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Posted by Anna Maria Barry-Jester

Senate Republicans championing a final effort to pass a bill to repeal and replace parts of the Affordable Care Act are selling it as a way to offer more flexibility to states. But while it would provide new possibilities for states that have largely rejected the ACA, the states that have embraced the law would be stuck designing a new health system with far less money.

The law would upend the way the federal government currently helps pay for health insurance — covering some of the cost of commercial insurance for some groups and funding Medicaid for others — and give states more open-ended dollars. To get the funds, governors would be forced to take on the political third rail of drafting, passing and enacting health insurance legislation that would change coverage for millions of people. And they would have just two years to do it.

The latest GOP legislation, known as Graham-Cassidy for Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, is expected to be brought up for a vote in the Senate next week. It includes several provisions found in previous bills that failed to make it through the Senate this year: It would end many of the rules and regulations of the Affordable Care Act that are very unpopular, including the mandate that most individuals have insurance or pay a fine, as well as the requirement that most businesses offer insurance to their employees. It would also allow states to waive the rules requiring insurers to sell comprehensive coverage and requiring them to provide the same coverage to people with pre-existing conditions as people with fewer health problems. This gives states that have been unhappy with the Affordable Care Act’s regulations more leeway in structuring health insurance coverage.

But the Graham-Cassidy bill would also end the expansion of Medicaid, the health insurance program for people with low incomes, essentially reverting eligibility limits back to what they were before the ACA. The bill would also cap federal spending on those parts of the program that existed before the Affordable Care Act. It would additionally get rid of the subsidies that help low-income people who don’t get insurance from an employer buy coverage and prevent federal money from going to Planned Parenthood for a year. States that want to keep helping the people these programs cover would have to come up with new ways to do so.

That’s largely because the bill departs from previous Republican legislation on the ACA by providing a new block grant, or lump sum, of federal money to states with far fewer strings attached. Governors wouldn’t have to use it to help cover the same people, but they’d have to create new programs if they wanted to spend it.

In essence, the Graham-Cassidy bill would work like this:

The Affordable Care Act made three main pots of money available to states.1 One expanded Medicaid,2 opening up federal dollars for states to cover more people (everyone earning below 138 percent of the federal poverty line, about $16,600 in 2017). Another pot brings down the cost of insurance premiums for people earning between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty line who don’t get insurance from their employer. The third brings down the cost of things like copays and deductibles for a subset of those people.3

All of those funds target low-income people, who have historically been much less likely to have health insurance coverage.

Graham-Cassidy would take those pots of money, pool them together and then redistribute some reduced amount of the total to states as a lump sum. The formula for how much money states would get is complicated, but by 2026, it would largely be based on what share of the lowest-income people in the country live in a given state, with some additional adjustments. But unlike with the ACA, the money wouldn’t have to go to those with the lowest incomes.

In many cases, states that did not expand Medicaid would end up with more money than they currently get, and states that did expand the program would get less. Since states’ decisions to expand Medicaid largely fell along party lines, that means more money for many Republican-leaning states and less money for many Democrat-leaning states.

But in some cases, it also means less money for some of the states with the most successful Obamacare marketplaces, where many people who don’t get insurance from an employer can buy subsidized health insurance, regardless of whether they expanded Medicaid. Florida is perhaps the most extreme example — although state politicians chose not to expand Medicaid and the governor has been vehemently opposed to the law since it passed, the state’s insurance marketplaces have thrived. Florida has had among the highest rates of enrollment among eligible individuals of any state and experienced smaller rate increases than many other states. Yet the state would likely lose federal funding under Graham-Cassidy, according to an analysis from the left-leaning think tank the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (others, including conservative-leaning health policy consultant Robert Laszewski, have said they believe these are good ballpark figures).

And it’s impossible to say how states would use the funding they do get. The law has few requirements on how the funds would be spent at the same time that it effectively ends Medicaid expansion and the insurance marketplaces, which require the subsidies and regulations to run as designed. The Congressional Budget Office, which provides analyses of bills for Congress, has said that it will provide some preliminary estimates of the bill’s overall costs next week but that the analysis it normally does on how many people will have insurance coverage and how much that coverage will cost won’t be available “for at least several weeks.”

What might those state-run systems look like? At least one Republican has suggested that the bill could lead to some states employing a single-payer system, under which the state would essentially be in charge of paying for all health care (though not delivering it). But that’s unlikely. The ACA already allows states to establish single-payer systems, but none has applied to do so. Part of the reason is cost; they’re expensive to run, as Vermont found out when it attempted to enact one. The states that have floated single-payer bills in the past, such as Hawaii, New York and California, would be among those most likely to see cuts in their federal funding under the Graham-Cassidy bill. (Sen. John Kennedy of Lousiana has also reportedly proposed an amendment to the bill to forbid using the money for a single-payer system.)

Similarly, with fewer funds, states would be hard-pressed to continue with the structure created by the Affordable Care Act — particularly the ones that might be the most inclined to do so.

Take California, for example. The state has touted its success under the ACA, noting that just 3.6 percent of the population is currently uninsured (if undocumented immigrants, who don’t qualify for most of the provisions of the ACA, are excluded). But in 2026, the state would receive $27.8 billion less than it would under current law, according to the CBPP analysis. California would have to not only make up for that funding shortfall but also design and set up a new program to cover those who currently qualify for Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, under the expansion. And California, which is one of 12 states that runs its own health insurance marketplace and therefore already has its own infrastructure in place, has a leg up on many other states that would have to build out that platform in order to keep it going.

Additionally, Congress would have to renew the funding in Graham-Cassidy for it to continue past 2026. The possibility that money for new programs could disappear so quickly could makes states wary of creating them.

But to get the funding, states would have to come up with some sort of system to distribute it by the time the block grants go into effect in 2020. That puts legislators in all 50 states debating the contours of a state insurance program in the run-up to the next presidential election, likely making it an even more difficult task. The Graham-Cassidy bill might free some states and people of unpopular Obamacare regulations, but it would also saddle them with the complicated task of dealing with health insurance legislation for years to come.

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Posted by Neil Paine

The 2017 American League playoff field may be the most hellacious in history. It will include the already historic Cleveland Indians, who were incapable of losing a single game for nearly a month; the Houston Astros, whose high-powered offense ranks among the greatest ever; and both the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, those eternally big-spending AL East rivals.

Oh, and there will also be a fifth playoff team, one that will presumably serve as cannon fodder.

But although it won’t be a surprise if that second wild-card team is in over its head come October, it is surprising who that team will most likely be: the Minnesota Twins. According to FiveThirtyEight’s playoff odds, Minnesota, with its 78-73 record, is a pretty solid favorite to land that final spot. The Twins’ 1.5-game cushion over the Los Angeles Angels in the wild-card race gives them a 66 percent chance of earning the franchise its first playoff appearance since 2010.

Most teams would be frustrated if their first playoff bid in seven years put them on the most difficult path ever. But then again, the Twins weren’t even supposed to be here. In spring training, the consensus was that a successful Minnesota season would see the club make some incremental improvements based off of its young talent base. Our preseason projections called for the Twins to win about 74 games — which is not many, but it would have been a big upgrade over 2016, when the team had just 59 wins.

The Twins’ best returning veterans were a 29-year-old second baseman coming off an out-of-nowhere 42-home-run season (Brian Dozier), a 34-year-old starter on his fourth team in six years (Ervin Santana) and a 33-year-old catcher-turned-first-baseman struggling to maintain some semblance of his early-career form (Joe Mauer). So it was pretty clear that Minnesota’s kids would need to make some strides simply to offset regression by their elders, much less sustain a real playoff bid. And those young players had a lot of work left to do: Of Minnesota’s 10 regulars aged 25 or under in 2016,4 none cracked 2.0 wins above replacement,5 which is the general benchmark for an acceptable major-league starter. Six of the 10 had a measly 0.6 WAR or fewer, and three were below the replacement level outright.

But more than simply assisting the vets in keeping the team afloat, Minnesota’s young core has come into its own in 2017. Of those 10 young regulars from a year ago, all but one (Danny Santana, who was traded to Atlanta in May) have been mainstays for this year’s squad, and seven of the nine have improved their WAR — in some cases, dramatically so.

The Twins’ young core blew up in 2017

Wins above replacement for players age 25 or younger and had either 200 plate appearances or 50 innings pitched for the 2016 Minnesota Twins

WAR
PLAYER POS AGE 2016 2017 DIFF
Jose Berrios P 23 -1.0 2.3 +3.3
Byron Buxton CF 23 1.8 4.6 +2.8
Miguel Sano 3B 24 1.1 2.7 +1.6
Jorge Polanco SS 23 0.2 1.6 +1.3
Eddie Rosario LF 25 1.0 2.1 +1.1
Tyler Duffey P 26 -0.2 0.3 +0.6
Taylor Rogers P 26 0.6 0.8 +0.2
Kennys Vargas 1B 26 0.6 0.6 -0.0
Max Kepler RF 24 1.7 1.6 -0.1

WAR for 2017 is pro-rated to 162 team games. LF Danny Santana isn’t included because he is no longer with the club.

Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs

Twenty-three-year-old righty Jose Berrios, who was the eighth-worst pitcher in baseball last season by WAR, has made incredible strides this year. He has sliced his rate of home runs allowed per nine innings nearly in half, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is more than double what it was a season ago. Few starters in the game have a better fastball-curve combo than Berrios, whose nasty breaking pitches have helped him become the eighth-most improved pitcher in baseball this season according to WAR.

He’s not the Twins’ only big breakout of the year. Outfielder Eddie Rosario’s on-base plus slugging is up 129 points this season thanks to improved plate discipline and a steeper power stroke. Third baseman Miguel Sano — who, sadly, appears to be out of commission for the playoffs because of a leg injury suffered in August — has been a fixture atop the exit-velocity leaderboards, the result of mammoth moon shots like this one from July. Shortstop Jorge Polanco has been steady, improving Minnesota’s production at the position from among the worst in baseball to roughly average.

And last but not least, there’s 23-year-old center fielder Byron Buxton, who has officially made The Leap to stardom this season. Buxton, who was the No. 1 prospect in baseball a few years ago, was always ridiculously fast and a slick fielder, but this season, he has taken his outfield exploits to new heights.

According to an average of Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating,6 Buxton has been baseball’s best outfielder this year (edging out Boston’s Mookie Betts and Toronto’s Kevin Pillar) and its second-best fielder, period, behind Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons. He also leads MLB in a fancy new Statcast metric called Outs Above Average, which is derived by comparing an outfielder’s actual plays made to the number we’d expect an average fielder to make using the catch probability of every ball hit in his direction. Buxton, for instance, has gotten the out 133 times in 135 chances (99 percent) on balls where the average fielder had at least a 26 percent of recording an out. (He has also snagged 2 outs in 31 chances where the odds of a catch were 25 percent or less.) For Buxton, all but the most improbable of catches are basically a sure thing.

And Buxton’s hitting, a dreadful weakness in his first two MLB seasons, has improved to nearly reach the league-average mark. Buxton still strikes out too much. But his approach at the plate is getting more refined, and he’s a big threat on the basepaths. If he keeps progressing as a hitter, Buxton’s career path might be less Corey Patterson — another fast, “toolsy” prospect who never quite put it all together — and more Andre Dawson (or at least, say, Reggie Smith or Tommie Agee).

All of these long-awaited developments have helped put Minnesota on a path back to the postseason. Of course, it also helped that the Twins were never as bad in 2016 as their 59-win record suggested. Statistically, they looked more like a 71-win team that suffered some of the worst luck in baseball. (That luck has repaid itself a bit this season, with Minnesota currently running three games better than the record we’d expect from its underlying stats.) The Twins have also been fortunate that the AL’s pecking order by talent drops off significantly after the league’s fourth-best team — that fifth playoff spot has to be filled by somebody, and Minnesota has played the best out of a group of probably equivalent teams that also includes the Angels, Rangers, Mariners and Rays.

Making the playoffs by default, then facing possibly the toughest bracket ever, doesn’t exactly sound like an enviable accomplishment. But given where the Twins were a season ago — and where they appear to be headed — this season has been nothing less than a rousing success in Minnesota. And despite the daunting path, the bookmakers are giving the Twins a 33-to-1 shot at winning the World Series. As always in a sport like baseball, stranger things have happened.

Check out our latest MLB predictions.

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Posted by Harry Enten

Polarization on illegal immigration is a two-way street. The GOP gets most of the attention, and indeed a hardline immigration stance has become a defining issue for Republicans. But Democratic voters have become far more liberal on a slew of measurements regarding illegal immigration over the past decade.

It was only 11 years ago that a majority of Senate Democrats voted in favor of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which called for 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. It was just 10 years ago that Sen. Bernie Sanders voted against comprehensive immigration reform.

It’s hard to imagine either of those things happening now. And that polarization could come into play if the White House and congressional Democrats reach a deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Long before Trump made building a wall along the southern border one of his main campaign issues, some Democrats were open to the idea of fencing along the border. In a May 2006 Gallup survey, before Congress voted on the Secure Fence Act, nearly 40 percent of Democratic voters were in favor in favor of “building a wall along the border with Mexico.” And support for a wall generally held through the first part of this decade.

In the lead-up to the 2010 midterms, when John McCain aired an ad in which he said “complete the dang fence,” 46 percent of Democrats were for “building a wall or security fence along the U.S.-Mexico border to stop illegal immigration,” according to a Fox News poll.

More recently, however, Democratic support for a border wall has plummeted. Support dropped to just 29 percent for “building a wall along the entire border with Mexico” in a Pew Research Center survey in September 2015. And by February of this year, just 8 percent of Democrats were for it in Pew’s polling, while 89 percent were opposed.

Of course, some of the growing Democratic opposition can be chalked up to Trump’s embrace of the issue. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of polling about a wall after 2011 but before Trump declared for the presidency in June 2015, so we don’t know how much of this trend is merely Democrats reacting negatively to anything Trump supports. (We do know that Democrats were growing more liberal on immigration pre-Trump, however. More on this in a moment.)

Democratic voters have also become far more in favor of granting citizenship to immigrants in the country illegally. To be clear, Democrats have always been in favor of a path to citizenship. In a January 2006 Time/SRBI poll, 72 percent of Democrats favored “allowing illegal immigrants now in this country to earn U.S. citizenship if they learn to speak English, have a job and pay taxes.” But that still left a sizable minority of Democrats, 24 percent, opposed to such a proposal. In fact, Republicans were actually slightly more likely than Democrats to say they were in favor, at 77 percent.

But today there is no room for dissension within the Democratic Party. It’s difficult to compare pathway to citizenship questions over time because pollsters haven’t kept question wording consistent, but in March 2017, Marist asked a similar question to the one above and found that 90 percent of Democrats were in favor. Only 8 percent were opposed. And 86 percent of Democrats in an August Quinnipiac University poll said that “illegal immigrants who are currently living in the United States” should be “allowed to stay in the United States and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship.”

Democrats may have become less stringent on illegal immigration because they don’t view immigration as an economic threat as much as they used to.

The idea that illegal immigration could hurt employment and lower wages was a big reason Sanders came out against a bill for comprehensive immigration reform in 2007. The American National Election Studies don’t ask about illegal immigration specifically, but since 2004 they have asked voters, “How likely is it that recent immigration levels will take jobs away from people already here?” In that year, nearly half (48 percent) of Democrats said it was extremely or very likely that immigration levels would take jobs away from people already in the country.

In 2016, only about a quarter (26 percent) of Democrats said it was extremely or very likely. The trend downward was occurring even before Trump decided to run for president, suggesting polarization on immigration isn’t solely because of Trump.

Similarly, the Pew Research Center has found that Democrats were becoming much bigger believers in the idea that immigrants strengthen the country rather than being a burden on it long before Trump came on the scene.

Whatever the cause of the Democrats’ move to the left on illegal immigration, it’s clearly happening. And as the congressional debate unfolds over DACA, this polarization could play a key role in whether Democrats and Republicans can reach a deal. If a straight up-or-down vote occurs in Congress (not a guarantee), DACA will probably need only a few Republican votes to pass because Democrats are in near unison in how they now view immigration, and illegal immigration in particular. But Republicans and the Trump administration can likely ask only so much in exchange for codifying DACA — Democrats are far less willing to compromise on immigration than they used to be.

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FiveThirtyEight
 

Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. The New York Giants’ season is off to a disappointing 0-2 start, and quarterback Eli Manning is getting much of the blame. On this week’s episode (Sept. 19, 2017), we take a deeper look at Manning’s stats, discuss whether he’s a Hall of Famer and ponder where the Giants go from here. Next, after a second week of blowouts in the NFL, some are complaining that the quality of play has decreased significantly. We discuss a piece by our ESPN colleague Bill Barnwell that pushes back against that idea. Plus, a significant digit on baseball.

If you have suggestions for what we should call our new NBA podcast, please drop us a note at podcasts@fivethirtyeight.com!

Here are links to what we discussed this week:

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Posted by Walt Hickey

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.


