When We Say 70 Percent, It Really Means 70 Percent

One of FiveThirtyEight’s goals has always been to get people to think more carefully about probability. When we’re forecasting an upcoming election or sporting event, we’ll go to great lengths to analyze and explain the sources of real-world uncertainty and the extent to which events — say, a Senate race in Texas and another one in Florida — are correlated with one another. We’ll spend a lot of time working on how to build robust models that don’t suffer from p-hacking or overfitting and which will perform roughly as well when we’re making new predictions as when we’re backtesting them. There’s a lot of science in this, as well as a lot of art. We really care about the difference between a 60 percent chance and a 70 percent chance.

That’s not always how we’re judged, though. Both our fans and our critics sometimes look at our probabilistic forecasts as binary predictions. Not only might they not care about the difference between a 60 percent chance and a 70 percent chance, they sometimes treat a 55 percent chance the same way as a 95 percent one.

There are also frustrating moments related to the sheer number of forecasts that we put out — for instance, forecasts of hundreds of U.S. House races, or dozens of presidential primaries, or the thousands of NBA games in a typical season. If you want to make us look bad, you’ll have a lot of opportunities to do so because some — many, actually — of these forecasts will inevitably be “wrong.”

Sometimes, there are more sophisticated-seeming criticisms. “Sure, your forecasts are probabilistic,” people who think they’re very clever will say. “But all that means is that you can never be wrong. Even a 1 percent chance happens sometimes, after all. So what’s the point of it all?”

I don’t want to make it sound like we’ve had a rough go of things overall.1 But we do think it’s important that our forecasts are successful on their own terms — that is, in the way that we have always said they should be judged. That’s what our latest project — “How Good Are FiveThirtyEight Forecasts?” — is all about.

That way is principally via calibration. Calibration measures whether, over the long run, events occur about as often as you say they’re going to occur. For instance, of all the events that you forecast as having an 80 percent chance of happening, they should indeed occur about 80 out of 100 times; that’s good calibration. If these events happen only 60 out of 100 times, you have problems — your forecasts aren’t well-calibrated and are overconfident. But it’s just as bad if they occur 98 out of 100 times, in which case your forecasts are underconfident.

Calibration isn’t the only thing that matters when judging a forecast. Skilled forecasting also requires discrimination — that is, distinguishing relatively more likely events from relatively less likely ones. (If at the start of the 68-team NCAA men’s basketball tournament, you assigned each team a 1 in 68 chance of winning, your forecast would be well-calibrated, but it wouldn’t be a skillful forecast.) Personally, I also think it’s important how a forecast lines up relative to reasonable alternatives, e.g., how it compares with other models or the market price or the “conventional wisdom.” If you say there’s a 29 percent chance of event X occurring when everyone else says 10 percent or 2 percent or simply never really entertains X as a possibility, your forecast should probably get credit rather than blame if the event actually happens. But let’s leave that aside for now. (I’m not bitter or anything. OK, maybe I am.)

The catch about calibration is that it takes a fairly large sample size to measure it properly. If you have just 10 events that you say have an 80 percent chance of happening, you could pretty easily have them occur five out of 10 times or 10 out of 10 times as the result of chance alone. Once you get up to dozens or hundreds or thousands of events, these anomalies become much less likely.

But the thing is, FiveThirtyEight has made thousands of forecasts. We’ve been issuing forecasts of elections and sporting events for a long time — for more than 11 years, since the first version of the site was launched in March 2008. The interactive lists almost all of the probabilistic sports and election forecasts that we’ve designed and published since then. You can see how all our U.S. House forecasts have done, for example, or our men’s and women’s March Madness predictions. There are NFL games and of course presidential elections. There are a few important notes about the scope of what’s included in the footnotes,2 and for years before FiveThirtyEight was acquired by ESPN/Disney/ABC News (in 2013) — when our record-keeping wasn’t as good — we’ve sometimes had to rely on archived versions of the site if we couldn’t otherwise verify exactly what forecast was published at what time.

What you’ll find, though, is that our calibration has generally been very, very good. For instance, out of the 5,589 events (between sports and politics combined) that we said had a 70 chance of happening (rounded to the nearest 5 percent), they in fact occurred 71 percent of the time. Or of the 55,853 events3 that we said had about a 5 percent chance of occurring, they happened 4 percent of the time.

We did discover a handful of cases where we weren’t entirely satisfied with a model’s performance. For instance, our NBA game forecasts have historically been a bit overconfident in lopsided matchups — e.g., teams that were supposed to win 85 percent of the time in fact won only 79 percent of the time. These aren’t huge discrepancies, but given a large enough sample, some of them are on the threshold of being statistically significant. In the particular case of the NBA, we substantially redesigned our model before this season, so we’ll see how the new version does.4

Our forecasts of elections have actually been a little bit underconfident, historically. For instance, candidates who we said were supposed to win 75 percent of the time have won 83 percent of the time. These differences are generally not statistically significant, given that election outcomes are highly correlated and that we issue dozens of forecasts (one every day, and sometimes using several different versions of a model) for any given race. But we do think underconfidence can be a problem if replicated over a large enough sample, so it’s something we’ll keep an eye out for.

It’s just not true, though, that there have been an especially large number of upsets in politics relative to polls or forecasts (or at least not relative to FiveThirtyEight’s forecasts). In fact, there have been fewer upsets than our forecasts expected.

There’s a lot more to explore in the interactive, including Brier skill scores for each of our forecasts, which do account for discrimination as well as calibration. We’ll continue to update the interactive as elections or sporting events are completed.

None of this ought to mean that FiveThirtyEight or our forecasts — which are a relatively small part of what we do — are immune from criticism or that our models can’t be improved. We’re studying ways to improve all the time.

But we’ve been publishing forecasts for more than a decade now, and although we’ve sometimes tried to do an after-action report following a big election or sporting event, this is the first time we’ve studied all of our forecast models in a comprehensive way. So we were relieved to discover that our forecasts really do what they’re supposed to do. When we say something has a 70 percent chance of occurring, it doesn’t mean that it will always happen, and it isn’t supposed to. But empirically, 70 percent in a FiveThirtyEight forecast really does mean about 70 percent, 30 percent really does mean about 30 percent, 5 percent really does mean about 5 percent, and so forth. Our forecasts haven’t always been right, but they’ve been right just about as often as they’re supposed to be right.

Abolishing The Electoral College Used To Be A Bipartisan Position. Not Anymore.

Twice in the past five presidential elections, a Republican has won the presidency despite losing the popular vote. Now Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii has introduced a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College and use the national popular vote to decide who becomes president. His proposal is among the latest efforts by Democrats and those on the left to push for structural changes to the American political system.

But Schatz’s amendment is sure to meet defeat in the Republican-controlled Senate. Today, attitudes toward the Electoral College are polarized by party, with Democrats far more likely to support a change and Republicans much more likely to defend the current system — but it wasn’t always like that.

While the controversial 2000 election was still being decided, Gallup found that 61 percent of Americans — including 73 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Republicans5 — preferred amending the Constitution to elect the popular vote winner. Only 35 percent of respondents preferred the current system. The partisan gap widened even further after the 2016 election: A few weeks after President Trump won the presidency while losing the popular vote, Gallup found that 49 percent of Americans preferred changing to a popular vote system, compared to 47 percent who wanted to keep the Electoral College, with 81 percent of Democrats supporting a change compared to just 19 percent of Republicans.6 Even given some space after that heated election, there remains a major partisan gap in opinion over how to elect a president — Pew Research found in March 2018 that 75 percent of Democrats supported moving to a popular-vote system versus only 32 percent of Republicans.

