Kirsten Gillibrand Is 2020’s Misfit

More women are running for president than ever. But there’s no one way to do it. This is the second article in a series exploring the way that the female candidates in the 2020 race are navigating questions of identity, sexism and public critique.


As a child, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand recalls being mesmerized by the jiggly arms of middle-aged women stuffing envelopes with political mailers. This is part of her stump speech — a thing you start to notice about Gillibrand is that she seems quite alive to the physicality of being a woman in the world. She talks about the haircuts she got that law firm bosses praised instead of her work, and the indignity of being underestimated by her first political opponent as “just another pretty face” (perhaps not coincidentally, also a humblebrag). In her 2014 book, she mentions her weight — and other people mentioning her weight — well over a dozen times.

Gillibrand might have thought that 2018’s “year of the woman” fervor would sweep along her presidential campaign. Her most high-profile political battles have been about the injustices — large and small — facing women. If voters know her, it’s likely for her fight with the Pentagon on military sexual assault (her reform bill was defeated in 2014) or for when she became “the senator from the state of #MeToo” when she was the first — though not the last — Democratic senator to call for Al Franken to resign.

Behind the crusading work for women is a pragmatic political career. Since her start in politics as an upstate New York congresswoman, Gillibrand evolved her position on guns and immigration. On the trail, Gillibrand talks a lot about how electable she is given the fact that she won 18 Trump-voting counties in her 2018 Senate campaign. But being electable in your home state in 2018 doesn’t necessarily mean you’re electable in a 2020 presidential primary. Gillibrand is currently polling at a dismal 0.5 percent average in polls. Something hasn’t clicked. It might be that Gillibrand’s attempt to mix her activist instincts with a moderate’s pragmatism is too odd a pairing for today’s Democratic Party.

***

New Hampshire’s highway medians were carpeted with purple lupine and clots of daisies when I caught Gillibrand on a swing through the state in mid-June. Six months into her campaign, she was still playing small venues like The Franklin Studio coffee shop in Franklin, New Hampshire. (Down the street was Granite State Hedgehogs, a purveyor of actual, factual hedgehogs.)

Mike and Pat Kane, retirees from northern Massachusetts, sat in the back of a small room filled with tchotchkes, waiting for Gillibrand to arrive. They hadn’t picked a candidate yet but were intrigued enough by Gillibrand to have made the drive from out of state. Pat described the couple as “socially liberal and fiscally conservative. “We’re not interested in the warriors,” Mike said, meaning Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

While she’s tried hard to make a splash in the overly crowded field, Gillibrand is still introducing herself to voters (her name recognition is in the middle of the pack among 2020 contenders). Gillibrand’s stump speech is heavy on biography, with quick homages to her politicking grandmother and her turkey-shooting mother before a mention of how foolish her 2008 congressional opponent was to launch attack ads on the pregnant mother of a toddler. (Later, Gillibrand told me that her strategy is to overcome media storylines by burrowing into the hearts and minds of as many early state voters as possible: “I have a chance to win them over regardless of what’s going on in the national narrative, so I can break through.”)

There isn’t really a mention of the #MeToo movement in Gillibrand’s stump speech, though she does cite Hillary Clinton’s “women’s rights are human rights” speech as the inspiration for the start of her political career. It’s a fraught reference masquerading as a banal one. In 2017, Gillibrand said Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency because of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. That, along with some of Gillibrand’s other outspoken statements during the height of the #MeToo movement, has in many ways backfired for her politically. Her Clinton comments raised the ire of both Clinton allies and party donors. One prominent Clinton adviser called Gillibrand a “hypocrite” for taking the “Clintons’ money, endorsements and seat,” a reference to the fact that Gillibrand was appointed to Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat in 2009 when she became secretary of state for President Obama.

Many traditional large-dollar donors in the party reacted adversely to Gillibrand’s Franken comments, and in an April campaign memo, her team acknowledged that her fundraising “was adversely impacted by certain establishment donors — and many online — who continue to punish Kirsten for standing up for her values and for women.” Gillibrand has continued to struggle with donations and only recently met the 65,000 individual donor threshold for the first debate. Inexperienced candidates Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson both met the metric before Gillibrand.

Gillibrand’s “Brave Wins” slogan seems to reference her trailblazing on issues and her ability to weather harsh criticism (and to take on Trump). But in a primary that has increasingly become about “big idea” reimaginings of American institutions — the health care system, the Electoral College, consumer finance protections, college tuition and debt — she has gotten somewhat lost in the 24-person shuffle. While Gillibrand introduced a paid family leave act this year, it’s not one of the marquee issues of the primary campaign. Her most high-profile work is centered on concerns perceived as affecting women most — sexual harassment, sexual assault — but it’s fellow Democratic contender Sen. Kamala Harris who has most recently grabbed headlines for a plan that would place the burden of equal pay on companies rather than on under-compensated individuals (typically women). In some ways, the progressive drift of the party on issues of identity and gender leaves Gillibrand as part of a progressive pack rather than a leader on gender equality issues. Where Democratic candidates make the most splash seems to be on issues of the economy, often on capitalism itself. Gillibrand has adopted many of the new progressive ideas, but she hasn’t trailblazed on them.

Perhaps that’s why she’s tacking back to a posture of moderation. The bills that Gillibrand mentioned in New Hampshire aren’t necessarily flashy ones, but they have a specific audience in mind. “In the last Congress, I passed 18 bills with a Republican House, Senate and President signing them into law. Those are common-sense bills, like rural broadband, money for made-in-America manufacturing, money for small businesses — things that can actually make a difference in places like Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania,” she said.

Gillibrand had just finished her second event of the day at a bar in Plymouth and we sat across from each other at a high-top table. Earlier she had called herself “the most electable candidate” in the field and I asked Gillibrand whether she worried if the political environment had changed such that a liberal woman from New York is seen as too culturally far afield from swing voters in the Midwest. “Not at all. I think I’m perfect for those voters, in fact, because I’ve been representing those rural places in this climate for the past 10 years.”

When she represented her upstate congressional district 10 years ago, Gillibrand had an “A” rating from the NRA and was against protections for sanctuary cities. She quickly changed those positions to jibe with her downstate constituents, a move that got her plenty of critique as disingenuous. That rapid evolution is part of what makes her 2020 campaign trail mix of progressivism and professed moderate appeal so interesting — it’s high-risk moderation, given that Gillibrand has already been labeled pliable to the whims of the electorate at any given moment.

“I honestly think that Sen. Gillibrand is closer to Kirsten Gillibrand the human being than the congresswoman was,David Paterson, the former governor of New York who appointed Gillibrand to her Senate seat told me. Her mistake, Paterson said, had been that she didn’t manage the ideological transition well in public. “You supervise your own evolution,” he said of politicians.

I was in New Hampshire on one of the last days of motorcycle week. Fairly or not, Trump has become associated with the biker community, at times hinting that they might serve as enforcers of a kind (for what and because of what is never clear). Heading to Gillibrand’s Plymouth bar event, I passed a “Live Free and Dine” sign and a gaggle of bikers. The roads were lousy with Harleys, too, which made the appearance of a white Audi with a Pod Save America “Friend of the Pod” bumper sticker on the road from Franklin to Plymouth all the more striking. Gillibrand’s proposed coalition is, if you are to believe her, Trump sympathizers and Democratic establishment liberals. Given the cultural and political divisions of America in 2019, it’s hard to imagine the two groups crossing into Gillibrand’s lane, whatever that lane is. As the senator might say with a pepped-up grin, “It’s so early.” She’s still hoping for her moment.


