. The game may go on a very, very long time, but assuming she doesn’t have to go home any time soon, Alice does well to nurse this first-shooter advantage.

Mathematically: Let’s say Alice’s chosen shot has an \(X\) chance of going in. She has a \((1-X)\) chance of losing her “serve,” an \(X(1-X)\) chance of giving Bob a letter and an \(X^2\) chance of returning to the initial state of the game. The only thing that matters here, as solver Guy Moore explained, is the ratio of the first two outcomes. That is maximized by making \(X\) as close to 1 as possible.

Solver Laurent Lessard plotted the chances that Alice would eventually win the game depending on the surest shot available to her. As that surest shot approaches 100 percent, Alice’s chances of winning reach nearly 55 percent.

Speaking of “eventually,” let’s say that indeed the surest shot available to Alice is a 99-percenter. In that case, the game would take some 700 shots on average. If we assume the players are pretty quick and each shot takes 10 seconds, we’re looking at a two-hour game of HORSE. Let’s hope it’s not too close to dinner.

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]

Why Is Bryce Harper’s Old Team Ahead Of Bryce Harper’s New Team?

For seven years, Bryce Harper was an integral part of the Washington Nationals both on and off the field. Harper remains the team’s fourth-best player by wins above replacement5 since the franchise moved from Montreal to Washington in 2005, trailing only Ryan Zimmerman, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. In 2015, he had one of the all-time great individual seasons by a batter, notching 9.7 WAR. At the same time, Harper was the face of the franchise in the press and probably the most famous player in baseball. When it became clear that Harper was leaving D.C. last winter, it looked like Washington had a huge void to fill — a concern only exacerbated when Harper went to the division-rival Philadelphia Phillies in a record-setting deal.

And yet, more than halfway into the Nationals’ first post-Bryce season, they appear to be just fine. While the Atlanta Braves are very likely to win the National League East, Washington is on track to snag the NL’s top wild card slot with 87 projected wins (according to the FiveThirtyEight forecast) and a 66 percent playoff probability. The Phillies, meanwhile, are only tracking for 83 wins and have just a 31 percent chance at the postseason. How is it possible that Harper’s old team has not only survived without him, but outperformed his new team up the Northeast Corridor?

For one thing, Washington always had a very underrated core outside of Harper — starting with future Hall of Fame pitcher Max Scherzer, who currently leads the major leagues in pitching WAR6 after finishing second in each of the previous two seasons. Scherzer began 2019 somewhat slow, but he’s been building a truly dominant campaign ever since; his fielding-independent pitching of 2.02 is 54 percent better than the MLB average and his strikeout rate of 12.6 per nine innings is one of the best in baseball history. If Scherzer maintains his current pace for a 9.6-WAR season — once he returns from injury — he would have the majors’ best pitching season since Randy Johnson in 2001 (and one of the 40 best of all-time).

Scherzer isn’t Washington’s only stellar starter, either. Strasburg and Patrick Corbin are on pace for 5.8 and 5.3 WAR, respectively, helping make the Nationals’ rotation the most valuable collection of starting pitchers in baseball this season. Add in a strong group of position players — including veterans such as Anthony Rendon and Howie Kendrick, plus up-and-comers like 20-year-old phenom Juan Soto (whose late home run stunned the Phillies in a Nationals win last week) and rookie Victor Robles — and the talent cupboard was far from bare in D.C. despite Harper’s exit.

Not everything is going perfectly right for the Harper-less Nats, of course: 26-year-old shortstop Trea Turner, who played like an All-Star (4.4 WAR) last season, is having a down year due to an early season injury and poor performance on defense. (Blending together the defensive metrics from Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs, Turner grades out as -9.2 runs worse than an average shortstop this season, after being basically average over the previous two years.)7 Outfielder Adam Eaton has been mediocre at the plate (.752 on-base plus slugging), and veteran second baseman Brian Dozier, who signed with Washington in the offseason, is hitting .231 and appears to be well past his prime. The team’s defense remains a weakness, and its bullpen has been very shaky (24th in relief WAR) beyond closer Sean Doolittle.