But 50 years ago, moving on from the Electoral College had bipartisan support. In May 1968, 66 percent of American approved of the idea of amending the constitution to replace the Electoral College with a popular vote system, according to Gallup. And there was no partisan divide: 66 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of Democrats approved. Six months later, Republican Richard Nixon defeated Democrat Hubert Humphrey while only winning the popular vote by less than 1 percentage point, and a post-election Gallup survey found 80 percent of Americans approved of changing the electoral system. The bipartisan support among voters and the fact that the 1968 election nearly produced a split between the popular vote and the Electoral College7 explain why there was bipartisan support in Congress in 1969 for a constitutional amendment to elect presidents based on the popular vote. The House passed it 339 to 70, with more than 80 percent of each party’s voting members lending their support. But small-state senators from both parties filibustered the amendment and it never got an up-or-down vote in the upper chamber.

As long as one side feels disadvantaged by the Electoral College, it will be far more likely to push for a popular-vote system. Right now, that’s the Democrats. Reforming how the country elects presidents falls into the broad effort on the left to reform aspects of our electoral system, including voting access and how campaign finance works. But some who want reform believe abolishing the Electoral College should be a secondary goal. “There’s a bunch of stuff to do without amending the constitution that would have the end result of making institutions and elections more fair,” said David Faris, a political scientist at Roosevelt University, who recently argued in his book “It’s Time To Fight Dirty” that Democrats should be challenging the structural and legal boundaries of the American political system to better gain and hold power. Nonetheless, Faris sees discussion over the electoral system as a good thing in that it could soften up public opinion and make people more willing to consider alternatives to the status quo.

But we may not see a true shift in public opinion unless a Republican loses in the Electoral College while winning the popular vote. As FiveThirtyEight has argued in the past, the system is not inherently biased against either party, with one side’s seeming advantage lasting for just an election or two before it flips to the other party. But as the 1969-1970 example shows, it seems likely that only serious bipartisan support for abolishing the Electoral College system could ever change how we elect a president. Although states may figure out a way around the Electoral College with the National Popular Vote interstate compact, it would not seem as permanent as a constitutional amendment, given that only one amendment has ever been repealed. And as Faris argues, using the interstate compact method might precipitate a crisis because an outcome might be seen as illegitimate and be subject to legal challenges if it delivers a result that contravenes what the Electoral College would otherwise do.

Schatz’s proposal is unlikely to pass the Senate, but it may be a symbolic effort to influence the conversation about what we want our electoral system to look like. Nonetheless, without broader agreement, a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College will pass when pigs fly.


From ABC News:
Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants to get rid of the Electoral College


Is Beto O’Rourke Learning How To Troll The Media?

At 5:03 a.m. on Monday, Politico published a story on former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s “rocky rollout” to his presidential campaign, which launched last week.1

Roughly two hours later, O’Rourke’s campaign announced that it had raised $6.1 million in the first 24 hours after launch — more than any other Democratic candidate including Sen. Bernie Sanders, who raised $5.9 million.

Presumably, this was intentional on the O’Rourke campaign’s behalf. Having some good news in its pocket, it waited to announce its fundraising haul until a busier news cycle (Monday morning instead of Friday afternoon) and until the media narrative surrounding his launch had begun to overextend itself. O’Rourke’s $6.1 million in fundraising is important unto itself — more money allows a campaign to hire more staff, open more field offices, run more ads and compete in more states — but it sounded like an even bigger deal to journalists who had begun to hear whispers of fundraising totals that would fall well below that.

Indeed, I too had thought it was probably a bad sign for O’Rourke that he had not disclosed his fundraising on Friday when the 24-hour period ended, although I said that it would be a “good troll” if he had intentionally held off on announcing just to screw with media expectations:

It could be more than a good troll, in fact, if it suggests that O’Rourke and his staff are learning to manage media expectations, something that had been a problem for the proto-campaign in its pre-launch phase. Expectations management is a key survival skill for a modern presidential candidate — one that could come in handy later on when the media is trying to interpret, for example, whether a second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses was a good finish for O’Rourke or a bad one.

For better or worse, the primaries are partly an expectations game, meaning that it’s not just how well you do in an absolute sense that matters, but how well you do relative to how well the media expects you to do. Historically, for instance, the candidates that receive the biggest bounce to their national and New Hampshire polls after the Iowa caucuses are those who most beat their polls in Iowa — and therefore most beat media expectations, which are usually closely tied to the polls — and not necessarily the actual winners. The canonical example of this dynamic is Sen. Gary Hart and former Vice President Walter Mondale in the 1984 Democratic caucuses in Iowa. Even though Mondale dominated the caucuses with 48.9 percent of the vote to Hart’s 16.5 percent, it was Hart who got the favorable headlines as the media had finally found an alternative to the boring, predictable Mondale “juggernaut.” The next week, Hart came from well behind in the polls to win the New Hampshire primary.

The expectations game is dumb — among other things, it gives the media too large a role in the primary process — and maybe both voters and the media have become more sophisticated to the point where it matters less than it once did. (Recent Iowa caucuses have not produced especially large bounces, for instance.) I wouldn’t be so sure about that, though. Keeping expectations in check was a big problem in the Democratic primaries in 2016 for Hillary Clinton, who had one of the more robust victories of the modern primary era but who didn’t (and still doesn’t) get a lot of credit for it.

Conversely, one of President Trump’s big strengths in the primaries was to completely dominate media coverage — a big advantage when you need to differentiate yourself in a field of 17 candidates — while keeping expectations low. Usually, more coverage and higher expectations go hand-in-hand; the more hype you get, the more the press expects you to perform well in debates, polls, fundraising and, ultimately, in primaries and caucus. But Trump had a knack for trolling the media and for hacking the news cycle to make sure that he remained the center of the conversation. It’s not that this necessarily required great skill on Trump’s behalf, but he was canny enough to know that the media’s behavior is fairly predictable and therefore easy to manipulate. Meanwhile, lots of folks in the media — and certainly us here at FiveThirtyEight — were way too willing to dismiss polls showing Trump well ahead of the Republican field from the summer of 2015 onward. A high volume of coverage but low expectations is the best of both worlds for a candidate in the primaries, and Trump got it.

O’Rourke is going to get a lot of media coverage — and he’s one of those candidates who, like past failed candidates such as then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2012 and Sen. Marco Rubio in 2016, but also like successful ones such as then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016 — simultaneously seems to be overrated and underrated by the press and never quite at equilibrium. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s particularly important to stay at arm’s length when evaluating candidates like these, to wait for polling data or fundraising data or other hard evidence on how well they’re doing, and to avoid reading too much into the media narratives surrounding them because they’re prone to shift on a whim. O’Rourke’s fundraising numbers — as the most tangible sign to date of how his campaign is performing — were a fairly big deal, but so was his campaign’s apparent awareness about the importance of managing expectations.


From ABC News:
Beto O'Rourke faces criticism for saying he was 'born to run' for president


Arizona’s 2020 Senate Race Already Looks Tough

Signs point to the Arizona Senate special election being a key race in determining who controls the Senate in 2020. On the Republican side of the race to fill the late Sen. John McCain’s old seat, Sen. Martha McSally — who was appointed to McCain’s seat after losing her 2018 bid for the state’s other seat — is expected to run to finish off the last two years of McCain’s term. But she could face a formidable challenger in retired astronaut and Navy veteran Mark Kelly, who announced he’ll run for the seat as a Democrat last month. But Kelly could face his own adversary in the primary, so here’s a detailed look at the possible Democratic primary battle that lies ahead and an early look at the all-important general election.

The Democratic primary could get heated

After announcing his plans to run for Senate, Kelly raised $1.1 million in the first two days of his campaign, putting him on par with Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris in initial fundraising hauls for their 2020 presidential campaigns. Considering Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema spent $24 million to narrowly defeat McSally in 2018, Kelly will likely need a similar budget for the state’s upcoming Senate race, so his early fundraising haul is promising. And Kelly is no stranger to politics. He is the husband of former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who survived being shot in the head during an assassination attempt in Tucson in 2011 that killed six and wounded 13. In the aftermath, Giffords and Kelly founded a political organization to fight gun violence, and in the 2018 midterms, their organization spent nearly $7 million to campaign against Republican members of Congress. But despite being a gun control activist, Kelly has indicated he will embrace a centrist, bipartisan approach, similar to how Sinema positioned herself in the 2018 race.