From ABC News:
Gillibrand visits GA after speaking out against abortion bans


What We’re Watching For In The First Democratic Debates

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


sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): The first Democratic primary debates are finally here. And with two back-to-back nights, featuring 10 candidates each, it’ll be a challenge for many candidates to make an impression, especially those hovering around 1 percent in the polls.

For reference, here’s Wednesday’s lineup: Bill de Blasio, Tim Ryan, Julián Castro, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee and John Delaney.

And Thursday’s: Marianne Williamson, John Hickenlooper, Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet and Eric Swalwell.

So let’s talk about the goals we think candidates have for each debate and what we see as the stakes, starting with Wednesday’s lineup.

Sound good?

nrakich (Nathaniel Rakich, elections analyst): Sounds great. I can’t believe it’s debate season already — we were watching 2018 election returns come in just seven months ago!

sarahf: Haha. But watching a debate is such a different experience than watching election results trickle in. So, what are you all looking for on night one?

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): Power ties.

That’s it.

Nothing else.

Listen, I’ll say it up front and then engage more deeply: Presidential debates are not real debates. They are chances for candidates to slot in their talking points. They are pseudo-events — PR opportunities manufactured by parties and news organizations to provide turning points and tension during a long slog. They are only meaningful because we decide to give them meaning. (I will repeat this when we have to cover political conventions.)

But I guess that said, I’m curious to see what the people at the dregs of the polls are going to do with their time and if any of them are impressive. I think for someone like Gillibrand who’s polling poorly but has been in politics for a long time, the debates are a real moment.

nrakich: True, but I will say debates can be meaningful precisely because they are PR opportunities. For many of these candidates, it will be by far the most exposure their talking points have gotten yet.

And maybe, say, Eric Swalwell has really good talking points, and the nation realizes that and he jumps to 7 percent in next week’s polls.

Debates may be theater, but they can also have an impact.

That said, we probably shouldn’t expect the entire landscape of the race to change.

clare.malone: I don’t say my debate piece to be glib. I just think we need to be cognizant of who and what are shaping the presidential election right now.

I’m also curious to see how many people actually tune in. That says a lot.

nrakich: Agreed, and I wonder how this week’s debates will rate. The highest-rated Democratic debate of 2016 had 15.3 million viewers; the highest-rated Republican debate had 24 million.

Republicans drew more eyeballs than Democrats in 2016

Ratings, in millions of viewers, for the 2016 Democratic and Republican prime-time primary debates

Debate Democrats Republicans
1st 15.3m
24.0m
2nd 8.5
22.9
3rd 7.8
14.0
4th 10.2
13.5
5th 4.5
18.2
6th 8.0
11.1
7th 5.5
12.5
8th 6.0
13.3
9th 5.6
13.5
10th
14.5
11th
16.9
12th
11.9

Democrats had only nine primary debates in the 2016 cycle.

Sources: News Reports

geoffrey.skelley (Geoffrey Skelley, elections analyst): I’m with Clare that it’s going to be interesting to see how the potential also-ran candidates try to have a moment (or moments). There are 20 candidates, 10 in each debate, but most of them are polling below 5 percent if you average all the polls the Democratic National Committee considered for debate qualification.

The second debate features more heavyweight candidates

Combined polling averages of the candidates in each of the first two 2019 Democratic debates

June 26 debate No. of Polls Avg June 27 debate No. of Polls Avg
Warren 23 8.7% Biden 23 29.9%
O’Rourke 23 5.1 Sanders 23 18.3
Booker 23 2.6 Harris 23 7.6
Klobuchar 23 2.0 Buttigieg 23 5.8
Castro 22 0.9 Yang 21 1.0
Ryan 16 0.6 Gillibrand 23 0.5
Gabbard 23 0.5 Hickenlooper 23 0.4
Inslee 22 0.4 Bennet 16 0.3
De Blasio 15 0.4 Williamson 19 0.2
Delaney 23 0.2 Swalwell 18 0.2
Total support 21.4 Total support 64.0
Average support 2.1 Average support 6.4

Candidate averages based on 23 qualifying polls sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee for determining debate qualification that have been conducted since the start of 2019. Total support does not add up to 100 percent due to undecided respondents, support for candidates who didn’t end up running for president and support for candidates who didn’t qualify.

Source: Polls

sarahf: What do we make of the argument that the first night is Elizabeth Warren’s to lose? Too much of a simplification?

nrakich: Well, as the table above shows, and as Geoffrey and I wrote earlier, Warren is the only top-tier candidate in Wednesday’s debate. That could work to her advantage.

But on the other hand, it’s dangerous to have high expectations like that!

Other candidates in that debate may be skilled debaters as well — in particular, I’m thinking Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker.

clare.malone: I think night one is likely to be friendlier. Warren is going to be targeted, I’d guess, in the same way that Sanders and Biden will be, but maybe won’t be quite as under fire.

geoffrey.skelley: Given the fact it’s the first debate, I lean toward the camp that thinks Warren might benefit from being the lone star on stage. As the polling leader, she’ll likely get the most time and questions, which I think will let her policy mojo shine.

And because it’s the first debate, it’ll still get eyeballs even though a lot of big hitters go Thursday.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Wow I just got warped into this chat!

And I just wanna start off by saying that I think the tone so far is verging on the side of underestimating the impact of the debates. It’s not that they’re that important, but that everything else isn’t that important.

sarahf: That’s fair, Nate. FiveThirtyEight contributor Julia Azari wrote a piece earlier this week on what we know about primary debates, and I thought it was interesting that she found that studies generally show that primary debates actually have a better chance of changing voters’ minds than general election debates. And that’s because voters can’t rely on their party identification as much when selecting which candidate to support.

natesilver: But in terms of the first night, I think the idea that it’s “Candidate X’s night to lose” is generally a dangerous position for that candidate to be in because it means expectations are set fairly high.

I also think Warren may be someone who does better with repeated, prolonged exposure. So she could be good in say a four-person debate, but I’m not as sure about a 10-person debate.

With that said, I think the media is still generally bullish on the “Warren emerges as Biden’s main rival” angle.

clare.malone: “Repeated prolonged exposure” sounds oddly gruesome, Nate.

nrakich: The New York Times had a whole article about Elizabeth Warren’s academic debate career.

That’s definitely expectations-raising.

geoffrey.skelley: I get the expectations danger — it’s a huge part of the primary process. But I wonder if it’ll be a wash because the only candidate who really has a target on his/her back is Biden.

sarahf: Why do you think that, Geoff?

geoffrey.skelley: Well, the media is going to look for storylines, of course, but Warren probably isn’t in much danger of having other candidates on stage attacking her. After all, she’s been more in the driver’s seat on policy issues.

nrakich: I think it depends on who is doing the attacking. Someone like Tim Ryan might attack Biden because he thinks Biden is in his “lane.” But Bernie Sanders might go after Warren, perceiving that he is losing support to her.

geoffrey.skelley: Right, but Warren won’t be on the stage with Sanders or Biden.

So in terms of optics, I think the fact she’s undoubtedly the one star on that stage might help her.

nrakich: I don’t think a candidate has to be on stage for candidates to attack them.