8.1 percent

A storied Boston-area financial institution announced “disappointing” profit numbers for the latest fiscal year, with the $37.1 billion fund pulling in only an 8.1 percent return. (For perspective, the S&P 500 posted about a 13 percent return for the last year.) This comes months after the financial firm, which uses the proceeds from its ample endowments to sponsor a local university named “Harvard,” announced layoffs and more investment outsourcing. [FastFT]


$18,764

Average annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health insurance coverage, according to the 2017 edition of the Kaiser Family Foundation survey of employee health benefits. Workers paid, on average, $5,714 of that. Premiums were up 3 percent compared to 2016. [Kaiser Family Foundation]


$231,250

The Republican National Committee is helping to pay President Trump’s legal bills in relation to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the potential involvement of Trump associates. The RNC confirmed that it paid $100,000 to Trump’s lead lawyer, John Dowd, and $131,250 to the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, where another Trump lawyer, Jay Sekulow, is a partner. [Reuters]


299,649 Twitter accounts

Number of user accounts Twitter removed in the first half of 2017 for “promotion of terrorism”. While high, that’s still down 20 percent from the previous six months. [Reuters]


$60 million

Patreon, the site that lets fans set up recurring payments to independent creators, just closed a $60 million funding round. [Variety]


$45 billion

The GOP’s earlier attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act carried with it $45 billion in additional funding to help with opioid addiction treatment. The money was meant to compensate for cuts the repeal bill made to Medicaid. But the latest GOP effort to repeal Obamacare, Graham-Cassidy, doesn’t contain funding to combat the opioid epidemic. It’s not clear why some Republican senators were demanding the funding before but not now. [The Daily Beast]


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Looking to bookmark Significant Digits? Say no more. If you see a significant digit in the wild, send it to @WaltHickey.

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Posted by Clare Malone

In person, Kelli Ward is polished.

On a recent Wednesday evening, I watched as Ward, an osteopathic physician and insurgent Republican challenger for Jeff Flake’s Senate seat in Arizona, schmoozed with local Republicans at a meeting in Paradise Valley, Arizona, a small town with a few golf courses northeast of Phoenix. She wore a crisp-lined blue dress, her hair pulled neatly back in a chignon ponytail, and when we sat down on a cafeteria bench to talk, it struck me how well she smiled out her answers to my questions about whether she was too fringe to win a GOP primary.

Polished might not be what you’d expect from Ward if you first heard about her, as many outside Arizona did, in an ad from the Mitch McConnell–allied Senate Leadership Fund PAC that labeled her “Chemtrail Kelli,” a nickname spun out of an incident at a Ward town hall where she didn’t shoot down constituent concerns about the chemtrails conspiracy theory. That the ad even showed up a full year before the primary is a sign that establishment Republicans are worried Ward could muck things up for them. The spot featured a lot of zoomed-in shots of Ward’s eyes widening, and ended, in case you missed the not-so-subtle visual tells, with the tagline, “Not conservative. Just crazy ideas.” Ward might’ve been onto something when she called out attacks against her as flavored with a particular kind of sexism reserved for conservative women: “I don’t see that happening with liberal women, progressive women; I don’t see those caricatures being created by people in their own party or people on the other side of the aisle,” she told me.

Arizona State Sen. Kelli Ward challenged John McCain in a Republican primary in 2016, and is now running against Jeff Flake.

But Ward has done a fair amount on her own to enable the out-there reputation she’s acquired. While the Washington Post Fact Checker column did give the “Chemtrail Kelli” ad three Pinocchios (something Ward is quick to point out), she didn’t denounce the chemtrails conspiracy theory until a 2015 interview with Politico. She’s also said that John McCain, recently diagnosed with brain cancer, should resign from office and that she should be considered as a replacement. These sorts of ghoulish comments don’t sit well with many, particularly in the Arizona Republican establishment, where McCain, a Vietnam War hero, is revered.

“I’ve heard her say very mainstream kind of things, talk about what families need, what families are worried about,” Mike Broomhead, a conservative Phoenix area radio host, told me. “But then it always kinda rolls into those catchphrases of ‘globalists’ and ‘the new world order,’ and it’s that phraseology where most people’s eyes kinda glaze over.”

Immigration is where Ward’s campaign aims to distinguish itself from Flake, and Ward has received the endorsements of Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, as well as an encouraging tweet from one Donald J. Trump. “He’s an open-borders, amnesty globalist,” Ward said to me about Flake. “Whereas I am a build-the-wall, stop-illegal-immigration Americanist.”

The Senate primary in Arizona is still a year away, but the race has captured more than its share of attention; the Washington Post called it a “proxy war” between the president and the GOP establishment. The theory goes that a Ward win would be an assertion of Trump’s power against the establishment, another notch in the belt for the Trumpification of the party — more economic nationalism and an anti-immigrant bent. That this win could come in the home state of conservative legend Barry Goldwater is something like poetic irony.

Those in the Arizona Republican establishment scoff at this notion, noting that primaries in the state have often entertained an antiestablishment element — the state has a long tradition of populism and libertarianism. Arizona is being Arizona, the establishment argues, and the rest of the country needs to stop projecting its anxieties onto the state.

But Ward is betting that something in Arizona has shifted, that the rise of Trump has emboldened an antiestablishment message and will allow her to wrest Flake’s seat from him. She thinks she’s being discounted by the same forces who didn’t see Trump coming, and that the GOP establishment is in for another rude awakening. “I think I have the heart and soul of the Republican Party,” she told me.

In this particular political moment, could Kelli Ward be right?

Arizona’s Grand Canyon, as seen from space.

TIM PEAKE / ESA / NASA

The home of the Grand Canyon and the former “tuberculosis capital of the United States,” Arizona has long attracted people from other places looking for wide-open spaces, dry air, and good views. “Who you become isn’t as dependent upon where you came from as it is elsewhere,” Robert Robb, conservative political columnist for the Arizona Republic, told me. This Western sensibility of self-invention accounts in part for the more libertarian flavor of the state. The people attracted to Arizona, Robb said, often have “an instinctive distrust of bigness — big government, big business, big unions.”

That’s echoed in some voters’ distrust of big political party operations in the state, something Arizonans have seen in past election cycles. “I’d say 40 percent of Republican primary voters will not support anyone named John McCain or Jeff Flake,” Ryan O’Daniel, McCain’s 2016 campaign manager, told me. “You could put anybody else, anything else on that ballot and they’re automatically locked into their vote.” Ward ran against McCain in the 2016 primary and lost after garnering nearly 40 percent of the vote to McCain’s 51 percent. It wasn’t the first time the senior senator faced a tough primary challenge, either. In 2010, McCain ran against former congressman and radio host J.D. Hayworth in the primaries. McCain prevailed 56 percent to 32 percent.

But 2017 is not 2010. Trump is popular among Arizona Republicans and Flake has been struggling with his approval rating. (Which is why the book Flake recently wrote that takes Trump to task may not have been the best political move.) Morning Consult found in July that Flake has an approval rating of only 37 percent. While there isn’t a lot of good primary voter polling out for a race that’s still a year away, a recent survey released by the Republican firm HighGround Public Affairs found that 42.5 percent of likely Republican primary voters would vote for Ward, 28.2 percent for Flake, and 24.2 percent are undecided or didn’t want to give an answer. Democratic polling firm GBA Strategies found Ward outpacing Flake 58 percent to 31 percent.

The numbers aren’t good for Flake, but there’s some reason to remain skeptical that Ward’s strength in early polls will continue and translate to an eventual win. “I can’t tell if it’s an actual shift in the party or if it’s a honeymoon phase,” one former Arizona GOP official told me of Ward’s numbers. What will take place over the next year is likely to be something of a battle between Flake’s traditional Republican campaign and Ward’s attempt to capture the country’s recent yearning for outsiders. Expect the Donald Trump playbook without Donald Trump.

That there’s a high percentage of undecided voters in the primary pool makes sense, since most people don’t tune in to a race until a few weeks before voting. And some Arizona politicos I spoke to think that’s a good thing for Flake, that there’s still time to shape the race — the “Chemtrail Kelli” ad from the Senate Leadership Fund made it clear that Mitch McConnell is out to protect his own from Trumpian challengers in 2018. Ward has the votes of involved right-wing voters locked in, Broomhead told me. What she should do for the next year, he said, is reach out to a different kind of voter.

“She’s got to get into the houses of Republican voters and not just the staunch Republicans that are there year-round,” he said. “Instead of going to tea party meetings, she should be going to the rotary club.”

But Ward’s new strategist Eric Beach thinks otherwise. “She doesn’t start this election as an insurgent. Frankly, she starts it as a front-runner,” he said. Beach and Brent Lowder, both experienced political operatives, recently took over Ward’s campaign from a former Breitbart staffer. “They’ve really just stepped up the professionalism and stepped up the reach that we have,” Ward told me. Beach said the Ward campaign would be reliant on the kind of donors that his and Lowder’s pro-Trump super PAC, Great America PAC, courted during the 2016 cycle.