But Kelly may not have the Democratic field to himself. Rep. Ruben Gallego is also eyeing the race, and his entrance would set up a centrist vs. progressive battle for the party’s nomination. Gallego is a three-term congressman and member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a collection of the most liberal members on Capitol Hill. What’s more, Gallego is a veteran, which could help him match qualifications with both Kelly and McSally, who was the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot in combat.

How might a Gallego-Kelly primary play out? Well, if we just look at Arizona’s electorate, Kelly might have an advantage. Although Gallego, like 23 percent of the state’s electorate, is Hispanic, the majority of Democratic primary voters are white,1 which might undercut any edge his heritage gives him in a primary. Kelly might also be able to make an electability argument in a primary race against Gallego: An early general election survey of the race from OH Predictive Insights found McSally ahead of Kelly by just 2 percentage points while she led Gallego by 8 points. Still, Gallego might be able to use Kelly’s voting record against him, as Kelly has voted in a Republican primary and has switched his party identification between independent and Democratic in the past. Kelly has also caught flak for taking money from big companies while working the speaking circuit.

Even more critical is the role geography can play in a primary, as candidates tend to get the most support from their home base. This could boost Gallego, who represents part of the state’s biggest city, Phoenix. Maricopa County, which encompasses Phoenix, usually casts about half or more of all votes in Arizona’s Democratic primaries. Meanwhile, Pima County — which covers Tucson, where Giffords and Kelly are based — casts less than a quarter of the vote. So if Gallego does run, Kelly will have to keep the margins close in Maricopa and elsewhere while performing strongly in Pima to win the primary.

The Phoenix area dominates Arizona’s Democratic primaries

Share of Arizona Democratic primary votes cast in Maricopa County (which includes Phoenix) and Pima County (which includes Tucson) compared to the rest of the state, 2012-2018

Year Primary Maricopa Pima Rest of Arizona
2012* Congress and state offices 47.9% 25.1% 27.0%
2014 Congress and state offices 50.0 21.3 28.7
2016 President 53.5 23.3 23.2
2016 Congress and state offices 50.9 23.3 25.8
2018 Congress and state offices 55.8 21.6 22.7
Average 51.6 22.9 25.5

*There was no 2012 Democratic presidential primary in Arizona.
State primaries are held in August; the 2016 presidential primary was in March 2016.

Source: Arizona Secretary of State

Should Gallego run, it’s likely this primary will be competitive, which could make things difficult for Democrats in the general election because Arizona holds its state primaries very late2 — the last Tuesday in August — which leaves roughly two months to consolidate support for a general election candidate.

McSally found herself in a similar situation in the 2018 Republican primary when she was up against former Maricopa county Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former state Sen. Kelli Ward, though McSally pulled away at the end with 55 percent of the vote; meanwhile Sinema coasted to victory in the Democratic primary with 79 percent of the vote against a minor opponent. So if the 2020 Democratic primary proves to be contentious and McSally doesn’t face a notable primary challenger of her own, she could stand to benefit from a heated Democratic primary. But she too could face her own primary — some Republicans didn’t want her to fill McCain’s seat because her performance in the 2018 race raised concerns that she would lose a 2020 race as well.

The general election could be close

Regardless of who wins the Democratic primary, Democrats face a tough opponent in McSally. Although McSally lost the 2018 Senate race, she raised more than $20 million and has experience winning elections in a competitive House district, which she held for two terms until she stepped aside to run for Senate this past November and Democrats captured her old seat. McSally has also received national attention for sharing her experience of being raped while she was serving in the Air Force. McSally’s one of several women in Congress who, since the rise of the #MeToo movement, have spoken openly about their own experiences with sexual assault or domestic violence. McSally’s support of sexual assault survivors may help her cut across party lines and change the perception of the #MeToo movement as a liberal women’s issue.

More broadly, the potential competitiveness of the Arizona contest speaks to the state’s evolution toward becoming a battleground state in U.S. politics. Sinema’s 2018 victory over McSally came on the heels of President Trump carrying the state by just 3.5 points in the 2016 election, the smallest GOP edge in Arizona since 1996, when Bill Clinton won the state — the only Democrat to do so since 1952. So despite its Republican lean (9 points more Republican than the country as a whole prior to the 2018 election,3) Arizona could see a lot of presidential activity in 2020, which could influence the state’s down-ballot elections.

This Senate race will be one of the top-tier contests in 2020 — handicappers currently view it as a toss-up (Inside Elections and Sabato’s Crystal Ball) or lean it toward the GOP (Cook Political Report). As the GOP has a 53-47 edge in the Senate,4 most paths for Democrats retaking the Senate require capturing this seat (and others) because it may be difficult for Democrats to retain the Alabama seat that they won in 2017. So just like in 2018, Arizona will host a high-octane Senate contest, one that could be pivotal in deciding the Senate majority.


From ABC News:
Who is Martha McSally?


How Bernie’s 2020 Map Might Change Without The #NeverHillary Vote

Bernie Sanders picked up support in some unusual places during his 2016 campaign to be the Democratic presidential nominee. The self-described democratic socialist won states such as Oklahoma and Nebraska that are typically associated with right-of-center policy views. He also did surprisingly well with self-described conservative voters — granted, a small-ish part9 of the Democratic primary electorate — picking up almost a third of their votes. Perhaps less surprisingly given that Sanders isn’t technically a Democrat, he performed really well with independent voters, winning them by roughly a 2:1 margin over Hillary Clinton.

So as Sanders launches his 2020 campaign as a candidate with both formidable strengths and serious challenges, his biggest problem might seem to be that there’s more competition for his base this time around, with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others also competing for the leftmost part of the Democratic electorate. An equally big problem for Sanders, however, is that voters this time around have more alternatives to Hillary Clinton — left, right and center — to choose from.

Roughly one-quarter of Sanders’s support in Democratic primaries and caucuses in 2016 came from #NeverHillary voters: people who didn’t vote for Clinton in the 2016 general election and who had no intention of doing so. (The #NeverHillary label is a little snarky, but it’s also quite literal: These are people who never voted for Clinton despite being given two opportunities to do so, in the primary and the general election.) This finding comes from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, a poll of more than 50,000 voters conducted by YouGov in conjunction with Harvard University. The CCES asked voters who they voted for in both the primaries and the general election; it also asked voters who didn’t vote in the general election who they would have chosen if they had voted. Here’s the overall breakdown of what Sanders primary voters did in November 2016.10

What Bernie Sanders primary voters did in November 2016
Voted for Hillary Clinton 74.3%
Voted for Donald Trump 12.0
Voted for Gary Johnson 3.2
Voted for Jill Stein 4.5
Voted for other candidates or voted but didn’t recall 2.5
Didn’t vote but said they would have voted for Clinton 1.6
Didn’t vote and didn’t say they would have voted Clinton 1.9

Voters in shaded categories are #NeverHillary voters.

Source: COOPERATIVE CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION STUDY

About 74 percent of Sanders’s primary voters also voted for Clinton in November 2016. Another 2 percent didn’t vote but said on the CCES that they would have voted for Clinton if they had voted; it doesn’t seem fair to consider them anti-Clinton voters, so we won’t include them in the #NeverHillary camp. The remaining 24 percent of Sanders voters were #NeverHillary in the general election, however. Of these, about half voted for Trump, while the remaining half voted for Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, another third-party candidate or didn’t vote.11

Overall, Sanders won 43 percent of the popular vote in Democratic primaries and caucuses in 2016. If 24 percent of that 43 percent were #NeverHillary voters, that means Sanders’s real base was more like 33 percent of the overall Democratic electorate. That isn’t nothing — it could easily carry the plurality in a divided field — and there were plenty of Clinton voters who liked Sanders, so he could pick up some of their votes too. But it does jibe with polls showing that Sanders and Warren together have around 30 percent of the Democratic primary electorate in 2020 and not the 43 percent that Sanders got in 2016.