For example, I think a certain 45th president is going to be on the receiving end of more attacks than all of the Democratic candidates put together.

sarahf: Yeah, I’m with Rakich. And I think it might even be a good strategy for Warren to pit herself against the other Democratic front-runners, even if they aren’t on the stage.

natesilver: So if you’re, like, Klobuchar or Booker, what are your goals in the debate?

clare.malone: I think someone like Klobuchar needs to introduce herself on some level.

nrakich: 1. Have a viral moment or a killer line that will be replayed on cable news/can be leveraged for fundraising. 2. Chip away at the candidates who are ahead of you in your “lane.” That’s probably Biden for both of them.

clare.malone: Booker might be likely to use some of his anti-Biden momentum from the last week or so.

sarahf: Right, he’s already seen an uptick in cable news clips.

natesilver: But don’t Clare and Rakich’s arguments contradict one another?

nrakich: I wouldn’t say so, Nate. Often, the best introduction can be a defining moment.

clare.malone: Which part of Rakich’s thing?

natesilver: Like, re-introducing yourself and trying for a killer one-liner seem like different objectives.

geoffrey.skelley: The one danger in attacking is that you can’t know how it’s going to affect things, if it does at all. This is especially true in a super-crowded field. For instance, what if Booker comes off looking bad for going “too far” in attacking Biden, and somehow Klobuchar benefits because of how she handled herself?

natesilver: But by going on the attack don’t you cheapen yourself to some degree?

When you want to project seriousness and steadiness?

clare.malone: Killer lines don’t have to be flip.

That seems like YOUR projection 🙂

I think someone like Buttigieg could engineer that whole “I’m no fisherman, but I know bait when I see it” and could turn it into a moment where he shows how he’s above the fray.

That is, killer line (in the eye of the beholder) + delivered seriously.

natesilver: But I mean if you’re Harris or Buttigieg, I think you wanna be above the fray, especially if Bernie and Biden go after one another.

I also think Harris and Buttigieg are in a considerably more secure position than, say, Klobuchar.

clare.malone: For sure, Klobuchar and Gillibrand I put in the same category of needing to have a big night.

sarahf: So, that’s something I want to probe a bit more. It seems as if we’re all operating under the assumption that these first debates could shake up the polling in the race, right? So I guess my question is when do we think this will happen?

And is there a possibility that things might not change that much until later in the cycle?

geoffrey.skelley: I would think the early debates have the potential to have a bigger effect than the later debates because people aren’t yet familiar with many of the candidates.

nrakich: I think things definitely have the potential to change within a week or two.

I think we’ll need a couple of days to see how the debate is playing out on cable news — what’s getting replayed, etc.

Then we’ll need a week — or a little less — for that to start reverberating in polls.

natesilver: I mostly disagree. I think the effects will tend to be strongest in the first 24-48 hours, which, yeah, could take a few days for us to detect.

But I think it happens pretty fast.

clare.malone: Everything Nate says in this chat sounds like he’s dealing with a deadly virus.

sarahf: But do you think we could be overestimating folks’ interest in the debates? What was it that AP-NORC poll found this week, that only 35 percent of Democrats are really paying attention to the race so far? I mean, clearly, that’s not us … but I guess I’m torn on whether these debates will really move the dial much. (Also reader, stay tuned — we’re going to be tracking some of these questions in real-time with a new poll from Morning Consult!)

natesilver: Well, if only 35 percent of Democrats are paying a lot of attention to the campaign, how many of them will actually vote in the primaries?

clare.malone: How many, Nate?

natesilver: There were about 30 million votes in 2016, which is a lot but not that many.

By comparison, there are somewhere on the order of roughly 160 million registered voters.

Of whom let’s say 70 million are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents in states with open primaries.

So 35 percent of 70 million is about 25 million, which is not far from 2016 primary turnout!

geoffrey.skelley: This is all just a complicated way of saying a lot people don’t really tune into politics until the general election.

If they do at all.

sarahf: I don’t know, 25 million was probably more than I was expecting.

nrakich: But remember that more people than usual are saying they are interested in the 2020 election.

Sixty-nine percent of voters said in an April/May NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that they were very interested in the 2020 election, which is almost as many as said that in October of 2012 or 2016!

natesilver: I’m just saying I think people are learning the wrong lesson from the “daily controversy of the week didn’t move the numbers” stories.

The debates tend to generate a LOT more polling movement than the daily controversies.

clare.malone: But does that movement last?

Or is it a proverbial “bump”? Like a bump from a convention or when you hop in the race?

natesilver: It’s often a bump.

But everything can be a bump.

clare.malone: 🤰

[bump]

nrakich: But the thing about a bump is that your horse-race numbers might fall back to earth, but people don’t un-remember you.

And boosting your name recognition is half the battle.

Look at Pete Buttigieg — his polling numbers have fallen down a bit, but he still has pretty high name recognition and favorability ratings.

natesilver: I’m most curious about the candidates who have good favorables but not that much first-place support, like Harris and Booker in particular.

sarahf: This story compared candidates’ net favorability (favorable rating minus unfavorable rating) in May to the first of the year, but I think there’s still a lot of room for these candidates to become better known and improve their favorability ratings. Even someone like Buttigieg, who has seen tremendous growth in name recognition since he entered the race, has the potential to be better known and better liked. After all, only about 60 percent of Democrats have an opinion of him.

Major 2020 Candidates change in the polls and name recognition

nrakich: Well, I would be cautious about going too far there, Sarah — those last 40 percent are probably the hardest people to get the attention of.

And I’d guess the Democrats who will tune into the debates this week are probably disproportionately from the 60 percent of Democrats who have heard of him.

sarahf: That’s fair, but I think if he has a good debate performance, he could still get closer to, say, Harris’s or Warren’s lower bound.

And as to my meta-debate question: What impact do we think, if any, the moderators are going to have on shaping the debate?

natesilver: How they divide time between all 10 candidates and the 3-4 candidates in the middle of the stage each night will be important.

If I were a moderator then TBH I’d be like “fuck these candidates polling at zero percent” and focus on the ones with more plausible shots at the nomination.

I think that serves the audience better.

But that’s why I’d never be asked to be a moderator.

clare.malone: That’s why you’re not a moderator.

Jinx.

natesilver: Haha.

clare.malone: And in some ways, they’re playing within the strictures that the DNC has laid out.

nrakich: We’ve had this debate in previous Slack chats, Nate. I think, especially for these early debates, the moderator really has a responsibility to give equal time to everyone.

If they haven’t made their case after being given fair time in the first few debates, then I think it is fair for the media to start #winnowing.

geoffrey.skelley: I don’t know. I’m pretty skeptical of the notion John Delaney deserves equal time with, say, Warren. But he should get a shot to answer some questions, of course.

natesilver: Nah, fuck those people. They already get way too much media attention I think.

And it’s to the point where they’re sort of exploiting the media’s goodwill in certain ways.

nrakich: John Delaney was mentioned in 0.3 percent of cable news clips last week! Warren was mentioned in 15.5 percent.

natesilver: Which is 0.2 percent more than he should be in probably.

I feel differently about the ones who actually have credentials, like Inslee or Klobuchar or Booker.

clare.malone: That feels like a shot at Marianne Williamson.

natesilver: But if you’re just some random backbench U.S. rep. or mayor, you’d better earn your media attention.

geoffrey.skelley: I mean, the Democrats did set up rules that ended up keeping out a twice-elected U.S. governor and let in a spiritual adviser to Oprah.

But everyone knew the rules, so that’s also on Steve Bullock, too.

clare.malone: It’s definitely on Bullock!

I don’t begrudge Williamson for being popular amongst a certain set of voters.

sarahf: Yeah, I thought Williamson had some engaging, thoughtful answers in that New York Times video series where they interviewed all the candidates.

And she was way more dynamic than Yang.

Sorry, but I’m not sorry.

nrakich: She’s charismatic, I will give her that. (It’s hard not to be when you’re a motivational speaker by trade.)

natesilver: She’s not actually popular, though.