“The biggest disappointment for our donors is that we haven’t captured these low-propensity, first-time voters,” Beach said. “There were millions of new people [brought] into the Republican process and now we’re saying, ‘Well, you’re not good enough to be in this party.’” The Arizona Senate primary, Beach said, “is a national race when it comes to money.” Trump donors are watching Ward closely. “I think they see this as an opportunity, as a battle for the soul of the Republican Party.”

Ward has certainly gotten national attention, particularly from the president, but when Trump came to Phoenix last month, reports indicated that Ward wasn’t welcomed into the VIP section at the rally. That has led to speculation that the president might still be holding out hope that another Flake challenger will get into the race.

Arizona’s two senators, John McCain (left) and Jeff Flake (right). Ryan O’Daniel, McCain’s 2016 campaign manager, thinks 40 percent of Republican primary voters won’t support either of them.

AP IMAGES

While the Republican base might be moving toward an embrace of Trump’s nationalist policies, there’s a worry among Arizona Republicans, even ones who think it’s time for Flake to go, that Ward could defeat the sitting senator in a primary and go on to lose to a Democrat in the general. No Democrat has won statewide office since 2008, but Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the likely Democratic challenger, is a moderate who many Republicans worry could do well in the red state. A Republican candidate who’s perceived as being beyond the pale could potentially send Arizona down a dangerous purple-tinged path, they reason.

Which is where someone like Robert Graham comes in. Arizona’s former GOP chairman is an oft-buzzed-about potential challenger to Flake along with state treasurer Jeff DeWit. Over teriyaki bowls at Yoshi’s, in one of Phoenix’s many strip malls, Graham told me that some donors in the state have been vocal to him about their distaste for Ward.

“[Businessman Don] Tapia called me one day and said, ‘If you or DeWit don’t get in the race, it’s your fault if we lose the Senate seat,’ and he hung up,” Graham told me. (Tapia did not respond to a request for comment.) In Graham’s view, Flake has lost touch with the party’s base, but Graham also isn’t sure if he himself is ready to run for statewide office (he’s never done so) and then need to spend half his time in D.C. (He and his wife have six children, the youngest of whom is 6.) Being governor, Graham said, seems more up his alley. At 45, he’s young, a Mormon, and has the square jaw and haircut of a Midwestern football coach, though he actually does jiu-jitsu and was dressed casually in jeans and an “Enjoy Choke” t-shirt, a reference to the sport.

While he seems unlikely to run, Graham might actually be closer to a personification of what the Republican Party has become than Ward or even Trump. “He did what I didn’t think was possible,” Broomhead told me of Graham’s tenure as the state’s GOP chair. “He got that very vocal right wing to work with and support establishment Republicans.”

Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (left) is a moderate Democrat who’s likely to run for Senate. Arizona’s former Republican chairman Robert Graham is another potential primary challenger for Flake.

AP IMAGES (left) / GAGE SKIDMORE (right)

Graham’s family has a long history in Republican politics — he had an uncle who was a national committeeman for Goldwater and Nixon — but he’s become a close Trump ally, writing white papers on trade policy for the campaign and welcoming the president to Phoenix with a speech at his rally. Graham himself pushes a warmer, fuzzier version of Trumpism. He said he wished the president would do more to display in public what Graham describes as Trump’s more humble, private demeanor, and talked about healing rifts with local Muslim GOP members after Trump’s Muslim-ban comments during the campaign.

More than anything, it seems like Graham is biding his time, watching how the Ward/Flake dynamics play out and taking note of the mood of the state, a proverbial man without a country for the moment. But politics is like jiu-jitsu, Graham told me. It’s a grappling sport, not a striking one — you try to move someone into just the right position, just the right spot. And then:

“You just leave it open enough so they stick their head in it, and then you choke them.”


Arizona has of late been seen as a state where Democrats could one day be competitive. That’s largely because of its demographics — the state is 31 percent Latino, and Hillary Clinton made a serious bid for the state in 2016, hoping to turn out an anti-Trump Latino vote. There’s a real fear for some in the state GOP that if candidates like Ward win primaries, it could hurt the party’s general election chances.

But primaries come first, and a growing hard-right contingent in the Republican Party is a more immediate challenge for establishment Republicans. The more divisive issues motivating some Republican voters — like immigration and guns — aren’t always what GOP leaders want to tackle, something I heard at the same Paradise Valley GOP meeting where I met Ward.

“I don’t want our meetings to be consumed by gun control talk,” Dave Ryan, the GOP chair of Legislative District 15 told me. “We’ve already got a very conservative set of policies here in Arizona — we have to be judicious in where we spend our time.” Ryan hoped to push education policy as an issue to the assembled gathering the evening I was there, to focus on something local rather than the sorts of federal-level issues discussed on cable news.

Jeff Young, LD 15’s treasurer, was blunt about the long-term problems Republicans face in Arizona. “Look around,” he said, gesturing to the room filling up with older white people, waiting for the meeting to get started. “We need to get young people here.” The party and the country are changing, Young said, and Republicans need to adapt on issues of race and culture.

“I was born and raised in Texas — it was racist when I was growing up,” Young told me, leaning in a little. “And you know something, my grandparents — I loved them dearly — but my grandparents were institutional racists. And the only way that this was going to change is they were going to have to die off. A lot of people who are very stringent about their views on immigration and gay rights, they’re not going to change. They’re just going to have to die off.”

Ward had walked into the meeting as Young and I spoke, working the room, smiling, shaking hands. Polished. Young pointed her out and said he’d make an introduction, but wanted to make sure I understood one last thing:

“I do not represent the views of the district.”

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Posted by Harry Enten

Hurricane Maria, currently headed for Puerto Rico, stunned forecasters by rapidly intensifying from a Category 1 storm to a Category 5 within a 15-hour period on Monday, battering the island of Dominica in the process. Indeed, the forecast error for Maria’s wind speed is one of the worst for a 24-hour hurricane forecast in the past five years.

The National Hurricane Center expected Maria to intensify, but not anywhere close to the degree that it did. The center’s 11 p.m. forecast on Sunday night said Maria would be a low-end Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph when it got close to Dominica on Monday evening. In reality, the wind speed ended up being 160 mph, a forecasting error of 45 mph. The difference in these wind speeds can be the difference between life and death. The National Hurricane Center says that in storms with Category 3 winds, homes will sustain major damage. Category 5 winds can destroy entire homes and leave areas uninhabitable for weeks or months.

Forecast intensity errors like what occurred with Maria happen very rarely. The average National Hurricane Center 24-hour forecast error for tropical cyclone wind speed from 2012 to 2016 was 9 mph. According to this graphic put together by the National Hurricane Center, more than 95 percent of 24-hour storm forecasts have a smaller wind speed error than the Sunday evening forecast for Maria did.

To be clear, it’s not as though forecasters didn’t expect Maria’s wind speeds to increase. Jeff Masters of Weather Underground wrote on Monday morning that the conditions for the storm to develop into a stronger hurricane were there: There was little wind shear (changes in wind direction over short distances), the ocean was warm and the mid-levels of the atmosphere were moist. But forecasters were playing catchup. By late Monday morning, the National Hurricane Center projected Maria to be a Category 4 storm by the time it hit Dominica about 12 hours later — a smaller underestimation than the forecast the night before. A large part of the problem was that weather forecasting models were consistently underestimating how the favorable conditions for hurricane intensification would boost Maria’s wind speeds.

Brian Tang, a meteorologist at the University at Albany, told me via email that hurricane models are not good at predicting rapid intensification events such as Maria because so few of them occur. He pointed out, as did forecaster Ian Livingston of The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang in an email to me, that this is especially the case for hurricanes with compact cores like Maria’s. Philippe Papin, also a meteorologist at the University at Albany, noted that one model showed Maria had a far greater chance than normal of rapid intensification, even if it wasn’t the most likely outcome.

Maria is arguably the second hurricane this season that caught forecasters at least a little off guard before making landfall. Although Hurricane Harvey’s location and wind speed were fairly well forecast in the immediate lead-up to landfall in Texas, the storm essentially came out of nowhere 60 hours earlier. No forecasts for Harvey were even issued by the National Hurricane Center from the evening of Aug. 19 to the morning of Aug. 23. The storm made landfall on the evening of Aug. 25. Even in the 11 p.m. Aug. 23 forecast, Harvey was expected to be only a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of about 75 mph on the evening of Aug. 25. Instead, right before landfall, it was a Category 4 storm with 130 mph winds, a forecast error of 55 mph. The average forecast wind speed error from 2012 to 2016 was just 13 mph. A look at the graphic above shows that a 48-hour forecast wind speed error of 55 mph (or about 48 knots) happens less than 5 percent of the time.