You might be tempted to think that these #NeverHillary voters are leftists who thought Clinton was too much of pro-corporate, warmongering centrist. But relatively few of them were. Less than a fifth of them voted for Stein, for example. Instead, these voters were disproportionately likely to describe themselves as moderate or conservative. Among the 31 percent of self-described conservatives who voted for Sanders in the Democratic primaries, more than half were #NeverHillary voters, for example. A large minority of the independents and Republicans who supported Sanders were #NeverHillary voters as well.

#NeverHillary voters were conservative, not super liberal

The ideological and partisan breakdown of #NeverHillary voters in the 2016 Democratic primaries

Sanders Voters
Group Clinton Sanders Pro-Sanders** #NeverHillary
Very liberal 45.2% 54.6% 46.9% 7.7%
Liberal 55.6 43.7 39.4 4.3
Somewhat liberal 59.4 40.2 32.7 7.5
Middle-of-the-road 60.2 38.7 24.9 13.8
Conservative* 66.5 31.3 14.9 16.4
Sanders Voters
Group Clinton Sanders Pro-Sanders #NeverHillary
Democrats 66.2% 32.9% 28.8% 4.1%
Independents and Republicans 33.6 65.0 37.9 27.1

* Includes voters who described themselves as “conservative,” “somewhat conservative” or “very conservative.“
** Sanders voters who voted for Clinton in the general election or didn’t vote but said they would have voted for Clinton.

Source: COOPERATIVE CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION STUDY

A more complicated way to characterize the #NeverHillary vote is via regression analysis. Using the CCES — which permits fairly intricate regression model designs because of its large sample size — I took all of Sanders’s primary voters in 2016 and evaluated a host of variables to see what predicted whether they were #NeverHillary in the general election.

The most significant variables were, first, whether the voter was a Democrat, and second and third, two policy questions that have proven to be highly predictive of voter preferences in the past: whether the voter thinks that white people benefit from their race and whether the voter wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Non-Democrats, voters who didn’t think whites benefited from their race, and voters who wanted to repeal the ACA were much more likely to be #NeverHillary voters. Voters who were rural, poor, who lived in the South or the Northeast, who were born-again Christians, who were conservatives, and who were military veterans were also somewhat more likely to be #NeverHillary, other factors held equal. Black people, Hispanics, women, liberals, millennials, union members and voters with four-year college degrees were less likely to be #NeverHillary voters.

In addition, some factors related to the primary calendar affected the #NeverHillary vote. After Trump won the Indiana primary, effectively wrapping up the Republican nomination, more anti-Clinton voters filtered into the Democratic primaries. And the #NeverHillary vote was lower in states where an open Republican primary or caucus was held on the same date as the Democratic one. This implies that a fair number of #NeverHillary voters would actually have prefered to vote in the Republican primary. But if they couldn’t, because the Republican primary was closed or wasn’t held on the same date, they voted in the Democratic primary (for Sanders or another Democrat and against Clinton) instead.

We can also evaluate the geographic breakdown of the #NeverHillary vote. In each state, we can estimate the anti-Clinton vote in two ways, either by directly measuring it (e.g., 19 percent of Sanders voters the CCES surveyed in Illinois were #NeverHillary) or through the regression technique that I used above (which is similar to an MRP analysis). Without getting too much into the weeds, I used a blend of the two methods in each state based on the sample size of Sanders voters there; the direct measurement is more reliable in states with a large sample, while the regression method is better in states with a smaller one. The table below shows where the largest share of Sanders voters (as well as voters who chose another Democratic candidate apart from Clinton and Sanders12) were anti-Clinton voters:

Sanders benefited from #NeverHillary voters in red states

The breakdown of Sanders and #NeverHillary voters in the 2016 Democratic primaries

#NeverHillary
State Sanders’s Share of pop. vote share of Sanders voters who were #NeverHillary voted sanders Other Total
Alaska 79.6% 49.8% 39.7% 0.1% 39.7%
W.Va. 51.4 45.2 23.2 7.1 30.4
Okla. 51.9 42.3 21.9 3.7 25.6
Vt. 86.0 28.3 24.3 0.2 24.5
Idaho 78.0 30.4 23.8 0.4 24.2
Neb. 57.1 42.0 24.0 0.0 24.0
Utah 79.2 29.6 23.4 0.3 23.7
Ky. 46.3 37.9 17.6 3.9 21.4
Ore. 56.2 32.1 18.1 1.0 19.0
R.I. 54.7 32.1 17.6 1.2 18.8
Mont. 51.6 31.8 16.4 2.4 18.8
N.D. 64.2 19.6 12.6 5.7 18.3
Hawaii 69.8 25.9 18.1 0.1 18.2
Maine 64.3 28.0 18.0 0.1 18.1
Kan. 67.7 26.4 17.9 0.0 17.9
N.H. 60.1 27.5 16.6 1.2 17.8
S.D. 49.0 34.8 17.1 0.0 17.1
Nev. 47.3 35.1 16.6 0.0 16.6
Del. 39.2 36.8 14.4 0.6 15.0
Wash. 72.7 19.3 14.0 0.1 14.1
Mo. 49.4 25.8 12.7 0.6 13.3
Md. 33.8 31.4 10.6 2.0 12.7
Mass. 48.5 24.4 11.8 0.9 12.7
La. 23.2 40.8 9.4 3.2 12.6
Calif. 46.0 24.2 11.1 0.5 11.6
Ind. 52.5 22.2 11.6 0.0 11.6
Mich. 49.7 21.1 10.5 1.2 11.6
Pa. 43.5 25.1 10.9 0.5 11.4
Ariz. 41.4 24.2 10.0 1.3 11.3
N.C. 40.9 20.9 8.5 2.6 11.1
Minn. 61.7 17.5 10.8 0.0 10.8
Wis. 56.6 18.6 10.5 0.2 10.7
Conn. 46.4 20.8 9.6 1.0 10.6
N.Y. 42.0 25.1 10.5 0.0 10.5
N.M. 48.5 20.8 10.1 0.0 10.1
Ark. 30.0 23.9 7.2 2.2 9.4
Ill. 48.6 18.4 8.9 0.5 9.4
Fla. 33.3 23.8 7.9 1.3 9.2
N.J. 36.6 24.2 8.8 0.1 9.0
Ohio 43.1 19.5 8.4 0.4 8.8
Tenn. 32.5 22.7 7.4 0.8 8.2
Iowa 49.6 15.4 7.6 0.3 8.0
S.C. 26.0 28.8 7.5 0.3 7.8
Va. 35.2 21.3 7.5 0.3 7.8
Colo. 59.0 11.7 6.9 0.4 7.3
Texas 33.2 19.0 6.3 0.9 7.2
Ala. 19.2 25.5 4.9 1.7 6.5
D.C. 20.8 28.0 5.8 0.4 6.2
Ga. 28.2 19.4 5.5 0.3 5.7
Wyo. 56.7 9.3 5.3 0.1 5.4
Miss. 16.6 14.8 2.5 0.5 3.0

Source: COOPERATIVE CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION STUDY

The largest number of #NeverHillary voters, as a share of the Democratic primary electorate, were in Alaska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Vermont, Idaho, Nebraska, Utah and Kentucky. Other than in Vermont, where extreme loyalty to Sanders generated a large number of write-in votes for Sanders and other candidates in the general election, those are obviously really red and largely rural states. Apart from Kentucky, they were also all states won by Sanders in the primaries.

Although there may have been something of a market for a populist candidate in these states, it’s also likely that Sanders benefited from being the only alternative to Clinton. In fact, there are several states where the #NeverHillary vote pushed Sanders over the top and where the pro-Sanders vote alone wouldn’t have been enough for him to win. These are Indiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

The good news for Sanders is that the states where he benefited the most from the #NeverHillary vote — especially in Appalachia and in the Interior West — have relatively low delegate tallies. So they’re places that he can potentially afford to lose. It does mean, however, that Sanders will have to hit his mark in his other strong regions, including New England (where Warren will provide fierce competition), the Upper Midwest (where Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota could create problems in her home state and Wisconsin) and the Pacific Northwest (where Sanders would prefer that candidates like Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper not enter the race).