It doesn’t take much to hit one percent in three polls and get 65,000 people to donate to you in a country of 330 million people.

clare.malone: Well, to be fair, a lot of the candidates are not that popular.

sarahf: That’s true. But it does seem as if operatives in the Democratic Party would be upset with a Williamson nomination (as they would be with Sanders or Tulsi Gabbard).

Gabbard or Williamson draw a lot of opposition

Share of respondents who said they would not consider supporting a candidate in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary

Activists Oppose
candidate april 2019 june
Gabbard 59%
69%
Williamson
66
Sanders 50
59
Moulton
59
Yang 35
55
Messam
55
De Blasio
52
Delaney 38
45
Ryan
45
Hickenlooper 29
41
Swalwell
41
Bullock
38
O’Rourke 29
34
Bennet 26
34
Biden 41
31
Klobuchar 29
28
Gillibrand 26
28
Buttigieg 26
21
Inslee 21
17
Warren 18
14
Castro 15
10
Booker 6
10
Harris 3
7

Respondents were asked about the 23 commonly mentioned candidates listed above, but they were also provided space to write in candidates not listed.

Source: SETH MASKET, “LEARNING FROM LOSS: THE DEMOCRATS, 2016-2020”

But OK, I don’t think we’ve actually talked about what we’re expecting in night two specifically.

… Is it clarity on Biden’s policy positions?

natesilver: No, I think it’s whether Biden and Bernie look old and stale up there and whether that means that something clicks in voters’ heads just from seeing a number of younger, credible alternatives to them.

nrakich: Yeah, I think the biggest difference-maker could be whether Biden shows his age.

The Joe Biden that most people remember is from the 2008 or 2012 campaign trail.

He hasn’t debated since that vice presidential debate against Paul Ryan seven years ago.

He’s 76 now. And we know that Americans are hesitant about electing a president who’s over 70.

sarahf: OK, fine, Biden is old. But so is Trump. And I think the moderators will at least push him a little on the issues as he hasn’t made his views on many policies known.

geoffrey.skelley: And the other candidates.

clare.malone: Definitely, the other candidates.

natesilver: Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhh I’m not sure that isn’t at least halfway a media trope rather than a reality about Biden.

Other than Warren, a lot of the candidates have fairly vague policy positions.

nrakich: Agreed, Nate.

natesilver: And Biden has provided detail on some issues like climate and immigration.

nrakich: He’s also surprisingly liberal on issues like the minimum wage (he wants to raise it to $15 an hour). I think the media narrative around Biden’s policy positions is a little out of step with reality and shaped more by decades-old controversies.

clare.malone: What are you arguing?

That moderators won’t push him?

That’s slightly beside the point. I think other candidates will likely go after him.

Bernie, for instance, comes to mind.

nrakich: I just don’t see what Bernie has to gain from going after Biden? On the other hand, that assumes he is a rational strategic actor …

natesilver: Oh, see, I don’t see what Bernie has to lose from going after Biden.

I think Bernie has to be like “I’m the best overall contrast with Biden.” Right now, I think he’s done too much playing to his niche and not enough to the broader electorate.

It’s a tough balance to strike.

But Sanders has been on a downward trajectory in the polls, and I don’t think he’s someone who should be too risk-averse.

clare.malone: But … do you think he’s going to try to broaden?

geoffrey.skelley: Not especially.

clare.malone: That doesn’t seem too Sanders-y.

natesilver: I think he’s been getting bad advice by not trying to broaden more.

geoffrey.skelley: But Sanders’s strategy is predicated on winning with a plurality in a fragmented, crowded field.

natesilver: In which case I guess you have to take out Biden.

And sorta win ugly.

But, like, I think his strategy has been mistaken from the get-go.

Maybe it’s too late to change it now, though.

nrakich: I guess he does have lots of practice going after “establishment Democrats” from his 2016 debates with Hillary Clinton.

Maybe that is his comfort zone.

geoffrey.skelley: Right. I guess the approach Sanders takes at the debates might give us insight into whether he’s considering an alternate path to win the nomination.

natesilver: I think Sanders maybe doesn’t realize that running as the anti-establishment candidate might have been a good strategy to finish a respectable second place to Hillary Clinton given the unique circumstances of 2016, and that it’s probably a pretty bad strategy otherwise for winning presidential nominations.

clare.malone: I think he wants to run his way, though.

natesilver: Well, good for him but I think he’s quite unlikely to win the nomination that way.

clare.malone: Fair, Nate, but I think we have to consider what might be driving his logic. Which means I think we have to concede that Sanders sees himself as an ideological purist, or a totally alternate choice.

sarahf: OK, last question. Two back-to-back nights of debates complicates the viewing experience — the candidates are split, some lower-tier candidates maybe shouldn’t even be on the stage, and other candidates didn’t even make the cut. But, setting that aside, what are the big takeaways you’re looking for?

geoffrey.skelley: I feel like one of the lower-tier candidates is going to have a viral moment of sorts, so who is that? They’re actively trying to do this, by the way.

nrakich: Took the words right out of my mouth, Geoffrey.

natesilver: AnDrEw YaNg.

sarahf: mArIaNnE wILlIaMsOn.

Woo, fun lettering.

nrakich: What does the fun lettering thing mean? Are you being serious, but in a winking way? Or are you mocking the thing you are writing?

natesilver: It’s a troll font.

nrakich: Right, which kind of troll?

natesilver: With good trolling you’re never sure what type of trolling it is.

sarahf: To be clear, I’m just trolling Nate.

Can We Just Let One Season End Before Predicting The Next?

In the last couple of weeks, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Milwaukee Bucks both earned themselves a dubious honor. Each was crowned a champion … of next season’s betting odds. (Congrats! That and $2.45 will get you a large10 coffee at Starbucks.) According to data provided to FiveThirtyEight by the betting sites SportsBetting.ag and BetOnline.ag, Tampa Bay was installed as 8-to-1 favorites to win the 2020 Stanley Cup within hours of the St. Louis Blues winning the 2019 Stanley Cup, while the Bucks were made 9-to-2 favorites for next year’s NBA title before the confetti even settled on the Toronto Raptors’ 2019 victory.

It’s all part of a movement toward increased focus on next year’s potential winners, practically before the current champs can even be entered into the record books. “The day-after, next-year title odds have certainly become a big deal in our industry,” said Scott Cooley, a spokesman for the two oddsmakers above. “We started doing them with the online books maybe six to seven years ago, and Vegas has caught on over the last couple of years.”

The media has hopped on the trend as well in recent years. ESPN reported on the 2020 NBA favorite picks in the betting markets roughly 17 hours after the Raptors’ Game 6 win over the Golden State Warriors ended,11 and often the reports will come even sooner after the championship than that. Speculation about the next champ can practically bump the current champ out of the news cycle.

Those two kinds of teams — current champs and speculative future champs — overlap surprisingly infrequently, depending on the sport. In the data we analyzed, which covers the four major men’s pro leagues going back to either 2009 (for the NBA, MLB and NFL) or 2010 (NHL), the just-crowned champion was installed as the following season’s favorite 17 times in 45 chances (38 percent). Six of the 12 defending NBA champs since 2009 were in that category, which makes sense for a sport in which previous postseason success plays a disproportionate role in the championship hunt. By comparison, the defending Super Bowl winner was instantly named the next NFL favorite just three times in 11 chances over the same span, a number that includes the current Patriots, who are fresh off a win in Super Bowl LIII.