But all told, the Nationals have only suffered slightly on offense — their hitting WAR has gone from ninth last year to 13th this year — without Harper’s presence at the plate, and they’ve actually improved their leaguewide ranking in overall WAR from 11th with him in 2018 to 10th without him in 2019:

If the talent surrounding Harper in Washington was always underrated because of the gravitational pull of his star power, Harper’s own impact was probably always a bit overstated. That isn’t to say Harper is not a very good player; at age 26, he has already been roughly as good in his career as, say, Harold Baines (who at least some people thought should be in the Hall of Fame). But as my colleague Travis Sawchik and I wrote in March, Harper is also a flawed superstar — and he has played almost precisely to that form this season.

Looking at his previous three seasons, a reasonable expected baseline for Harper’s 2019 value for Philadelphia could have been set at about 3.1 WAR — three times his WAR from 2018 (2.4), plus two times his WAR from 2017 (4.7), plus his WAR from 2016 (2.2), divided by six. And lo and behold, if you prorate Harper’s current output (1.9 WAR in 95 games) to a full season, it comes out to … 3.2 WAR. Although there is a growing feeling among some Phillies observers that Harper’s Delaware Valley debut has been a disappointment, he has performed almost exactly how you might have predicted.

The only letdown might be this: Harper’s monster 2015 season did still imply some probability of an MVP-caliber performance — moreso than from the typical 26-year-old who’d had 9.3 WAR over his previous three seasons. So 2019 appears to be another season of Harper not converting what small chance there was of him ever reaching that hyper-productive ceiling again.

Harper’s path to that 3.2-WAR pace has been slightly different than usual. His strikeout rate continues to climb (somehow much faster than the MLB-wide rate), from 18.7 percent of plate appearances in 2016 to 26.2 percent so far in 2019, and his isolated power (.220) is the lowest it’s been in three seasons. Harper’s walk rate, which ballooned to 18.7 percent last season, is back down to 15 percent — more in line with his career rate of 14.8 percent. But his StatCast batting metrics have stayed relatively steady; his average exit velocity is actually up from MLB’s 82nd percentile to its 90th. Harper’s OPS has dropped from .889 to .845 on the season, thanks in large part to the decline in plate discipline, but he’s also hitting the ball just about as hard as ever. (He’s also heating up in July, with a .885 OPS this month, so we’ll have to keep an eye on Harper for a potential second-half surge.)

The best sign for Harper might be that his defense — which was conspicuously bad last season according to the advanced metrics — is back to being solid. Again averaging together the fielding values at FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference, Harper was 20.2 runs worse than average while playing mostly right field last season. That number was way out of step with his previous track record (4.3 runs above average over the previous two seasons) and easy to identify as a place for positive reversion to the mean in 2019. So sure enough, Harper has been 4.7 runs better than the average right fielder this season, which is enough to offset his OPS drop and leave him on pace for slightly more WAR in 2019 than in 2018.

Despite playing almost precisely to expectations, Harper is still just the fourth-best player on the Phillies, however, behind catcher J.T. Realmuto, first baseman Rhys Hoskins and pitcher Aaron Nola. (Shortstop Jean Segura and surging jack-of-all-trades Scott Kingery aren’t too far behind, either.) Philadelphia also has had its share of legitimately disappointing players, from starters Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez to outfielder Odubel Herrera (who was suspended for the season for domestic assault earlier this month), while injuries have largely robbed Philly of expected contributions from relievers David Robertson, Pat Neshek and Seranthony Dominguez.

The Phillies started the season with more (healthy) talent on paper than its current 83-win trajectory would suggest. But not by much. Harper’s fame always made his departure from Washington — and arrival in Philadelphia — feel more consequential than it actually was. The Nationals have survived without their erstwhile star because they made years of shrewd decisions filling out the roster around him. The Phillies have held steady this season8 in part because of bad injury luck and other underwhelming performances — but Harper can’t be included in that group, even if he isn’t playing to his ceiling. He’s been about as good as usual, and that was neither enough to tank Washington’s season in absentia or save Philadelphia’s by addition.