It also means that Sanders won’t just be competing against other progressives but also against relatively moderate candidates. If #NeverHillary voters from 2016 are again looking for an anti-establishment candidate, Sanders could still fit the bill. If they want a moderate instead, however, they’ll have a lot more choices than they did in 2016 in the form of candidates like Klobuchar and (if they enter the race) Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke. It’s also possible that #NeverHillary voters were mostly motivated by sexism, in which case any of the male candidates could stand to benefit.

None of this dooms Sanders by any means. On balance, he probably benefits from a divided field, in fact, wherein his extremely loyal base gives him a high floor of support. But a multi-way race is way different than a two-way one, so Sanders’s coalition may not be all that similar to what we saw in 2016.


From ABC News:


How Bill Weld Could Shake Up The 2020 Republican Primary

Here’s a blast from the past: Bill Weld is running for president. Speaking in New Hampshire on Friday, the former Massachusetts governor announced that he was forming an exploratory committee to seek the Republican nomination for president. Weld ran for vice president in 2016 on the Libertarian Party ticket, but he’s working within the two-party system this time. That’s smart in one sense — it’s extremely hard to win as a third-party candidate in the United States — but Weld also faces steep odds in challenging the sitting president in a GOP primary.

In all likelihood, President Trump would crush any Republican who tries to primary him. An incumbent president has not lost a bid for renomination since Chester A. Arthur at the GOP convention in 1884 — meaning that it’s never happened in the modern era of presidential primaries. And Trump enjoys a higher approval rating among members of his own party even than recent presidents who cruised to renomination, like Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. (In a recent Fox News poll, 87 percent of Republicans approved of his job performance.) And in early, hypothetical polls of the Republican presidential primary in 2020, Trump has massive leads on even well-known opponents such as Mitt Romney, though Romney has given no indication he’s considering a run. No poll so far in our database has tested Trump against the relatively unknown Weld.

Indeed, Weld seems like one of the weakest candidates that anti-Trump Republicans could put up in a national campaign. Pretty much ever since he was elected governor of Massachusetts in 1990 and re-elected by a record margin in 1994, Weld has been the poster child for patrician, moderate, New England Republicanism. Once roasted for having ancestors who came to America on the Mayflower, Weld quipped, “Actually they weren’t on the Mayflower. They sent the servants over first to get the cottage ready.”5 Both as governor and in the two decades since he left office, Weld has supported gay rights and legal abortion alongside spending and tax cuts. According to his issue matrix at OnTheIssues, which assigns an ideological grade to politicians’ statements and votes, Weld is a progressive-leaning libertarian:

The problem for Weld is that there is no longer a demand for his type of Republican, especially at the federal level: 14 Republicans represented New England during the 104th Congress (1995-96), but only one (Sen. Susan Collins of Maine) does so today.

Even current Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker — a popular New England Republican and a former Weld protégé — is having trouble connecting with the national party these days: Although Baker won re-election last year by a 33-point margin, in a poll taken days after the election, Bay State Republicans sided with Trump over their governor in a theoretical 2020 primary faceoff, and Baker has grappled for control of the state party with the pro-Trump faction of the GOP. Nowadays, Baker’s base is as much Democrats and independents as it is Republicans.

As the national GOP has moved to the right in recent decades, liberal Republican voters who share Weld’s ethos have left the party behind. Many of the cities and towns where Weld performed best in his 1990s races are now solidly Democratic. Indeed, the last time Weld ran a successful election was 1994. That’s a lot of rust to shake off. And there is some evidence that candidates are less successful when they try to jump back into politics after a long hiatus. (Discounting his vice-presidential run, the last time Weld ran for office was 2006, when he ran for governor of New York but dropped out after a poor showing at the Republican convention.)

I’m skeptical that Weld will make any kind of splash in the Republican presidential primary. But if he does, it will probably be in New Hampshire. Eighty-four percent of New Hampshire residents live in the Boston media market, as Weld has for most of his life. And candidates from neighboring states tend to do well in the New Hampshire primary — just ask former winners Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Mitt Romney, John Kerry and Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts. Moderate Republicans or “mavericks” have also historically found support in New Hampshire, where independent voters (who might identify more with Weld’s party-switching) often make up more than 40 percent of the GOP primary electorate. By contrast, the GOP contests in Iowa and South Carolina are more dominated by evangelicals — definitely not Weld’s speed.

But Trump is also pretty mavericky, and his support among New Hampshire Republicans remains strong according to both polls and activists on the ground. The smart bet is still that he wins New Hampshire again.

Weld’s performance in the Granite State, however — does he win 10 percent of the vote there? 30 percent? — will provide a hint about the feelings of a group of voters that Trump will need behind him in the 2020 general election: independent voters who previously cast a ballot for him. Trump carried independent voters by 4 percentage points in 2016, helping him to eke out an Electoral College victory. If Weld finds a foothold in New Hampshire, that could suggest that Trump is struggling with those voters. That might not hand Bill Weld the GOP nomination, but it could foreshadow trouble for Trump in the general. Remember: All three incumbent presidents to face serious primary challenges during the modern primary era went on to lose in the fall.



How Much Trouble Could Bill Weld Cause Trump In The 2020 GOP Primary?

Here’s a blast from the past: Bill Weld is running for president. Speaking in New Hampshire on Friday, the former Massachusetts governor announced that he was forming an exploratory committee to seek the Republican nomination for president. Weld ran for vice president in 2016 on the Libertarian Party ticket, but he’s working within the two-party system this time. That’s smart in one sense — it’s extremely hard to win as a third-party candidate in the United States — but Weld also faces steep odds in challenging the sitting president in a GOP primary.

In all likelihood, President Trump would crush any Republican who tries to primary him. An incumbent president has not lost a bid for renomination since Chester A. Arthur at the GOP convention in 1884 — meaning that it’s never happened in the modern era of presidential primaries. And Trump enjoys a higher approval rating among members of his own party even than recent presidents who cruised to renomination, like Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. (In a recent Fox News poll, 87 percent of Republicans approved of his job performance.) And in early, hypothetical polls of the Republican presidential primary in 2020, Trump has massive leads on even well-known opponents such as Mitt Romney, though Romney has given no indication he’s considering a run. No poll so far in our database has tested Trump against the relatively unknown Weld.

Indeed, Weld seems like one of the weakest candidates that anti-Trump Republicans could put up in a national campaign. Pretty much ever since he was elected governor of Massachusetts in 1990 and re-elected by a record margin in 1994, Weld has been the poster child for patrician, moderate, New England Republicanism. Once roasted for having ancestors who came to America on the Mayflower, Weld quipped, “Actually they weren’t on the Mayflower. They sent the servants over first to get the cottage ready.”5 Both as governor and in the two decades since he left office, Weld has supported gay rights and legal abortion alongside spending and tax cuts. According to his issue matrix at OnTheIssues, which assigns an ideological grade to politicians’ statements and votes, Weld is a progressive-leaning libertarian:

The problem for Weld is that there is no longer a demand for his type of Republican, especially at the federal level: 14 Republicans represented New England during the 104th Congress (1995-96), but only one (Sen. Susan Collins of Maine) does so today.

Even current Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker — a popular New England Republican and a former Weld protégé — is having trouble connecting with the national party these days: Although Baker won re-election last year by a 33-point margin, in a poll taken days after the election, Bay State Republicans sided with Trump over their governor in a theoretical 2020 primary faceoff, and Baker has grappled for control of the state party with the pro-Trump faction of the GOP. Nowadays, Baker’s base is as much Democrats and independents as it is Republicans.

As the national GOP has moved to the right in recent decades, liberal Republican voters who share Weld’s ethos have left the party behind. Many of the cities and towns where Weld performed best in his 1990s races are now solidly Democratic. Indeed, the last time Weld ran a successful election was 1994. That’s a lot of rust to shake off. And there is some evidence that candidates are less successful when they try to jump back into politics after a long hiatus. (Discounting his vice-presidential run, the last time Weld ran for office was 2006, when he ran for governor of New York but dropped out after a poor showing at the Republican convention.)