The Pats are perennial next-day picks, gaining that distinction seven times in the 11 NFL seasons we looked at, including 2019. (That’s sort of what happens when you maintain the top dynasty in the history of football, if not all of pro sports.) But even the Patriots have failed to convert those next-day titles into real ones with some regularity: They won as favorites in 2016 and 2018, but lost in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2017. That’s not too surprising — if we look at the history of next-day favorites, they lose far more often than they win (because even the favorite is typically an underdog against the field):

How often have next-day favorites won?

Eventual championship status for teams named next-day favorites according to the betting markets

NHL NBA
Season Team Won? Team Won?
2020 Lightning ? Bucks ?
2019 Lightning Warriors
2018 Penguins Warriors ✔
2017 Penguins ✔ Warriors ✔
2016 Blackhawks Cavaliers ✔
2015 Blackhawks ✔ Heat
2014 Penguins Heat
2013 Penguins Heat ✔
2012 Canucks Heat ✔
2011 Blackhawks Heat
2010 Red Wings Lakers ✔
2009 Celtics
NFL MLB
Season Team Won? Team Won?
2020
2019 Patriots ? Astros, Red Sox ?
2018 Patriots ✔ Astros
2017 Patriots Cubs
2016 Panthers, Patriots*, Seahawks ✔ Cubs ✔
2015 Seahawks Dodgers, Nationals
2014 Seahawks Dodgers
2013 49ers, Broncos Tigers
2012 Patriots Phillies
2011 Patriots Phillies
2010 Colts Yankees
2009 Patriots Yankees ✔

* The Patriots were NFL co-favorites in 2016 and won the Super Bowl.

Sources: SPORTSBETTING.AG, BETONLINE.AG

A new champion doesn’t always get very much respect from the oddsmakers in the immediate wake of its victory. The Raptors, for instance, opened the 2020 championship betting at fourth in the NBA (8-to-1 odds), while the Blues started 2020 in a tie for fifth in the NHL (12-to-1 odds) right after hoisting the Cup. Most of the time, however, the champs stay pretty close to the top of the sport. Only five of the 45 new champs we looked at fell out of the top five for their league when looking ahead to the following season: The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies (sixth looking ahead to 2009), the 2015 Denver Broncos (seventh for 2016), the 2018 Washington Capitals (eighth for 2019), the 2011 New York Giants (eighth for 2012) and the 2012 Baltimore Ravens (13th for 2013).

Number of champions in the NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL with a certain ranking in the next-day betting odds for the following season, since 2009

Rank Count
1st 17
2nd 12
3rd 5
4th 2
5th 4
6th 1
7th 1
8th 2
9th 0
10th 0
11th 0
12th 0
13th 1

Sources: SPORTSBETTING.AG, BETONLINE.AG

This summer was actually an unusual moment in that regard, between the NBA and NHL. It was the first time in our data where both leagues’ champions opened in fourth place or worse in the next season’s odds at the same time. This is perhaps because both the Raptors and Blues were first-time champions in their respective sports, and each was a relative surprise champion as well (the Blues began the season as the 19th-ranked betting choice, 40-to-1 to win it all, while the Raptors were ninth with 60-to-1 title odds).

This isn’t the first time the books have shown an affinity for a team — like, say, the Lightning — whose previous season didn’t end in glorious fashion. But that doesn’t happen very often. Granting that some sports’ playoff structures don’t feature rounds of equivalent size before their playoff quarterfinals,12 Tampa Bay joined the 2012 Pittsburgh Penguins and 2010 Miami Heat as the only teams in our sample to exit in the first round of the NBA or NHL playoffs and then immediately become championship favorites the day after the playoffs ended. (And that Heat team comes with a special disclaimer we’ll talk about later.)

Number of next-day betting odds favorites in the NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL that finished the previous playoffs a given number of rounds from the championship, since 2009

Rounds From Championship Count
0 16
1 12
2 9
3 6
4 3

Sources: SPORTSBETTING.AG, BETONLINE.AG

More than half of the freshly minted next-day favorites in our sample had either just won (35 percent) or lost (26 percent) in their sport’s championship round. So it’s pretty unusual to see a team such as the Lightning flame out in the playoffs and then immediately be named favorites for the following season. Then again, Tampa Bay had been named next-day favorites going into the 2018-19 season as well (after losing a tough seven-game conference final to the eventual-champ Capitals), then proceeded to rattle off one of the most dominant regular seasons in hockey history before falling flat in one of the game’s most epic playoff disappointments. The 2019 NHL playoffs were a chaotic mess anyway — the eventual champs fired their coach midseason and were playoff longshots for most of the regular season — so it might have been the perfect mix of factors to elevate a team back to favorite status despite a postseason flop.

These next-day odds can change pretty quickly anyway. Although the Bucks were technically 2020 favorites in the moments after Toronto won it all, the Los Angeles Lakers usurped that distinction just a day later, being installed as 7-to-2 favorites after trading for former Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis. It was a pretty remarkable leap to the top of the heap, given that LeBron James and LA didn’t even make the playoffs the previous season. (None of the next-day favorites we’ve been looking at in this data set could say that.)

But that’s nothing compared with the summer of 2010, when the oddsmakers avoided officially releasing the next-day NBA odds altogether. We included their first batch of odds in the calculation above — hence the Heat’s jump to No. 1 for 2011 — but those numbers were actually released after free agency had begun. Although the 2010 season ended on June 17, odds for 2011 weren’t posted until July 9 because of the uncertainty around LeBron’s free-agency “Decision.” Considering that this summer may rival 2010 in terms of the amount of NBA talent on the move, it’s not impossible that the 2020 favorite in the NBA betting markets will shift again in the next few weeks.

The era of immediate speculation does nothing to help temper the expectations placed on teams who are “supposed” to win. For example, the Los Angeles Dodgers — who haven’t won a World Series since 1988 — have been named next-day favorites twice in the past six seasons (in 2014 and 2015) and have never ranked lower than third place in the next-day odds over that span. With each passing instance of an on-paper championship (and no real one), a team’s disappointment comes even more into focus.

But the trend of impatiently looking ahead to next season doesn’t seem like it will let up anytime soon. As the lines begin to blur between one season’s end and the next one’s beginning — particularly given the way fans consume sports now and how the media covers it — there’s too much interest in far-off futures odds for anyone to ignore them. So that means we’re in store for plenty more speculative champions being crowned, even if the actual ones aren’t finished celebrating yet.

How Will Biden’s Latest Comments Affect His Standing In The Democratic Primary?

Joe Biden’s popularity with black voters is a huge factor in the 2020 Democratic primary. In most state and national polls that show results by race, Biden has big leads over his Democratic rivals among African-American voters. He leads more narrowly, and sometimes trails, among white Democrats. His strong black support creates the potential for Biden to survive an early loss in Iowa and/or New Hampshire by dominating the contests in the South, which tend to have large black electorates.1

So with black voters so vital to his candidacy, this week’s controversy around Biden seems really important at first glance. This wasn’t a single gaffe by the ex-vice president, but really four. In remarks at a fundraiser on Tuesday night, Biden emphasized his ability to work across the aisle by referring to his relationships with James Eastland, a Democratic senator from Mississippi from 1943-1978, and Heman Talmadge, a Democratic senator from Georgia who served from 1957-1981. Both men were strong opponents of desegregation. Making it worse, Biden specifically noted that Eastland had referred to him as “son,” but not “boy” — a cringeworthy comment by Biden because white Americans in that era often called black adults “boy” to demean them. When Sen. Cory Booker said that the vice president should apologize for the “boy” and Eastland comments, Biden responded by saying it was Booker who should apologize, with Biden essentially describing himself as the aggrieved person in this dispute, not Booker, one of only three African-American members of the Senate. Finally, the Democratic front-runner invoked a phrase often used by older white people after making problematic racial comments, “there’s not a racist bone in my body.”