Check out our latest MLB predictions.

Why Don’t Americans Want D.C. To Be A State?

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

Recently things have been looking up for D.C.-statehood advocates. Almost every 2020 Democratic presidential candidate has expressed support for making the nation’s capital the 51st state. The House scheduled (and then postponed) a hearing on the issue. And as this native Washingtonian can attest, many locals marching in July 4 parades carried signs that said “No Taxation Without Representation,” a Revolutionary War slogan repurposed as the rallying cry for D.C. statehood.

There’s just one snag: Nearly two-thirds of Americans — 64 percent — oppose making D.C. a state, according to a recent Gallup poll.

While D.C. statehood is very popular within the District (in 2017, 86 percent of D.C. residents voted in support of a statehood referendum), support among Americans at large is much lower. The question hasn’t been polled that often, but in the only other polls we found,10 conducted in 1989 and 1992, a majority of Americans (around 55 percent) said they opposed D.C. statehood.

So what is it about D.C. statehood that gives Americans pause? The most obvious explanation might be that adding a state could change the makeup of Congress. Washington, D.C., is a heavily Democratic city — for example, just 4 percent of its residents voted for President Trump in 2016 — so D.C. statehood would almost certainly give Democrats two more senators and one more seat in the House, all of which could make Republicans less likely to support it.

But perhaps there’s something else going on here, as Americans haven’t always been opposed to adding new states. For instance, before Alaska became a state in 1959, 71 percent of Americans were in favor of adding it to the Union, according to a Gallup poll from 1957.11 And support for Puerto Rico’s statehood remains higher than support for the District’s. In Gallup’s most recent poll, they found that two-thirds of Americans favor statehood for Puerto Rico.

So it could be that Americans just don’t think of the nation’s capital as a state. In an interview with Politico, Gallup senior editor Jeff Jones said that Americans’ (largely negative) views on the federal government might be influencing the way they think about the District. A Gallup poll from January found that a majority of Americans, 63 percent, said they have “not very much” or no trust in the federal government’s ability to handle domestic problems, and, Jones said, it’s possible that this attitude “rains down on D.C.’s population and local government.”

Regardless of why many Americans are reluctant to grant D.C. statehood, the issue probably isn’t going away: Democrats are campaigning on it and D.C.’s mayor and nonvoting congressional representative are pushing for it, which is likely to keep the issue in the spotlight at least until the 2020 election.

Other polling bites

  • A Quinnipiac University poll of California Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters found that a plurality supported their senator, Kamala Harris, in the Democratic primary. Harris’ 23 percent narrowly edges out former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s at 21 percent, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders at 18 percent and Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 16 percent. This looks like good news for Harris, who is up from 17 percent in Quinnipiac’s April survey, though her lead over Biden falls within the poll’s margin of error.
  • President Trump tweeted on Sunday that four Democratic congresswomen of color — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Three days later, a YouGov poll asked Americans how they felt about the president’s tweets and found that a majority thought they were “terrible” or “bad.” But there was a wide partisan divide, with 87 percent of Democrats rating the tweets as “terrible” or “bad” and only 13 percent of Republicans saying the same.
  • An Economist/YouGov poll found that among U.S. adults who voted for Trump in 2016, a majority have either “very unfavorable” or “somewhat unfavorable” views of three of the four first-term congresswomen Trump alluded to in his tweet. Eighty-two percent said they have a very unfavorable or somewhat unfavorable view of Ocasio-Cortez, 73 percent said this of Omar and 67 percent said it of Tlaib, but just 36 percent had a negative opinion of Pressley.
  • Last week, Trump announced that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would conduct a series of raids to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants. A little over half of registered voters — 51 percent — said they “somewhat” or “strongly” supported the raids, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll published on Wednesday. Thirty-five percent of voters said they either “somewhat” or “strongly” opposed the raids.
  • A recent Gallup poll found that women between 18 and 49 are more likely to view the “American dream” as unattainable than men and women over 50. Nearly three-quarters of people over 50 and 73 percent of men under 50 said they believed that if they “work hard and play by the rules,” they will be able to achieve the American dream. Just 58 percent of women under 50 said the same.
  • A joint Washington Post-Reforma poll found that 55 percent of Mexican adults think the main problem facing their country is insecurity. The poll also found that 42 percent of Mexicans characterize U.S.-Mexico relations as “bad” or “very bad” while only 24 percent say they’re “good” or “very good.”
  • The percentage of U.S. adults who say that when they go online they mostly do it on a smartphone has nearly doubled since 2013, a Pew Research Center report found. Thirty-seven percent of U.S. adults said they usually access the internet on a cellphone in 2019, compared with 19 percent in 2013. Among Americans between 18 and 29, almost 60 percent say they mostly go online using their cellphone; six years ago, that figure was 41 percent.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.5 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 52.6 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.1 points). At this time last week, 42.5 percent approved and 52.4 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -9.9 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.5 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.4 percent, for a net approval rating of -10.9 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 6.4 percentage points (46.2 percent to 39.8 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 6.4 points (46.3 percent to 39.9 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 6.2 points (46.1 percent to 39.9 percent).