I’m skeptical that Weld will make any kind of splash in the Republican presidential primary. But if he does, it will probably be in New Hampshire. Eighty-four percent of New Hampshire residents live in the Boston media market, as Weld has for most of his life. And candidates from neighboring states tend to do well in the New Hampshire primary — just ask former winners Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Mitt Romney, John Kerry and Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts. Moderate Republicans or “mavericks” have also historically found support in New Hampshire, where independent voters (who might identify more with Weld’s party-switching) often make up more than 40 percent of the GOP primary electorate. By contrast, the GOP contests in Iowa and South Carolina are more dominated by evangelicals — definitely not Weld’s speed.

But Trump is also pretty mavericky, and his support among New Hampshire Republicans remains strong according to both polls and activists on the ground. The smart bet is still that he wins New Hampshire again.

Weld’s performance in the Granite State, however — does he win 10 percent of the vote there? 30 percent? — will provide a hint about the feelings of a group of voters that Trump will need behind him in the 2020 general election: independent voters who previously cast a ballot for him. Trump carried independent voters by 4 percentage points in 2016, helping him to eke out an Electoral College victory. If Weld finds a foothold in New Hampshire, that could suggest that Trump is struggling with those voters. That might not hand Bill Weld the GOP nomination, but it could foreshadow trouble for Trump in the general. Remember: All three incumbent presidents to face serious primary challenges during the modern primary era went on to lose in the fall.



Trump Keeps Doubling Down On The Same Failed Strategy

President Trump will declare a national emergency and seek money to build a border wall, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday, moments before the U.S. Senate passed a compromise spending bill that didn’t include wall funding.

If Trump follows through on the emergency declaration, he’ll be doing something that large majorities of Americans oppose — and he’ll be doing it at right as his job approval ratings had begun to rebound following the partial government shutdown in December and January.

Indeed, the act of declaring a national emergency to build a wall is even more unpopular than the wall itself — and the wall isn’t popular. Polls as tracked by PollingReport.com show an average of 32 percent of Americans in favor of the declaration and 65 percent opposed. Even in an era where many of Trump’s top priorities poll only in the low-to-mid-40s, that’s an especially large split, with roughly twice as many voters opposed as in favor.

Voters strongly oppose a national emergency over the wall

Polls conducted during and since the partial government shutdown on whether Trump should declare a national emergency to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border

Pollster Dates Approve/ Support/ Should Disapprove/ Oppose/ Should not
CNN/SSRS Jan. 30-Feb. 2 31% 66%
Quinnipiac University Jan. 25-28 31 66
Monmouth University Jan. 25-27 34 64
Quinnipiac University Jan. 9-13 32 65
ABC News/Washington Post Jan. 8-11 31 66
Average 32 65

Source: POLLINGREPORT.COM

The emergency plan could potentially become somewhat more popular if Trump tries to rally his base behind it, but it’s an issue that causes a fair amount of divisiveness even among Republican lawmakers.

And the strategy suggests that Trump didn’t learn any lessons from the shutdown. His approval rating, which was 42.2 percent on the day the shutdown began, bottomed out at 39.3 just as the shutdown was ending. It has since mostly recovered to 41.5 percent, however. Despite Trump’s having capitulated to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in agreeing to reopen the government for three weeks, the sky didn’t fall and the base stuck with Trump.

The mechanics of this are fairly straightforward. Trump indeed has a loyal1 base. That base is so loyal, however, that very little about what Trump does seems to affect their views or him. Here is Trump’s approval rating by party according to Gallup since the midterm elections, for example. Among Republicans, Trump’s approval rating was steady at roughly 88 percent before, during and after the shutdown. Among Democrats, it was also largely unchanged.2 Among independents, however, his approval rating plunged from about 39 percent just before the shutdown to 31 and 32 percent in two polls conducted in the midst of it, before recovering to 38 percent once the shutdown was over.

Trump’s base remained loyal during the shutdown

Trump’s job approval rating, by party, before and after the government shutdown

Trump’s Approval Rating Among
Dates Republicans Independents Democrats
Feb. 1-10 89% 38% 5%
Jan. 21-27 88 32 5
Jan. 2-10, 2019 88 31 6
Dec. 17-22 89 39 8
Dec. 10-16 86 37 7
Dec. 3-9 89 38 7
Nov. 26-Dec. 2 89 39 6
Nov. 19-25 86 34 9
Nov. 12-18, 2018 90 37 6

Polls in the shaded rows were conducted mostly or entirely during the government shutdown.

Source: Gallup

Again, nothing here is rocket science. It’s Electoral Politics 101. Trump does unpopular stuff, and he becomes more unpopular. The erosion mostly comes from independents because Republicans are highly loyal to him and Democrats are already almost uniformly opposed.

But Trump will need those independents to win re-election. He needed them to become president in the first place. Trump won independents by 4 points, 46 percent to 42 percent for Hillary Clinton, in 2016. Had they gone for Clinton by 4 points instead, she would have won the national popular vote by 4 or 5 points, and won Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and possibly Arizona.

Or things could get a lot worse than that for Trump, and he could lose independents by a wider margin. In the 2018 midterms, Republicans lost independents by 12 percentage points, contributing to a 40-seat loss in the House. The key facet about the midterms is that turnout was very high, including among the Republican base. But it was also high among the Democratic base, and Republicans badly lost independents. The base alone isn’t enough to win national elections, especially for Republicans, since fewer voters identify as Republicans than as Democrats.

There’s just not a lot more to say about this. If Trump didn’t learn he needs to reach beyond his base from either the midterms or from the shutdown, he probably won’t figure it out in time for 2020.

How Amy Klobuchar Could Win The 2020 Democratic Nomination

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced her candidacy for president at a rally in Minneapolis on Sunday, becoming the fifth Democratic senator1 to launch a campaign. In contrast to some of the big names — Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren — who had been expected to run for president for years, Klobuchar is a little bit more of a homespun, independent-label candidate.

But being on an indie label has its upsides and downsides. On the one hand, there’s perceived authenticity and the ability to build momentum from modest expectations. On the other hand, there’s the question of whether your product can get into the hands of consumers without having major-label marketing muscle behind it — and, if so, whether it can expand beyond a niche audience.

So this article is meant to provide a relatively comprehensive assessment of Klobuchar’s strengths and weaknesses — rather than being either a “devil’s advocate” argument or a best-case scenario. It’s informed by conversations with Klobuchar’s campaign as well as with unaffiliated Democrats, but the opinions and analysis are my own. As you’ll see, I think Klobuchar’s upsides outweigh her downsides, but there’s plenty of material in both columns.

Four potential advantages

1. Electability. Democrats really, really want to beat President Trump. A recent Monmouth University poll found that 56 percent of Democrats “prefer someone who would be a strong candidate against Trump even if they disagree with that candidate on most issues,” compared with just 33 percent who held the opposite view.

What it means to be “electable” is somewhat in the eye of the beholder — the term sometimes seems to be a euphemism for a good-looking white guy who isn’t too liberal (hello, Beto).

But Klobuchar can make some good, data-driven arguments for her electability. One of them is simply the overall electoral importance of the Midwest — particularly the Upper Midwestern states of Minnesota (which Trump came within 1.5 percentage points of winning), Wisconsin and Michigan (which Trump won). Winning those three states plus Pennsylvania (or Ohio, or Florida, or North Carolina) would have given Hillary Clinton the presidency. And if the midterm elections were any guide, they still probably represent the path of least resistance for Democrats to retake the White House.

There’s also Klobuchar’s strong performances in Minnesota to consider. She was first elected in 2006 by a 20-point margin and then re-elected in 2012 by 35 points and in 2018 by 24 points. In each case, she performed well statewide and not just in the Twin Cities, winning 79 of 87 counties in 2006 and 85 of 87 in 2012. That declined to 51 of 87 counties in 2018, but given the massive swing toward Trump and Republicans in rural counties elsewhere in the Midwest, Klobuchar still did better than many Democrats.