Nothing Biden said this week is likely to be featured in a class on how to discuss racial issues well. But we should be careful not to assume Biden’s inartful comments will hurt the front-runner, particularly with black voters. And If this episode does erode Biden’s support, it’s likely to be with a broad range of Democrats, not just black voters.

To start, black voters aren’t only the Democrats who might find Biden’s comments particularly problematic. As FiveThirtyEight has written before, the intense coverage since 2014 of police shootings of African-Americans and the rise of Black Lives Matter have resulted in a sharp rise in the percentage of white Democrats who believe blacks suffer from both past and current racial discrimination, according to polls.

Here’s Democrats overall on racism:

And Democrats by race on equal rights:

Those charts are a little out of date, but recent data shows a similar dynamic. A Pew Research Center survey conducted earlier this year found that 80 percent of white Democrats feel that the legacy of slavery still affects African-Americans, just shy of the 87 percent of black Democrats who hold that view.2 According to Pew, a higher percentage of white Democrats (78 percent) than black Democrats (71 percent) said that being white helps a person get ahead in America today.

What kind of white Democrats might be the most bothered by Biden’s comments? In the Pew data, the white Americans most likely to say that blacks face particular disadvantages are those who are have college degrees and are under age 30. Remember that polls of Democratic primary voters generally show Biden with big leads among older, less-educated and more moderate Democrats, while younger, more liberal and more educated Democrats are more divided on his candidacy. So one potential outcome is these comments reinforce that dynamic — this is another reason for younger and more liberal Democrats across racial lines to oppose Biden, but his older and more moderate supporters aren’t as annoyed by them. (Biden’s base has essentially shrugged off controversies about how he has touched women in the past.) My bottom line: Don’t assume this controversy cuts along purely black-white lines.

But if these comments could hurt Biden will all Democrats, they could alternatively not really damage him much at all — even among black voters. Poll after poll has found that Biden has very, very high approval ratings among black voters. For example, a survey conducted last month on behalf of the Black Economic Alliance found that 76 percent of black Democrats are either enthusiastic or comfortable with Biden’s candidacy, compared to just 16 percent who are uncomfortable or have some reservations. This was the best favorable/unfavorable of any of the candidates that respondents were asked about. And according to data from Morning Consult, which is conducting weekly polls of the 2020 race with large sample sizes — giving us more resolution on results for subgroups — older black voters really, really like Biden: He is getting more than 55 percent of the Democratic primary vote among blacks age 45 and over, compared to 34 percent among blacks under age 45.

So I’m skeptical that this controversy will substantially erode that support, particularly among older black voters who have such positive feelings about Biden. In the early stages of this race, he has already weathered another issue that involves race: his treatment of Anita Hill during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas in 1991, when Biden was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

I’m not predicting that Biden, in a much different primary race, wins black voters by Clinton-level margins. But the idea that black voters will swing wildly away from a candidate because a gaffe or controversy involves race just isn’t borne out by history or the data. In 2016, Hillary Clinton faced a lot of flak over a 1994 anti-crime bill that many Democratic activists now argue was overly punitive, specifically toward African-Americans, since her husband was the person who signed it into law. But she still overwhelmingly won the black vote in the Democratic primary. Biden was heavily involved in that bill — but so far, that has not dented his support with black voters. And amid this week’s controversy, several members of the Congressional Black Caucus publicly defended Biden.

In fact, Biden’s comments might reinforce one thing some black voters like about him: Biden might be relatable to people with some racist views, making Biden more electable than, say, a black candidate. It’s hard to get at these dynamics in formal polls. But in interviews I’ve done (and other reporters have found this as well), black voters often express the view that the U.S. elections in 2008 and 2012 were somewhat of an anomaly (that Americans would elect a black president). For them, 2016 was a return to normal (Americans elected a president who had expressed some anti-black sentiments). One of the challenges for Harris’s campaign in particular has been that many African-Americans voters, having watched the hatred of Obama from some Republicans and then Trump’s victory, believe that America is too racist and sexist to elect a black female president.

In short, black voters care about “electability” too — and that is likely benefitting Biden, at least at this stage of the campaign. Lots of polls have found a majority of Democrats are prioritizing beating Trump over issues and policy. That includes black voters. The firm Avalanche Strategy, in data provided to FiveThirtyEight, found that about a quarter of black voters would prefer a different 2020 candidate than the one that they currently favor if they could wave a “magic wand” and just make the person president without him or her having to win the primary or the general election. That share is about the same for Latino and non-Hispanic white voters.

It’s hard to predict what will happen to Biden’s standing in the wake of this week’s news. But I think it’s increasingly clear that the way we think about racial controversies (with the implication that minorities are particularly triggered by them) and the black vote (assuming it is fairly monolithic) are off. Biden’s positive mentions of his work with segregationist senators may have annoyed nonblack Democrats as much or more than black ones. And the biggest question is not whether it pulls all black people from Biden — the younger ones are already kind of ambivalent about him — but whether it breaks his bond with older black people.

I Would Walk 500 Miles And I Would Riddle 500 More

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,3 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

Paul Schafer, a very long walk:

You find yourself on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe and you start a long journey on foot by walking southeast. After you cross the border into Utah, you keep walking. When you reach the Four Corners Monument, you step diagonally across it into New Mexico. There, you replenish your water supply and walk east for many miles until you cross into Oklahoma. You keep walking east until you reach Tulsa. You rest up for a few days and then head east to Fayetteville, Arkansas. Here, you turn southward and hike the 300 miles to Shreveport, Louisiana. You enjoy a po’boy sandwich and turn back toward the north. You cross back into Arkansas, step into Missouri close to Branson, and then, in Iowa, you pass just a few miles east of Des Moines as you head north. Finally, you decide you’re too tired to go on, so you end your trek at the SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota.

You’ve just walked through parts of nine states. What do these nine contiguous states have in common that none of the other 41 states share?

Submit your answer

Riddler Classic

From Michael Sarkis, a puzzle that his friend was asked to answer during an interview at an investment bank:

There is a square table with a quarter on each corner. The table is behind a curtain and thus out of your view. Your goal is to get all of the quarters to be heads up — if at any time all of the quarters are heads up, you will immediately be told and win.

The only way you can affect the quarters is to tell the person behind the curtain to flip over as many quarters as you would like and in the corners you specify. (For example, “Flip over the top left quarter and bottom right quarter,” or, “Flip over all of the quarters.”) Flipping over a quarter will always change it from heads to tails or tails to heads. However, after each command, the table is spun randomly to a new orientation (that you don’t know), and you must give another instruction before it is spun again.

Can you find a series of steps that guarantees you will have all of the quarters heads up in a finite number of moves?

Submit your answer

Solution to last week’s Riddler Express

Congratulations to 👏 Tori Courtney 👏 of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, winner of last week’s Riddler Express!

Last week, you were faced with a series of number pairs corresponding to some coincidences in American history, and your job was to fill in the missing pair.

2, 6

?, ?

9, 23

17, 36

26, 32

The missing pair is 41, 43.

The pairs are the orders of the U.S. presidents who have shared last names. The second president was John Adams and the sixth president was John Quincy Adams. The ninth president was William Henry Harrison and the 23rd president was Benjamin Harrison. And so on. The only such pair missing was the elder and younger George Bush, who were the 41st and 43rd presidents, respectively. That pair comes second because the list is in alphabetical order: Adams, Bush, Harrison, Johnson, Roosevelt.