CORRECTION (July 19, 2019, 1:18 p.m.): A previous version of this article said that if D.C. became a state it would gain three electoral votes. D.C. already has three electoral votes.

Bulletpoint: Bernie Sanders Is Running Ahead Of The Pack On Health Care

As we talked about on this week’s podcast, Bernie Sanders is having trouble differentiating himself from Elizabeth Warren and other candidates competing for liberal voters. And some of the arguments that Sanders has been making — like that he’s more electable than Warren, even when voters don’t necessarily perceive that to be the case — have been dubious. But one number jumped out at me in the new CNN/UNH poll of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters that’s really good for Sanders: 34 percent think that Sanders is best able to handle health care.

By contrast, only 19 percent of voters in the poll put Sanders as their first choice (tied with Warren for second and behind Joe Biden’s 24 percent), so he’s still getting some credit from voters even if they don’t necessarily have him as their first choice.

And frankly, he probably should be getting credit. I don’t mean that as any sort of endorsement of his plan. It’s just that he has a plan — Medicare for All — when several of the other Democrats don’t. Instead, a number of other Democratic candidates — Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand — have signed up as co-sponsors of Sanders’s bill.

This is particularly strange for Warren, whose semi-official slogan is that “she has a plan for that.” As the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein points out, there are plenty of plausible versions of plans that fall under the rubric of single payer or Medicare for All, some of which would allow Americans to keep some forms of private insurance (without which, Medicare for All becomes much less popular). Harris, meanwhile, despite having co-sponsored Sanders’s bill, has had trouble articulating what her health care stance actually is, exactly. In the category of unforced errors, I find it hard to fathom why Warren and Harris are ceding leadership on health care to Sanders, and even to Biden, who released his own plan health care plan this week. And it comes on an issue that matters: Health care ranked as the top issue for Democrats in that CNN/UNH poll.

NBA Free Agency Diary: Today’s NBA Superstars Won’t Stop Team-Hopping

Keep track of the chaotic NBA offseason with our Free Agency Diary.


Dear NBA Diary,

Remember when NBA players wearing different jerseys was new and novel? When you’d experiment with weird trades in NBA Live’s franchise mode, knowing that nothing so crazy as, I don’t know, Russell Westbrook in a Houston Rockets uniform or Kevin Durant as a Brooklyn Net would actually happen? And when the first wave of truly wild moves — such as LeBron James joining the Miami Heat in 2010 — did actually happen, do you remember the way our minds were blown as we imagined superstar combinations we’d never seen before?

All of that is old news in 2019, now that we’ve seen countless Big Threes and even Hamptons Fives. If James signing to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh was groundbreaking and Durant joining the Golden State Warriors still managed to shock, we’re pretty desensitized to huge names heading for new places by now. Yes, Kawhi Leonard becoming an L.A. Clipper was a big story, but mostly because of what it means for next season’s championship chase — not because the idea of him in a different jersey was all that tough to comprehend. (We’d just finished watching the longtime Spur win a title in a Toronto Raptors jersey anyway.)