Unfortunately, the conditions that helped Maria strengthen so quickly are still in place. That means Maria likely won’t weaken much before it hits Puerto Rico. Forecasters and residents are preparing for the very worst.

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Posted by A FiveThirtyEight Chat

In this week’s politics chat, we check in on the Democratic presidential field for 2020. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): Today’s chat is going to be a crazy one. It’s too early to make any bold claims about how the 2020 Democratic primary field is shaping up, but potential candidates are already making maybe-I’ll-run-for-president moves. So, it’s time for … 🎈FIVETHIRTYEIGHT’S 2020 DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY DRAFT!!!🎈

We’ll do six rounds. The goal is to pick the eventual 2020 Democratic nominee, but you also get points for having people on your team who do well but don’t win. (We’ll figure out how to judge this later/never.)

Nate has all our names in a hat and is having a neutral nonparticipant randomly pick the draft order …

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): The order is:

  1. Micah
  2. Nate
  3. Perry
  4. Harry
  5. Clare

harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): I’m very excited.

micah: In a move that I think will make readers happy, we’re doing a snake draft! (Many readers have complained every time we’ve done a draft and haven’t used a snake draft.) Here’s the pool of potential draftees.

harry: I’m a big fan of the snake draft.

natesilver: SNAKES ON A DRAFT

harry:

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): omg. I remember that like it was yesterday!

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): Wow, these are our readers, as Bill Simmons used to sorta say or maybe still says.

clare.malone: Memories, man, memories.

micah: With the first pick in FiveThirtyEight’s 2017 2020 Democratic presidential primary draft, Micah Cohen selects …

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

harry: Awful pick.

natesilver: She was not my No. 1, that’s for sure.

clare.malone: Bad pick.

micah: lol

It’s going to be one of those chats, huh?

harry: I could walk up to a random on the street, and they could pick better.

micah: So here’s my reasoning: Bernie Sanders but more substantive. Super smart. Has the policy chops and the liberal cred.

perry: Micah, I would have taken her too. I basically agree with your take.

natesilver: But seriously: She’s not a terrible choice, obviously. I just wonder if the retail political skills are there, first of all. And second, how excited she is to run.

micah: Nate, with the second pick …

natesilver: BERNIE FREAKING SANDERS (senator of Vermont).

harry: Nate has a Bernie fetish. Maybe it’s cause they both wear glasses. Nerds gotta stick together.

micah: Bad pick.

clare.malone: HE’LL TURN 79 IN 2020.

natesilver: We basically did a whole chat on why he’s the front-runner.

harry: I mean, you thought he was the front-runner.

clare.malone: I still think it’s misguided to think he will be the front-runner.

Don’t the normal rules apply at all? You want a guy up for re-election at 83? That’s pretty nutty.

harry: I concur with Clare.

natesilver: He could still be the front-runner and only have a 1-in-5 chance or a 1-in-10 chance of winning. It’s like the NCAA basketball tournament that way.

I just think — he’s got a hugely loyal following. He seems to be interested in running.

He finished second in 2016. He’s leading in polls. Even if he’s old, his demographics are young, which is helpful.

harry: The issue here is I don’t think he’ll be the front-runner once the field emerges. He’s a top 10 pick or maybe even a top five. I’m not sure he’s a top two.

clare.malone: Agree.

natesilver: A big field helps someone with a distinctive brand like Sanders.

harry: Maybe? But you still need to get close to a majority of the vote to win in a Democratic primary.

micah: And Bernie still has an issue with black voters. Talk to me about being the front-runner for the Democratic nomination when he solves that.

Perry, you’re up with the No. 3 pick …

perry: Clare is going to pick the person I should pick, or maybe Harry will, but I’m going to go with Joe Biden, former vice president. He would win the general election easily today over President Trump, I think. He is well-known, generally viewed favorably. I don’t know exactly how he wins the Democratic primary (he doesn’t have obvious base), but I’m going with him. Not very confidently.

micah: Hmmm…

clare.malone: Interesting!

harry: Not a bad pick.

natesilver: Wow. Democrats are old.

clare.malone: Yes.

Very big problem.

perry: Biden is 74 now.

harry: Trump isn’t young.

clare.malone: He is younger than all these people are — minus Warren.

harry: He’s not THAT much younger.

clare.malone: 71.

perry: I see a really crowded field in 2020 where being well-known helps. Biden has some potentially strong appeal to moderate Democrats and African-Americans.

clare.malone: Fair reasoning.

micah: OK, Harry with the No. 4 pick.

harry: Harris, Kamala. Senator from California.

clare.malone: Boo! You stole my pick.

perry: This is a good pick.

natesilver: The top four were the same top four on my board

Still, bad picks.

micah: I actually had her at No. 4 on my board. But my No. 2 still hasn’t been drafted.

natesilver: Harris has probably increased her profile as much as anyone this year.

clare.malone: Agreed.

perry: I still think winning the nomination as a first-term senator is hard. She is impressive, and Obama obviously did it, but I’m not sure it will happen again.

natesilver: To be honest, the fact that she’s taken some fire from the Sanders wing of the party probably doesn’t hurt her profile. You just want to have your name out there — as Trump showed in 2015.

perry: Right. Harris has had the biggest rise of any of these people. We all agree she is ahead of Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand already, right?

clare.malone: Yes.

harry: I believe she is, yes.

micah: Yes … though I’m much more confident that Harris is ahead of Booker than Gillibrand. Not to tip my hand too much.

clare.malone: Booker’s played out, in my humble opinion (which might be in the minority).

micah: OK, Clare with the No. 5 pick and the No. 6 pick!

clare.malone: Ooh, two picks! SNAKE-y.

micah: Yeah, picking first sucks in a snake draft.

clare.malone: Gillibrand, New York senator, is my first pick.

micah: Good pick!

I really like Gillibrand as a candidate.

perry: Agree. She is solidly left on key issues.

clare.malone: She’s pretty affable, has worked her way up, started in a conservative district and had some pro-gun stances that have since switched … and in general is pretty good at articulating why she’s “evolved” on things.

harry: I’m going to be interested in whether her pre-Senate record causes her any problems, as Clare notes.

clare.malone: That’s where her weaknesses lie, but she’s talented in the way that she explains them.

perry: I’m just not sure Democrats will nominate a female senator from New York again, unfair as I think that might be. She and Hillary Clinton are way different.

natesilver: She might come to be seen as part of the establishment by the left — in part because she raises a lot of money from Wall Street.

micah: (I think Harry is peeking at my draft board.)

harry: (I’m eating chicken, Micah.)

clare.malone: Gillibrand is good at … how shall I say this … modulating her “powerful woman” thing. It’s a skill that a lot of younger professional women (Gen X-ers) have perfected in a way that Baby Boomer women have not.

perry: Interesting.

clare.malone: But Gillibrand has also been really outspoken about sexism in the Senate, etc.

So. She’s interesting!

natesilver: She also strikes me as being fairly likely to run. She’s voted with Trump less than anyone else this year — including Bernie — which suggests she really wants to prove her anti-Trump/lefty credentials.

perry: Three of the first five picks are women.

micah: Four of the top five on my board are women.

Clare, with the No. 6 pick!

clare.malone: OK, so, this one might be a little out there …

But I’m going to go with Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan.

Hear me out!

harry: Oh, Clare.

natesilver: Ohio homer pick there.

clare.malone: lol

Yes.

OK … BUT …

Ryan is going to be the kind of person likely to run because he’s already challenged leadership (House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi) in a formalized way, and his whole schtick is going for the Upper Midwest Obama-Trump voter, which I think is going to be one of the main schools of thought in the Democratic primary. He goes on Fox News, engages, is from Youngstown. I dunno, I’m calling him as a dark horse pick!

Jason Kander would be the “smart pick” on this. But I didn’t do that. 🙂

natesilver: LeBron James will be 35 years old by 2020.

clare.malone: Dude, LeBron is a legit genius, so he will not be a politician.

natesilver: I don’t think Ryan is totally implausible — he can sorta be centrist/populist without seeming like too much of an establishment hack. But — in the second round?

clare.malone: hahaha. Yes.

micah: OK, Harry, you have the No. 7 pick.

harry: I have a number of people I’ve been thinking of, but I’m going with Amy Klobuchar, senator from Minnesota. That might be a little high, but if nothing else, she’s been to Iowa.

natesilver: I’ve been to Iowa, too.

perry: It is high. What Nate said.

micah: I’m fine with that pick.

harry: We’ve reached a less obvious portion of the draft.