Solution to last week’s Riddler Classic

Congratulations to 👏 Patrick Nevins 👏 of Cincinnati, winner of last week’s Riddler Classic!

Last week’s Riddler Classic cast you as a university professor who was walking from one campus building to another through a square courtyard, 50 feet by 50 feet. You entered the courtyard from the center of its west wall and exited from the center of its south wall. You didn’t like sharp turns during your walk, so you made sure any turn you made had 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’ve walked across the courtyard:

The puzzle: Given these constraints, what was the longest walk you could’ve taken?

The longest possible walk — assuming your feet are small enough — is infinite. So your next lecture might start a little bit late. The key to plotting this endlessly lengthy constitutional lies in spirals.

Our winner Patrick showed the basic setup — a type of spiral to which you can add as many loops as you want, while never crossing yourself or making any sharp turns:

Solver Daniel Wilcox’s solution was inspired by Fermat’s spiral. And solver Mike Seifert surmised that you must be a professor of medieval art and architecture, and therefore familiar with the idea of a unicursal labyrinth — a type of lengthy meditative path which your walk through the courtyard will come to resemble. Mike provided the following example of a path, which can be made arbitrarily long by adding more and more rings, closer and closer together:

Finally, solver Laurent Lessard provided the following “proof-by-GIF” of the existence of an infinite path, showing that more courtyard loops can be packed in endlessly:

Enjoy your walk. See you never.

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]

Bulletpoint: Is Electability A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

This is Silver Bulletpoints — see the previous Bulletpoint here.

I’d describe myself as “anti-anti-electability.” Electability is a problematic concept in several respects, and it can serve as an invitation to promote white men over women and minorities even though it’s not really clear that white men have any sort of electoral advantage. Nonetheless, Democrats care a lot about who can beat President Trump. If, hypothetically, one candidate had a 70 percent chance of beating Trump and another one had a 40 percent chance, both voters and the media would be right to give that lots of consideration.

The problem is there’s no way to estimate electability that precisely. There’s some empirical basis for some claims about electability, such as that more moderate candidates are more electable, but even those are fuzzy.

And at times, concerns about electability can be self-fulfilling prophecies. A recent Avalanche Strategy poll found Joe Biden in the lead, but when voters were asked to “imagine that they have a magic wand and can make any of the candidates president,” Elizabeth Warren narrowly became the top choice:

Being a woman was the biggest barrier to electability, based on Avalanche’s analysis of the results, and women were more likely to cite gender as a factor than men. So there are a lot of women who might not vote for a woman because they’re worried that other voters won’t vote for her. But if everyone just voted for who they actually wanted to be president, the woman would win!

Obviously, I’m oversimplifying. Voters could avoid a woman in the primary because they’re worried about her chances in a general election. Still, it’s important to keep these feedback loops in mind. If voters start to see other voters supporting Warren (in polls and eventually in primaries), their concerns about her electability may lessen.

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

No, Florida Is Not Redder Than Texas

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

The 2018 election saw some remarkable performances by Democrats — including, prominently, in the red state of Texas, where Democrat Beto O’Rourke came close to defeating Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. But in Florida, which is usually considered a swing state, Republicans Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis won the Senate and gubernatorial races (albeit by razor-thin margins), respectively, even as the national political environment favored Democrats by almost 9 percentage points. This gave rise to a narrative among political observers that Florida may now be further out of Democrats’ reach than Texas is. But this … has never made a lot of sense to me, and a new poll has given my side of the argument some ammunition.

This week, Quinnipiac University released a survey of Florida voters that included six possible 2020 general-election matchups between President Trump and different Democratic candidates. It found Trump trailing his Democratic opponent in each case, with margins ranging from 1 to 9 percentage points. As luck would have it, Quinnipiac three weeks ago asked Texas voters about those six general-election matchups. In that poll, five of the six Democrats trailed Trump — only former Vice President Joe Biden beat him (by 4 points).

Now, to be clear, I’m not asking you to put a lot of stock in those individual matchup results — as my colleague Perry Bacon Jr. wrote in this space last week, polls of general-election matchups at this point in the election cycle aren’t terribly predictive of the eventual results. However, we can compare the results of the Texas and Florida polls with a recent national Quinnipiac survey that asked about five of the matchups to get a sense of how much more Republican each state is than the nation as a whole.

And as you can see in the table below, if we compare Quinnipiac’s Florida poll to the pollster’s national survey, it implies that the Sunshine State is about 4 points more Republican-leaning than the nation. Meanwhile, the Texas poll suggests that the Lone Star State is about 10 points more Republican-leaning than the country. So according to Quinnipiac at least (and to be fair, it’s just one pollster’s read on the landscape), Florida is still left of Texas in the national partisan pecking order.

Florida is still bluer than Texas

How five presidential candidates performed against Trump in hypothetical general-election matchups in Florida and Texas vs. nationally

Trump vs. National (June 6-10) Florida (June 12-17) Florida Difference
Biden D+13 D+9 R+4
Sanders D+9 D+6 R+3
Warren D+7 D+4 R+3
Harris D+8 D+1 R+7
Buttigieg D+5 D+1 R+4
Average R+4
Trump vs. National (June 6-10) Texas (May 29-June 4) texas Difference
Biden D+13 D+4 R+9
Sanders D+9 R+3 R+12
Warren D+7 R+1 R+8
Harris D+8 R+4 R+12
Buttigieg D+5 R+2 R+7
Average R+10

Source: Quinnipiac University

I think the reason people have rushed to re-shade Florida from purple to red has to do with misplaced perceptions. Florida went blue in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections and red in 2016, leading many to think of it as a bellwether state. But in each of those years, the Democratic presidential candidate did worse in Florida than they did in the national popular vote, so the state was actually a bit red relative to the country as a whole. The results in 2018 were consistent with that.

It’s not that I don’t agree that Florida is a Republican-leaning state — I do think it is light red. But I fear that people are overcompensating for (wrongly) considering it perfectly purple before 2018 by now considering it stubbornly Republican. And while Texas appears to be drifting toward the middle, for now at least, both polling and election results suggest that it is still redder than Florida.