This is the era of player empowerment, as it’s recently been designated, and NBA players are placing a major premium on freedom of movement and choice of teammates. You can see this in the sheer number of different franchises for which top players suit up, relative to in the past. From the 1980s through the 2000s, a top 25 NBA player of a given decade (according to consensus Wins Created)1 played for 1.99 teams during a 10-year span, on average. During the 2010s, however, the average top 25 player has played for 2.76 teams. And that bump in franchises played for holds across most of the ranking slots from No. 1 to No. 25, if we plot them out in a chart:

Not every player has taken quite the same path as Dwight Howard, who ranks No. 18 in the 2010s and is now on his seventh team of the decade after being traded away from the Wizards this summer. But James, for instance, has played for three teams this decade — the Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers — while only one No. 1 player of the previous three decades — Kevin Garnett, who starred for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics during the 2000s — played for more than one team. The reality of today’s league is stars hop teams far more often than their counterparts did in earlier eras, controlling their own destinies rather than letting team executives slide them around like pawns on a chessboard.

It’s a trend NBA commissioner Adam Silver seems keenly aware of — if powerless to change, particularly with regard to the many deals that appeared to be made before the league’s mandated free-agency period was set to begin.

“My sense in the room today was, especially when it comes to free agency and the rules around it, that we’ve got work to do,” Silver told reporters last week, after the league’s board of governors meetings. “And as I said, it’s still the same principles of fair balance of power and a sense that it’s a level playing field. I think that’s what teams want to know. I think they’re put in difficult situations because when they’re sitting across from a player and whether it’s conversations that are happening earlier than they should or frankly things are being discussed that don’t fall squarely within the collective bargaining agreement, it puts teams in a very difficult position because they are reading or hearing that other teams are doing other things to compete.”

Even incentives put into place to theoretically curb player movement, such as larger maximum contracts (both in guaranteed length and total money) for players re-signing with their most recent teams, have failed to stop them from packing up and leaving town. Durant, for instance, left $57 million on the table to sign with Brooklyn rather than return to Golden State. Leonard gave up at least $80 million (!!) — if not even more — relative to what he could have gotten from a supermax deal with the Spurs, and about $30 million compared with what the Raptors could have given him by signing with the Clippers.

Today’s stars, as ESPN’s Rachel Nichols perfectly put it, can’t be bought. They’ve proven that they’re willing to give up mind-boggling sums of cash in order to make their own decisions.

Is all of this good for the league? Judging from the reaction on social media or in search traffic — where the NBA got playoff-level attention during the first week of July — the game’s popularity has seldom been higher, and the craziness of this offseason has only helped. I’ve said before that, if you view the modern NBA through a player-focused lens, it makes the most sense as a gigantic real-life soap opera. The concept of franchises is just incidental to all that, merely providing structure for the individual drama.

Of course, if you are a fan of a team, it hurts to see your favorite players leave. The Raptors did everything they possibly could to retain Leonard’s services, but they reportedly had practically no chance of re-signing him even as they were winning the title. Although the players should owe no loyalty to team owners (err, “governors”) beyond the contracts they sign, from a fan’s perspective it seems to make little sense to root for any specific NBA team. Even if a team is lucky enough to acquire a superstar, it’s far from guaranteed he would stay more than a season or two in today’s climate.

But the other side of that coin is that it’s more possible than ever for downtrodden teams to land a superstar in the first place. The Nets and Clippers have spent more of their histories as laughingstocks than contenders, particularly since both were seen as the “little brothers” in their markets (behind the Knicks — LOL — and Lakers). The franchises were not traditional free-agent destinations. But as stars become more focused on setting up the right situation for themselves and the players they want to play with, even teams without a history of snagging big-name players can make themselves an attractive option. It’s a different way of doing business — but in today’s era of superstar team-hopping, it might just be the new normal.

Check out our latest NBA predictions.

SEO And Migrations: Matt Cutts On Changing Domain Names

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Changing your website’s domain name
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Keeping your domain name but moving to a new IP address?

https://ultimateseo.org/seo-and-migrations-matt-cutts/