There are a bunch of others who are on my radar.

natesilver: Maybe in the fourth round.

harry: You overestimate this field.

clare.malone: Tim Ryan and Amy Klobuchar, fourth round picks, elevated.

micah: My No. 2 is still available!

clare.malone: Eric Garcetti or something?

micah: I’m not saying!

Perry, you’re up!

No. 8.

perry: I know this group does not view him as very great in terms of political skill, but … Booker. He has charisma, he’s been preparing for this his whole life, I think the race/identity issues where he is stronger will be bigger in 2020 than the Wall Street ones.

harry: Meh.

micah: Yeah, this group is very Booker-skeptical.

natesilver: I guess what I’m wondering is — who’s Booker’s natural constituency?

clare.malone: People with snowy driveways in Newark.

perry: He could do well with the people who voted for Obama in the 2008 primary — urban, upper-income liberals and African-Americans. He should obviously pray that Harris does not run.

harry: But OnTheIssues gets at one of Booker’s problems: He’s rated as a “Libertarian-Leaning Progressive.” I just wonder how he’ll play with economic populists.

micah: Nate, you have the No. 9 pick.

natesilver: I’m trying to figure out who Micah is going to pick so I can steal it.

perry: I think Clare got him with Garcetti, who’s a good one, actually.

natesilver: Micah implied that his next pick is a woman.

micah: Don’t do it.

clare.malone: Micah’s just jealous that Tim Ryan got picked.

micah: lol

Ummmm … no.

clare.malone: heh

micah: Tick tock, Nate!!!

clare.malone: When you guys have to buy me a really nice dinner in 2020, you’ll be sorry.

natesilver: 🤔

harry: Apparently, it isn’t as easy as it seems.

micah: PICK, NATE!!!

natesilver: Michelle Obama.

clare.malone: no.

Terrible choice.

micah: HAHAHA

I totally psyched Nate out!

harry: That’s maybe the worst pick of all the drafts we’ve ever done.

perry: She would be a great candidate. I just hope for her sake she doesn’t run. The worst thing for her might be winning.

natesilver: She’s actually pretty high on betting markets.

micah: Agreed. If she ran, I’d put her as No. 1 … but she’s not going to run, right?

clare.malone: She won’t run.

micah: That was a terrible pick.

natesilver: Michelle Obama is a great pick. She’d be an instant front-runner.

clare.malone: But she won’t run. She has no desire to run.

natesilver: The Obamas are young. You think they’re just sitting back happy with how things are turning out?

clare.malone: It’s the classic philosopher king dilemma: The (wo)man best suited for the job has no desire to do it.

micah: She would be an instant front-runner.

perry: Didn’t the Obamas kind of lose in 2016?

natesilver: So they have to redeem themselves, right? Like, Barack Obama would run again if he were eligible to, I think.

clare.malone: Michelle Obama would subject herself to some really ugly racial and gender stuff.

micah: From everything we know about Michelle, she won’t run. She didn’t want Barack to run.

I could see her doing it only out of a sense of duty? To “save the country”?

harry: I’m skeptical, but who knows?

I still think Nathaniel got psyched out.

micah: He totally did.

natesilver: I’m just saying I’d rather have Michelle Obama than Amy Klobuchar.

micah: OK, so with the 10th pick, I select the person I would have taken No. 2 overall. This is the pick I misled Nate into thinking would be a woman.

It’s … AL FREAKIN’ FRANKEN!!!!!!!!!!!

clare.malone: Ooh. I like that one.

perry: He is a great pick.

natesilver: He’s a woman?

micah: I purposefully tricked you, Nate!

perry: I just see no evidence he is running.

clare.malone: Book.

perry: The Democratic base would love him

clare.malone: He’s actually a great foil to Trump. Outspoken, funny, can roll with things.

harry: I was thinking of him, but I didn’t go for it. The reason is what Perry is getting at: He’s said there’s pretty much no shot of him running. While people change their mind, I tend to believe him.

micah: Yeah, just released a book. Has progressive bona fides. Is debate ready. And a great foil for Trump, as Clare said. And Harry, every person who has ever run for president ever started out by swearing up and down that they wouldn’t run. “I will not [run].”

BEST PICK EVER!!!!!

clare.malone: But yeah, does he have a desire? I dunno.

micah: To rescue the country from Trump (from his POV)? That’ll be hard to turn down.

natesilver: I’m still mad that you intentionally lied to our readers, Micah.

micah: To you, Nate. Not our readers.

OK, this next pick, No. 11, is tricky …

I’m going with … Deval Patrick, former governor of Massachusetts.

harry: He’s going with Mr. Bain.

clare.malone: hm.

micah: The Obama people (including Obama) are reportedly urging him to run.

natesilver: Meh

micah: But yeah, he’s a managing director at Bain …

so…

clare.malone: NOT GREAT

natesilver: You didn’t know that before making the pick, Micah, did you.

harry: LOL.

micah: I knew he was Wall Street-ing it.

OK, Nate, you have the No. 12 pick.

Don’t break your crappy-pick streak.

natesilver: You guys are going to love this one.

micah: oh god.

natesilver: Can we play hangman?

– – – – – – –
– – – – – –
– – – – – – –

Just pick one letter

micah: C

harry: Q

natesilver:
– – – – – – –
– – – – – –
C – – – – – –

clare.malone: THE ROCK!

micah: I was going to pick Hillary Clinton instead of Patrick!

clare.malone: heh.

natesilver: HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON.

micah: Good pick!

harry: Nate has been banned from the chat for forever. You too, Micah.

perry: Oh, The Rock would have been better

clare.malone: Pandemonium!!!!!!

natesilver: There are a fair number of repeat nominees throughout presidential history.

micah: She won the popular vote!

perry: The book tour has been honest. But America is not going to elect a woman or a nonwhite person who seems angry. And who has suggested America is kind of sexist.

clare.malone: Yeah.

micah: The media is “tired” of her and projects that onto voters, though.

clare.malone: No way she gets elected.

natesilver: And what if Robert Mueller turned up substantial evidence of Russian interference? And by 2019 or so, the perception had become that she was robbed of the presidency. I’m not saying this is likely exactly. But I think any of the people we’re picking at this point has only a small chance anyway.

perry: NO way she gets elected and the polls will show that. Also, the Bernie people hate her. The Obama people voted for her kind of out of obligation.

natesilver: By the way — you should also be thinking about who a compromise choice could be in the event of a …. B-R-O-K-E-R-E-D C-O-N-V-E-N-T-I-O-N.

micah: Oh, jeez.

Perry, you have the No. 13 pick.

natesilver: The way the Democratic primaries are set up, a brokered convention is not at all unlikely if you have 17 people running.

micah: Perry, you have the No. 13 pick.

perry: Garcetti, Los Angeles mayor. Being a mayor, sort of an outsider, great resume, I can see him as kind of an Obama-like figure. And he is from a great city, in terms of winning there requires you to master so many constituencies (race but also class) and having lots of wealthy people who can help you campaign.

micah: Great pick!

clare.malone: I agree that it’s interesting.

micah: I was actually considering another big city mayor.

natesilver: Can’t believe you took him with Jon Ossoff still on the board.

perry: Lol.

clare.malone: Tests out the theory of 1) the power of America’s Democratic mayors, and 2) California as a Democratic sanctuary state in the Trump era.

perry: Right.

micah: Harry, you have the 14th pick.

(This is where Harry usually goes off the rails.)

harry: You’ll say it’s too high, but I’m going with Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.

natesilver: Too high.

micah: Nah, I had him No. 15 on my board.

Good pick.

harry: You’ll note my strategy here is to pick people I think will run.

natesilver: Yeah I think that’s actually the wrong strategy!

clare.malone: hah.

natesilver: You want high upside. It’s like you keep drafting punters just because you know they’ll be on the roster!

Amy Klobuchar is more likely than Michelle Obama to finish third in the Iowa caucuses, but Michelle Obama is more likely to win the Iowa caucuses.

perry: That first sentence, but with “seventh” instead of “third,” would be accurate.

micah: OK, Clare, you have the last pick in the third round and the first pick in the fourth round. Here’s what I suggest: Make the third round pick … then we’ll do rapid-fire rounds from Round 4 on — everyone makes their pick, then we discuss the round as a whole.

clare.malone: The Rock.