Class I Democratic senators such as Klobuchar have been blessed not to face election or re-election in a “red wave” cycle — 2006, 2012 and 2018 have all been blue years. Nonetheless, Klobuchar has performed strongly relative to other Democrats in the same elections. Below, for example, is the output from a regression analysis that calculates an expected result in each 2018 Senate race based on every state’s partisan lean (how much more Republican or Democratic it is than the country as a whole2) and whether either party had an elected incumbent running. According to this analysis, you’d have expected Klobuchar — a Democratic incumbent in a blue year, but in a purple state — to win re-election by 14 percentage points. Instead, she was re-elected by 24 points, beating the model’s expectations by 10 points:

Klobuchar was one of the strongest Democrats in 2018

Margins of victory or defeat for Democratic Senate candidates vs. their forecasted margins based on incumbency and the state’s partisan lean

Margin of Victory or Defeat
State Dem. Candidate Actual Expected Actual less expected
West Virginia Manchin D+3.3 R+10.5 D+13.8
Vermont* Sanders D+44.4 D+31.1 D+13.3
Minnesota Klobuchar D+24.1 D+14.3 D+9.8
Texas O’Rourke R+2.6 R+12.2 D+9.6
New Mexico Heinrich D+23.6 D+18.2 D+5.4
Nevada Rosen D+5.0 R+0.3 D+5.3
Maryland Cardin D+34.5 D+29.9 D+4.7
New York Gillibrand D+34.0 D+29.4 D+4.5
Montana Tester D+3.6 R+0.8 D+4.3
Tennessee Bredesen R+10.8 R+14.7 D+3.9
Virginia Kaine D+16.0 D+12.8 D+3.2
Arizona Sinema D+2.3 R+0.4 D+2.7
Maine* King D+19.1 D+16.5 D+2.6
Minnesota special* Smith D+10.6 D+8.3 D+2.3
Hawaii Hirono D+42.3 D+40.1 D+2.2
North Dakota Heitkamp R+10.8 R+12.5 D+1.7
Pennsylvania Casey D+13.1 D+11.8 D+1.4
California* Feinstein/others D+30.2 D+29.0 D+1.3
Ohio Brown D+6.8 D+7.1 R+0.3
Connecticut Murphy D+20.2 D+20.9 R+0.7
Wisconsin Baldwin D+10.8 D+11.6 R+0.8
Delaware Carper D+22.1 D+23.0 R+0.9
Nebraska Raybould R+19.1 R+17.6 R+1.5
Wyoming Trauner R+36.9 R+35.3 R+1.5
Mississippi special* Espy R+7.3 R+5.0 R+2.3
Missouri McCaskill R+5.8 R+1.7 R+4.1
Washington Cantwell D+16.9 D+21.6 R+4.7
Indiana Donnelly R+5.9 R+0.9 R+5.0
Michigan Stabenow D+6.5 D+13.7 R+7.2
Mississippi Baria R+19.0 R+11.0 R+8.0
Florida Nelson R+0.1 D+8.6 R+8.7
Rhode Island Whitehouse D+23.1 D+32.3 R+9.2
Massachusetts Warren D+24.2 D+35.1 R+10.9
New Jersey Menendez D+11.2 D+22.8 R+11.7
Utah Wilson R+31.7 R+17.1 R+14.6

Potential presidential candidates are in bold

* In Vermont and Maine, the independent is treated as the Democrat. In California, the aggregate results for all Democratic candidates in the June 5, 2018, primary is used, since two Democrats advanced to the general election. However, in the Mississippi special election, the result of the Nov. 27 runoff is used since that race featured a Democrat against a Republican. Races with appointed incumbents — namely, the Minnesota and Mississippi special elections — are treated as open seats rather than as equivalent to races with elected incumbents.

Source: Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections

That rates as the third-strongest performance for a Democratic candidate for Senate last year, slightly behind West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders3 and just ahead of Texas’s Beto O’Rourke. Among other actual or potential Democratic candidates who ran Senate races in 2018, New York’s Kirsten GIllibrand also performs relatively well by this metric, whereas Ohio’s Sherrod Brown gets an average rating, and Massachusetts’s Warren a poor one.

That’s not to say you should expect Klobuchar to tout her own electability on the campaign trail, which can seem uncouth. (The first rule of electability is: Don’t talk about electability.) But it’s an argument we’re liable to hear a lot from her surrogates.

2. Potential strength in Iowa, and in the debates. As compared to candidates such as Harris and O’Rourke, who might hope to blitz their way to victory on the basis of strong fundraising and early delegate accumulation in California and Texas, Klobuchar is probably playing a long game. But doing so requires hitting two important mile markers. First, success in the debates. And then a strong performance in the Iowa caucuses.

Klobuchar’s team believes she should have two advantages in the debates. First, like Harris, Klobuchar is a former prosecutor — having been county attorney in Minneapolis’s Hennepin County — a skill that should translate well into the sharp-elbowed stage of the debates. And second, she can be candid and funny, potentially allowing her to surpass expectations among voters who expect Midwestern blandness or “Minnesota nice.” It’s a credible-enough case, but Klobuchar, who starts out with name recognition well below 50 percent, will need some big moments in the debates.

Her potential to succeed in Iowa is more obvious. She will probably be the only major candidate in the race from a state that borders Iowa and one of relatively few Midwesterners in the field. And in her statewide races in Minnesota, she relied heavily on a retail approach to politics, something that should translate well to Iowa. Looking at past results from the Iowa caucuses makes it pretty clear that there’s a regional advantage in this contest, although other politicians who are not from the region but have strong retail skills (a description that might fit Booker and O’Rourke, for example) can also perform well there.

Beyond Iowa, Klobuchar’s path is less clear. In New Hampshire’s open primary, voters typically favor liberal New Englanders such as Sanders and Warren.4 And the electorates get much less white after Iowa and New Hampshire, whereas Klobuchar’s strengths with nonwhite voters are less than obvious. So she’d be hoping for a polling bounce out of Iowa, something that used to occur regularly but has been more fleeting in recent years.

3. The beer track … without the baggage? Klobuchar’s campaign is likely to emphasize her working-class Midwestern roots, her staff said; you’ll hear stuff about how her grandfather worked as an iron-ore miner, for instance. It will also pitch her to voters on candor, honesty, pragmatism, an ability to “get stuff done,” work ethic and so forth. It’s going to lean pretty heavily into her Midwesternness, in other words.

The idea is to draw a contrast — probably softly at first, and maybe more explicitly if the campaign grows more combative — between Klobuchar and more left-wing candidates from the coasts, particularly Harris, Warren, Sanders and perhaps Booker. In some ways, this will recall the old distinction between “beer-track” (“flyover-state” moderates) and “wine-track” (coastal liberals) Democrats. However, Klobuchar isn’t likely to have the beer track to herself; Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown could be playing in the same lane, and, more significantly, so could former Vice President Joe Biden. There’s also what you might call a “craft-beer track,” consistenting of candidates who are from the middle of the country but whose appeal might be stronger among college-educated voters, such as O’Rourke and (craft brewery founder!) John Hickenlooper, a former governor of Colorado.

Does that mean Klobuchar is liable to run explicitly as a moderate — campaigning, for instance, against policies such as “Medicare-for-all”? Her campaign wouldn’t quite say as much, instead describing her as a pragmatist and a realist — but that’s a fussy distinction at best.

But there is an interesting twist to Klobuchar’s triangulation: Although she has a relatively moderate voting record, it’s fairly liberal relative to Minnesota, which (despite its reputation as a bastion of liberalism) is a purple state. Of the 13 Democrats who are either already running for president or are clearly telegraphing a run and who served in Congress during President Trump’s tenure, Klobuchar has the 12th-highest Trump score, meaning she’s voted with Trump comparatively often (31.5 percent of the time, trailing only former Maryland Rep. John Delaney among the presidential contenders). But she has the 10th-lowest Trump plus-minus rating, meaning that she’s voted with Trump much less often than you’d expect from someone from a purple state or district. Only Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, and Brown and Rep. Tim Ryan from increasingly red Ohio have a lower Trump plus-minus among the potential presidential candidates. By contrast, O’Rourke, although he voted with Trump slightly less often than Klobuchar, has the highest Trump plus-minus in the field because he represents an extremely blue district in El Paso.