Other polling bites

  • For all the ink spilled about the rules for qualifying for the Democratic presidential debates, a Politico/Morning Consult poll reveals that most Democrats are tuning out the griping. Sixty-one percent of voters who plan to participate in the Democratic primaries said they haven’t heard much, if anything, about some candidates’ criticisms of the debate rules. Instead, many seem content to trust the Democratic National Committee — 54 percent said the DNC is doing a “very” or “somewhat” fair job at running the debates, 33 percent didn’t know or had no opinion, and 13 percent thought the process was being handled “somewhat” or “very” unfairly.
  • Most Democratic presidential candidates — and most Americans — support “Medicare for All,” but there’s a lot of ambiguity in what that term means. According to a poll conducted by Global Strategy Group, 60 percent think it refers to a “plan that lets anyone buy Medicare instead of their current private insurance, if they want to,” while 40 percent believe it “makes everyone get rid of their current private insurance and switch over to Medicare.”
  • In reaction to the May 31 shooting in Virginia Beach, Gov. Ralph Northam called a special session of the Virginia legislature to enact gun control legislation. And a new Public Policy Polling survey sponsored by a pro-gun control group found that among Virginians in four key Republican-held legislative districts, 62 percent of respondents supported a ban on semi-automatic assault rifles, and 63 percent favored a ban on high-capacity magazines (one of which was used in the Virginia Beach shooting).
  • In hopes of eating into Biden’s polling lead, some campaign rivals have tried to attack Biden over his support for the 1994 crime bill that many now argue contributed to the problem of mass incarceration in the U.S. However, a HuffPost/YouGov survey reveals why that might not work: Many Democrats simply don’t seem to know much about the law. Forty-one percent said they are “not very” or “not at all” familiar with the crime bill, and 58 percent said they were not sure which 2020 candidates supported it.
  • Chances are the “song of the summer” has already been released, so Ipsos is asking Americans what they think it will be. Out of 13 options, Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Old Town Road” came in first place, with 20 percent of respondents naming it; in second was “ME!” by Taylor Swift and Brendon Urie, garnering 10 percent of the vote.
  • Across the pond, YouGov asked members of the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party what they would be willing to risk in order to realize the country’s exit from the European Union. Respondents said they were willing to endure significant damage to the U.K. economy (61 percent to 29 percent) and even the destruction of the Conservative Party itself (54 percent to 36 percent). However, there was a line that Tories were unwilling to cross. Respondents said 51 percent to 39 percent that they were not willing to achieve Brexit if it meant electing Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.5 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53.1 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.6 points). At this time last week, 42.3 percent approved and 52.9 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -10.6 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 41.8 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.3 percent, for a net approval rating of -11.5 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 6.2 percentage points (46.0 percent to 39.8 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 6.2 points (46.1 percent to 39.9 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 5.0 points (45.4 percent to 40.4 percent).

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.

Our Best Tool For Predicting Midterm Elections Works In Presidential Years Too

If you followed polls of the generic congressional ballot, you knew as early as summer 2017 that signs pointed to a wave election for Democrats in 2018. Now, for your prognosticating pleasure, the FiveThirtyEight generic ballot tracker is back to help you track the battle for the U.S. House in 2020. The congressional generic ballot question asks voters which party or which party’s candidate they’d support for Congress (usually as opposed to the name of the specific candidate they plan to support).7 And as of midday Wednesday, Democrats held a 6.2-point lead over Republicans — a solid advantage but still smaller than the 8.7-point lead they held in our polling average on Election Day 2018.8 This jibes with other early signs that suggest that while Democratic enthusiasm has ebbed a bit since last year, the political environment still favors Democrats.

A 2017 analysis by erstwhile FiveThirtyEighter Harry Enten found that the generic congressional ballot is one of the most accurate predictors of who will get the most votes for Congress in a midterm election. I wondered whether the same could be said for generic ballot polls in presidential election years. Borrowing from Harry’s methodology, I conducted a similar analysis for recent presidential election years and found that their generic ballot polling is just as predictive. Specifically, for presidential election cycles starting with 1996, I compared either Gallup’s final generic-ballot poll of the cycle9 or RealClearPolitics’s final polling average10 with the House national popular-vote margin and found that the final polling missed by an average of 2 percentage points.11 The same analysis for midterm election cycles starting with 1994 found that the final polling in those cycles missed by an average of 3 percentage points.12

Final generic-ballot polls are very predictive

Final generic-ballot polling margin and national House popular-vote margin, for elections since 1994

Midterm Cycle Final generic-ballot margin House popular-vote margin Error
1994 R+7 R+7 0
1998 D+4 R+1 5
2002 R+2 R+5 3
2006 D+12 D+8 4
2010 R+9 R+7 3
2014 R+2 R+6 3
2018 D+7 D+9 1
Average 3
Presidential Cycle Final generic-ballot margin House popular-vote margin Error
1996 D+3 EVEN 3
2000 D+1 EVEN 1
2004 EVEN R+3 3
2008 D+9 D+11 2
2012 EVEN D+1 2
2016 D+1 R+1 2
Average 2

Final generic-ballot polling margin is based on Gallup’s final generic-ballot poll of the cycle for 1994-2000 and the final RealClearPolitics polling average for 2002-18.

Sources: Gallup, RealClearPolitics, U.S. House of Representatives

Harry also found that even early generic-ballot polls, more than a year before a midterm election, have some predictive power. My analysis found the same for early generic-ballot polls in presidential cycles like 2020. Basically, although polls can certainly evolve over time, generic ballot polls have historically proved pretty stable.

The table below compares the national House popular vote in presidential cycles since 1996 with an average of pollster averages13 that I calculated using all the polls I could find from between January and June of the year before the election. And as you can see, it reveals a decent relationship between a party’s performance in early generic-ballot polls and its ultimate performance at the ballot box. That is, the national House popular vote in presidential cycles has usually wound up within a few points of those early polls. In most presidential cycles, the two parties were neck and neck in early generic-ballot polls, as they were in the eventual congressional elections (as measured by the popular vote). The lone exception is 2008, which was a Democratic wave year — something the early generic-ballot polls correctly predicted.

Early generic-ballot polls are pretty predictive, too

The generic ballot polling margin in the first half of the year before a presidential election vs. the party’s national House popular-vote margin in presidential elections, for elections since 1996

Cycle Early generic-ballot margin House popular-vote margin Error
1996 R+3 EVEN 3
2000 D+5 EVEN 5
2004 EVEN R+3 2
2008 D+11 D+11 1
2012 R+1 D+1 2
2016 D+1 R+1 2
Average 3

The early generic-ballot polling margin is an average calculated from polls found via the Roper Center, RealClearPolitics and the FiveThirtyEight polling database. We calculated an average for each pollster and then averaged those averages.

Sources: Roper Center for public opinion research, RealClearPolitics, U.S. House of Representatives

In summary, generic congressional ballot polls — even early ones — are good measures of the national mood. And because the national mood affects not only congressional elections, but also presidential ones, that means generic ballot polling might provide a back door for approximating presidential election results too. As you can see in the table below, final generic-ballot polling — and to a lesser extent early generic-ballot polling — has come pretty close to the results of the national popular vote for president as well as for House since 2000. That’s pretty good, considering these polls are measuring elections for an entirely different branch of government, although it’s worth noting that even a polling error of 3 or 5 points can change the outcome if the race is close.

Generic ballot polls are good measures of the national mood

The presidential popular-vote margin, early generic-ballot polling margin and final generic-ballot polling margin, for elections since 1996

Cycle Pres. popular-vote margin Early generic-ballot margin Error Final generic-ballot margin Error
1996 D+9 R+3 12 D+3 6
2000 D+1 D+5 4 D+1 0
2004 R+2 EVEN 2 EVEN 2
2008 D+7 D+11 4 D+9 2
2012 D+4 R+1 5 EVEN 4
2016 D+2 D+1 1 D+1 2
Average 5 3

The early generic-ballot polling margin is an average calculated from polls found via the Roper Center, RealClearPolitics and the FiveThirtyEight polling database. We calculated an average for each pollster and then averaged those averages.

Final generic-ballot margins are based on the final RealClearPolitics polling average for 2004-16 and Gallup’s final generic-ballot poll of the cycle for 1996 and 2000.

Sources: Gallup, Roper Center for public opinion research, RealClearPolitics, U.S. House of Representatives

It’s yet another demonstration of how partisanship is the dominant force in today’s politics; these days, people overwhelmingly vote for the same party up and down the ticket. Congressional vote preferences may not drive the results of the presidential race (it’s more likely the other way around), but the former still reflect the latter. And if early generic-ballot polls are, as they seem to be, mildly predictive, then the fact that Democrats currently lead them by 6.2 points is a bad sign for President Trump. It suggests that the national political environment is still blue, and given how closely the House and presidential popular votes have lined up this century, that’s an important thing to keep in mind for the 2020 presidential election.

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.

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.