#winner

harry: The Rock is who I was thinking about instead of Bullock.

micah: I can’t criticize anything having to do with The Rock.

natesilver: Is he even a Democrat?

micah: We don’t know.

clare.malone: Exactly. Perfect for 2020.

natesilver: Democrats like Democrats though!

clare.malone: Everyone likes The Rock.

micah: I was about to type that!

clare.malone: He certainly has more juice than the governor of Montana or … Tim Ryan. 😕

natesilver: OK, to speed things up here: Slack will autodraft a pick if you don’t pick within 20 seconds, and right now the autodraft pick is Ossoff.

clare.malone: hahahaha.

micah: Round 4 is Clare, Harry, Perry, Nate, Micah — everyone just make your pick, no commentary.

Clare first.

natesilver: 10 seconds

5 seconds remain

micah: tick tock!!!

CLARE!

OSSOFF!!!!

clare.malone: God, this is the dregs.

John Hickenlooper, governor of Colorado.

harry: Jason Kander.

perry: Chris Murphy.

natesilver: Sherrod Brown.

micah: Roy Cooper.

I win that round.

Clare loses.

perry: Nate’s was best of that group, I think

natesilver: Yeah, Brown is like Tim Ryan — but a senator!

clare.malone: lol.

natesilver: Although he has to survive re-election next year.

harry: I’m fine with most of these picks, to be honest.

micah: Round 5: Micah, Nate, Perry, Harry, Clare.

My pick: Kasim Reed.

natesilver: Bill de Blasio.

perry: Mark Zuckerberg.

harry: Mitch Landrieu.

clare.malone: Mark Cuban.

micah: The celebrity round!

natesilver: It’s the mayor round. I’m not sure if Bill de Blasio counts as a celebrity.

micah: He does count as the worst pick in this draft, though.

harry: I cannot believe you selected de Blasio.

perry: Landrieu is a good pick.

natesilver: De Blasio has real progressive credibility, but he’s a “safe” white guy. Which fills … a weird niche in the party.

micah: He’s not even that popular in NYC!

natesilver: He’s gonna get re-elected in a landslide!

harry: The man’s favorable rating in New York City doesn’t even hit 50 percent.

perry: Garcetti hits that niche Nate is describing, and people actually like him.

clare.malone: Seconded.

natesilver: I’m not saying he’s a great pick but … in the fifth round? Sure.

micah: Round 6! Clare, Harry, Perry, Nate, Micah.

LAST ROUND!!!!

I guarantee I get the steal of the draft with the last pick.

clare.malone: Julian Castro, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

natesilver: Crap. I was gonna pick him.

harry: John Kerry.

perry: Jeff Merkley, Oregon senator. He is apparently quite liberal (I don’t know much about him), so if Bernie does not run and Warren does not either … he can finish seventh in Iowa.

micah: lol.

NATE!

natesilver: Hmm. AL GORE AT A BROKERED CONVENTION.

micah: SHIT!

natesilver: wow

micah: THAT WAS MY PICK!

harry: LOL.

clare.malone: What about Terry McAuliffe — The Macker.

perry: Jimmy Carter?

natesilver: You can draft him if we add a seventh round.

harry: Michael Dukakis, you sheeple.

micah: Martin O’Malley.

He’ll run, at least.

natesilver: O’MALLEY WOULD’VE WON IN 2016.

clare.malone: Oh yeah.

harry: Play me one of his guitar solos, so I don’t need to take a sleeping pill tonight.

natesilver: So … so people who the conventional wisdom might rate highly that we didn’t pick include Andrew Cuomo and Tim Kaine.

harry: Cuomo is the definition of poison to progressives.

natesilver: No Terry McAuliffe. No Jerry Brown.

And no Ossoff.

harry: Brown is quite old.

clare.malone: But he loves running for president.

natesilver: The average age of people we picked is like 90 though.

perry: McAuliffe would be ideal in some ways if he were not best friends with Bill and Hillary.

clare.malone: Cuomo and McAuliffe are definitely gonna run, I think.

McAuliffe’s got money connections, but yeah, they’re Clinton-tinted.

natesilver: Cuomo’s a guy who might have more of a chance if the party weren’t moving left.

In theory, someone like Joe Manchin or Steve Bullock could fill the moderate/centrist role without having as much baggage

clare.malone: I don’t think Cuomo is very … charming.

natesilver: Yeah, that too.

perry: That is very polite, Clare.

micah: Here are the teams:

Our way-too-early 2020 Democratic primary teams
ROUND MICAH NATE PERRY HARRY CLARE
1 Elizabeth Warren Bernie Sanders Joe Biden Kamala Harris Kirsten Gillibrand
2 Al Franken Michelle Obama Cory Booker Amy Klobuchar Tim Ryan
3 Deval Patrick Hillary Clinton Eric Garcetti Steve Bullock Dwayne Johnson
4 Roy Cooper Sherrod Brown Chris Murphy Jason Kander John Hickenlooper
5 Kasim Reed Bill de Blasio Mark Zuckerberg Mitch Landrieu Mark Cuban
6 Martin O’Malley Al Gore Jeff Merkley John Kerry Julian Castro

natesilver: OK … everybody pick who has the best team apart from their own.

clare.malone: Well, I’m likely to lose, but if I win, man are you guys gonna be surprised!

Micah or Harry.

harry: Women were six of the first 12 picks and none after.

perry: Micah. As I think Franken is very good if he runs, and I’m high on Warren

natesilver: For me, the best non-Nate team is …

I can’t pick, they’re all so great.

clare.malone: Nate, your team and my team are trash.

But yours are all famous trash picks.

natesilver: I’ve got FRICKING BERNIE.

I’ve got AL “BROKERED CONVENTION” GORE. BILL DE BLASIO? More like BILL DE NOMINEE!

natesilver: I’d go Micah’s

micah: lol

I’d go Nate’s … actually, I’m going with Perry’s.

harry: I’m going with Clare’s since she picked me.

clare.malone: Thanks, man.

micah: omg

clare.malone: heh

natesilver: Clare I think your team was pretty good except for Tim Ryan.

micah: OK, so since Clare picked two teams, her votes each count as .5.

So it’s:

Micah 2.5 votes.

Clare 1.

Harry 1.5.

Perry 1.

Nate 0.

I win. Nate loses.

clare.malone: Fair.

micah: That’s satisfying.

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Posted by Rob Arthur

We used to think of the steroid era as the heyday of home run hitting, but our mental image of a juiced-up behemoth crushing the ball needs updating. This year is poised to easily be the most homer-happy on record — and not because of altered player physiques, but rather thanks to physical alterations to certain batches of baseballs that make them fly more freely through the air. What’s more, recent data shows that these less-air-resistant balls probably make up a larger share of all MLB balls today than they did even earlier this season, meaning the game is now consistently being played with a ball that travels farther than usual.

MLB has denied making any intentional changes to the baseball, noting that testing finds the baseball still within established standards. But those specifications are extremely wide, allowing for massive variation in fly ball distance and corresponding shifts in home run rates. If MLB only rejects balls when they lie outside of the standards, there could be wild differences in air resistance between pairs of baseballs.

And we can measure how much air resistance is exerted on a given ball using MLB’s pitch tracking system. By measuring the loss in velocity from a pitcher’s hand to home plate, I calculated the drag coefficient of each pitch thrown in baseball since 2008. Drops in air resistance coincided with jumps in home runs, with drag especially falling for the average pitch this year. My study and a follow-up have demonstrated that this reduced drag could be to blame for some of MLB’s recent home run surge.

Large variations in drag between different batches of baseballs used to be commonplace. I found that individual baseballs could differ by 20 or 30 feet of fly ball carry, more than enough to turn a harmless fly ball into a deep bomb. And my pitch-tracked measure of air resistance fluctuated wildly from month to month over the period from 2008 to 2015. These variations could really wreak havoc on individual players’ stats — just ask reliever Jake McGee, who had his best numbers in 2014 while throwing the highest-drag pitches in the league,7 and his worst stats two years later, when the air resistance on his average fly ball dropped — but they also meant that neither hitters nor pitchers were locked into using a given type of ball on a given night.

Lately, though, the baseballs have become a lot more consistent. The standard deviation (a measure of variation) in drag coefficient between individual baseballs has dropped drastically in the last few years.8

That’s the continuation of a roughly decade-long trend toward more uniform baseballs. The trend accelerated this year — just before the publication of two articles with definitive evidence for the ball being juiced.

As tempting as it is to imagine a conspiracy, that timing is more likely to be a coincidence. Rawlings, MLB’s baseball supplier, manufactures the balls months in advance, so it’s unlikely that they could have made any rapid alterations in response to juiced-ball allegations. But it doesn’t seem as likely to be a coincidence that the baseball became so much more consistent this year. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has admitted that the standards are broad, and in interviews conducted around the all-star break in early July, Manfred even said he was considering tightening the specifications.