All of that is to say: Klobuchar may well try to finesse the distinction between being a moderate and a realist, however meaningful that distinction might or might not be to Democratic voters. And she’s likely to express support for at least some decidedly liberal goals, having signaled support for the Green New Deal, for instance.5

Klobuchar looks moderate in the Democratic primary field

Trump score, predicted Trump score and Trump plus-minus for likely and declared Democratic candidates for president who have served in Congress under Trump. Klobuchar’s voting record is moderate relative to other Demoratic candidates for president but liberal relative to a purple state.

Trump score
Member Actual Predicted Trump Plus-Minus
Sherrod Brown 29.5% 67.7% -38.2
Tim Ryan 20.6 49.6 -29.0
Jeff Merkley 13.5 34.9 -21.4
Amy Klobuchar 31.5 50.0 -18.5
Cory Booker 15.7 31.4 -15.7
Michael Bennet 29.2 43.9 -14.7
Kirsten Gillibrand 12.4 25.1 -12.8
Elizabeth Warren 13.5 22.8 -9.3
Bernie Sanders 14.8 23.4 -8.6
John Delaney 34.4 38.5 -4.1
Kamala Harris 18.0 21.7 -3.7
Tulsi Gabbard 22.8 20.5 +2.3
Beto O’Rourke 30.1 18.8 +11.3

Trump score indicates the share of votes for which the member voted in line with Trump’s position. The predicted score is what we expect that member’s score would be based on Trump’s 2016 margin in that member’s state or district. The Trump plus-minus is the difference between the actual and expected scores.

Klobuchar also has some other arguments to make against the rest of the beer-track candidates. Or at least, she arguably has less baggage than the rest of them. Her credentials — 20 years in public office — are sound by presidential standards (unlike O’Rourke’s). She isn’t 76 years old, as Biden is, and she doesn’t represent a state that is heavily invested in the financial industry, which is a problem for Biden and for all of the New York and New Jersey Democrats. The beer track will likely also be dominated by men — including possible candidates Biden, O’Rourke, Brown, Hickenlooper, Ryan and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock — so Klobuchar could have a lot of strength with working-class women, an overlooked and important part of the Democratic base.

Of course, it’s also possible that the beer track is a road to nowhere. Democratic delegate allocations are based on the number of Democratic votes for president in each state, which means they’re deliberately biased toward blue states. And an increasing number of Democrats view themselves as liberal rather than moderate.

4. A reasonably clear contrast to Trump. Before I started researching and reporting out this story, I thought one Klobuchar strength was that she could formulate one of the clearest contrasts to Trump. It’s almost always helpful for candidates in the primaries to draw stylistic and substantive contrasts against the other party’s president, as Trump did against Barack Obama, as Obama did against George W. Bush, and as Bill Clinton did against George H.W. Bush. My thinking was that Klobuchar’s mild-mannered Minnesota-niceness and long career as a public servant — and the fact that she’s a woman — would look to Democratic voters like the antidote to Trump’s bombast and braggadocio.

I still think that theory is mostly true and that Klobuchar is an above-average Democrat in her degree of not-Trumpness. But I want to hedge against it a little bit. The version of Klobuchar we see in debates and on the campaign trail may be scrappier, blunter, more sarcastic and more emotive than people are expecting (and reports of angry and abusive behavior toward staffers may facilitate those perceptions). Moreover, to the extent that her campaign is drawing distinctions between her beer-track persona and the wine-track elites from the coasts, she’ll in some ways be echoing arguments that Trump might make about Democrats.

Overall, this is an impressive list of strengths, even if some of them are quite hedged. They’re why Klobuchar has a considerably better chance of winning the nomination than you might guess given her relatively low profile. But she also has a couple of significant weaknesses.

Two potential problems

1. Lack of a clear path with nonwhite voters. Minnesota is not quite as white as you might think. It’s home to several immigrant groups, including some relatively smaller ones such as Somalians and Laotians. And its nonwhite population has grown significantly since 2000. Nonetheless, as of 2017, about 80 percent of Minnesota’s population was non-Hispanic white, compared with 61 percent for the U.S. as a whole. And since many of those nonwhite Minnesotans are recent immigrants, the share of whites among the electorate is even higher, at about 89 percent.

That’s not to say that white politicians can never find appeal with nonwhite voters. John Kerry did quite well with African-Americans, for instance, and O’Rourke was elected to Congress three times from one of the most Hispanic congressional districts in the country. This year’s Democratic field features several people of color, however, and Klobuchar doesn’t have any obvious strategy to appeal to black, Hispanic and Asian voters, which together will make up around 40 percent of the Democratic primary electorate. Instead, several of her likely strategic choices — running on the beer track, heavily investing in Iowa and (perhaps) New Hampshire — would emphasize trying to capture as much of the white vote as possible before turning to minorities.

Klobuchar also isn’t likely to have a lot of initial appeal to the left. She may subtly and selectively push back against some left-wing policy proposals while embracing others — or she may run more explicitly toward the center, depending on who else enters the race. (Biden’s decision about whether to run could significantly affect her calculus.) But either way, the left will have candidates such as Sanders, Warren and Brown as their first choices. That means Klobuchar doesn’t perform well according to our “five corners” heuristic, which regards black voters, Hispanics and The Left as three of the five major constituencies within the Democratic Party:

The five corners don’t capture everything. In particular, they don’t account for voters’ gender, even though around three-fifths of the Democratic electorate will be women.

But it does mean that Klobuchar’s campaign will need to proceed in stages, without necessarily having a lot of margin for error. First, she’ll have to perform well in debates and town halls to boost her name recognition. Second, she’ll need to win Iowa — or at least beat expectations there — to vault herself ahead of the other beer-track candidates. Third, she’ll need to heavily emphasize electability to win the slugfest against the wine-track candidates. Each stage holds risks for Klobuchar, and she doesn’t have a lot of shortcuts or detours at any point along the route if she gets knocked off track.

2. Staffing a campaign and building support among insiders. Articles published by HuffPost and BuzzFeed News have included allegations of abusive behavior by Klobuchar toward her staff, citing both statistics showing her high turnover and heretofore largely anonymous accounts of bad behavior from former staffers.

These rumors have been widespread for a long time. (To insert myself as a barometer here, as someone who doesn’t live in Washington and who is sort of ambivalent to political gossip, I’d heard about them several times.) In some ways, the HuffPost and BuzzFeed stories are relatively gentle in that they don’t contain that many details and are largely anonymous. Furthermore, this criticism can be gendered: A woman who exhibits the same behavior as “tough” or “demanding” male boss might be typecast as as “b—-.”

They also reek of inside-baseballness. Having a reputation as a bad boss can be problematic within your industry. But without salacious details, it’s not the sort of scandal that voters are liable to care all that much about.

At the same time, the nomination process is to some extent an inside game. If, as the HuffPost story claims, Klobuchar has trouble recruiting the layers of highly talented staffers that the other candidates have because of a reputation (well-earned or not) for being an abusive boss, that will hurt her. It will hurt her more if it signifies a general wariness about Klobuchar among Washington insiders, which could yield fewer endorsements and less willingness by “party elites” to rally around her if the field has been winnowed down to two or three candidates.

So I’ll be looking to whether Klobuchar is able to gather a few endorsements in the early stages of her campaign, especially from outside of Minnesota. There’s an extent to which a measured amount of pushback from Beltway elites could play into Klobuchar’s brand as a tough, no-BS outsider. But it’s really hard to go it completely alone in the primary, especially when your strategy involves winning over one faction of the party first (the beer track) and then building bridges to the other factions later on.


From ABC News:

We’re Tracking 2020 Polls

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