He’s also made his preference for this era of baseball known, emphasizing that fans love strikeouts and home runs. As pitchers throw ever harder and batters accrue ever more of their value with dingers, Manfred must be happy with both the current state and long-term direction of the game. But, as sabermetrician Joe Sheehan pointed out in a recent article, if manufacturing variation just happened to produce a batch of homer-prone balls in the last few years, 2017’s home run surge could disappear just as suddenly as it began. All it takes are the same random variations to turn baseball back toward 2014’s pitching-dominant era.

Fortunately (at least from Manfred’s perspective), the balls seem less variable than ever before. Without more information on how the balls are made, it’s difficult to know whether the current trend toward more consistent baseballs will last and prevent the home run rate from shifting again. And for their part, MLB denied in a statement to FiveThirtyEight that any changes had occurred “[i]n terms of manufacturing, shipping, storage and preparation for use … to the balls that are used in games throughout the season.”

Making the balls more consistent might further affect MLB’s overall home run rate, but it also means pitchers and hitters should end up with a more even playing field. Such consistency won’t help every player, but at least they’ll have a better idea of what they’re working with — a ball that travels farther and flies faster than it used to.

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Posted by Neil Paine

So much for settling in at the top. A week ago in this space, I noted that the Kansas City Chiefs had vaulted to No. 1 in our NFL Elo ratings, leapfrogging the previously top-rated New England Patriots with a win over the Pats in Week 1. Well, K.C.’s reign in first place turned out to be brief: The Pats retook the top slot in Week 2, bumping the Chiefs down to second.

I know what you’re thinking: Kansas City won on Sunday, so what gives? You can dig deep into Elo’s methodology here, but the basic premise is that it assigns each team a power rating that can be used to predict the outcome of any game. Once that game is in the books, Elo takes rating points away from the loser and gives them to the winner, in proportion with how unlikely the victory was (upsets shift the ratings more than routine wins) and the winner’s edge on the scoreboard (big wins are worth more, although there are diminishing returns to running up the score).

In the case of the Chiefs and Patriots, K.C. was a heavier favorite to win Sunday — 73 percent at home versus Philadelphia, as opposed to New England’s 64 percent chance on the road against New Orleans — but ended up winning by fewer points — only 7, as opposed to the Pats’ 16-point margin. So even though the win boosted Kansas City’s Elo rating by 10 points, New England gained 19, enough to erase the Chiefs’ slight Elo edge going into the weekend. (The margin between the teams is still extremely small.)

Early in an NFL season, it’s rare to see two teams pass the Elo baton of No. 1 back and forth like this. Before 2017, the last time a preseason No. 1 was overtaken in Week 1 and then reclaimed the top slot in Week 2 was in 1993, when the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers fought over the top ranking. It was a harbinger of things to come that season: The Cowboys and Niners faced off in the NFC championship game, and Dallas went on to win its second-straight Super Bowl.

Who wants to be No. 1?

Seasons during which the team ranked No. 1 by Elo rating in the preseason was passed in Week 1 and then retook the top slot after Week 2, 1970-2017

NO. 1 AFTER …
SEASON PRE WEEK 1 WEEK 2 REMAINING WEEKS AT NO. 1 MET IN PLAYOFFS?
1970 KC MIN KC MIN: 20 | KC: 0
1974 MIA MIN MIA MIA: 3 | MIN: 1
1981 OAK DAL OAK DAL: 11 | OAK: 0
1983 WAS MIA WAS WAS: 20 | MIA: 0
1992 WAS SF WAS SF: 14 | WAS: 1
1993 DAL SF DAL DAL: 17 | SF: 2
2017 NE KC NE

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

There was a similar situation in the previous season: Washington, the reigning Super Bowl champions, and San Francisco scrambled for No. 1 in the season’s first month. Washington would stumble that year to a 9-7 record but would eventually meet the Niners in the divisional round and lose.

But that kind of duel doesn’t usually last much beyond September. In all but one such case since 1970, one of the two teams quickly seized the baton and ran away with it, dominating the top ranking for most of the rest of the season. The exception was in 1974, when John Madden’s Oakland Raiders and Chuck Noll’s Pittsburgh Steelers swooped in and stole No. 1 from both Miami and Minnesota. Either Oakland or Pittsburgh ended up holding the top slot for all but one of the season’s final 17 weeks. (“The Steel Curtain” would defeat the Raiders in the AFC championship game, win its first Super Bowl and dominate the rest of the decade.)

Given its dynastic pedigree and Tom Brady’s rebound performance against New Orleans, New England might seem the likely candidate to tighten its grip on No. 1 and hang onto it the rest of the way. But take heart, K.C. fans: Even though the Chiefs are No. 2 in the ratings, Elo gives the Chiefs a better chance than the Patriots of making the playoffs (83 percent to 76 percent) and winning the Super Bowl (14 percent to 12 percent).

FiveThirtyEight vs. The Crowd

In Week 2 of our NFL prediction game — in which we invite you to pick football games and try to outsmart our Elo algorithm — FiveThirtyEight’s readers fared slightly better than the computer model, scoring some big wins. One instance in which our readers trounced the model was the Tennessee-Jacksonville game, where the average player picked the Titans to win on the road with 52 percent confidence. The model, which failed to factor in the Jaguars’ inherent Jaguar-ness, had the home team winning at 59 percent. The Jags lost, and it wasn’t close.

Readers were also more likely to fade the sad excuse for a football team known as the New York Jets. The Elo model gave the Oakland Raiders a 74 percent chance of winning at home, while readers had 88 percent confidence in Oakland — rightly knowing that the Jets (who systematically shed most of their talent this offseason) stood little chance in the Raiders’ home opener.

Elo had its wins, too. The model was more confident than readers were that the reigning NFC champion Atlanta Falcons would win at home against the Green Bay Packers; it gave the Falcons a 63 percent chance of winning, while the average reader saw the game as a coin flip (50 percent). Likewise, Elo predicted the Denver Broncos to stand their ground against the Dallas Cowboys despite their being a home underdog according to the Vegas betting line — while the average player (wrongly) backed Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and company.

Here are all the games from the second week of the season, in order of how many more points FiveThirtyEight readers earned, on average, than the model (or vice versa):

How did readers do against FiveThirtyEight’s picks?

Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo across Week 2 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL betting game

OUR PICK WIN PROB. READERS’ PICK WIN PROB. ACTUAL WINNER READERS’ NET POINTS
IND 53% ARI 67% ARI +14.1
JAX 59 TEN 52 TEN +9.0
NYG 57 NYG 50 DET +4.2
OAK 74 OAK 88 OAK +4.1
NE 64 NE 75 NE +3.9
CIN 63 CIN 59 HOU +1.1
CAR 66 CAR 71 CAR +0.7
SEA 84 SEA 89 SEA +0.1
LAR 55 LAR 54 WSH -1.6
BAL 82 BAL 82 BAL -2.9
KC 73 KC 71 KC -3.6
TB 76 TB 73 TB -4.1
PIT 71 PIT 65 PIT -7.5
MIA 52 LAC 55 MIA -9.5
DEN 56 DAL 55 DEN -14.2
ATL 63 ATL 50 ATL -15.1

The Week 2 winner is …

Congratulations to Tristan Smith from Nova Scotia, Canada, who scored 282.2 points in Week 2. Tristan, a financial analyst by trade, correctly picked 15 of 16 winners, including picking the Cardinals, Raiders, Seahawks and Patriots at 100 percent confidence.

Remember: You can start playing the prediction game this week, even if you didn’t get your picks in Weeks 1-2.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

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Posted by Walt Hickey

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.


14 quarterbacks

Colin Kaepernick is a historical anomaly. There have been only 14 other quarterbacks who were (i) not yet 30, (ii) had thrown 200 passes or more in a season and (iii) never played again. And everyone in that group had football-related reasons they never took another snap — career ending injuries, substance abuse issues, got signed but never left the bench — rather than politics. [ESPN]

Like Significant Digits? Like sports? You’ll love Besides the Points, our new sports newsletter.


16 investigators

There are now 16 lawyers known to be working on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential links between Russia and the Trump campaign. Kyle Freeny is No. 16. She left a high-profile money laundering case at the Department of Justice to join Team Mueller. [POLITICO]


-18 percentage points

President Trump’s job approval rating is down by 18 percentage points, on average, compared to his margin of victory in states he won by 10 or more points in 2016. [FiveThirtyEight]


$1.8 million

Equifax’s share price has dropped 35 percent since the company announced a security breach that exposed data on 143 million Americans. Before the breach was publicly announced (and after it was discovered), three Equifax executives sold $1.8 million worth of stock. Now the Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation into whether the executives broke insider trading laws. [Bloomberg]


$60 million

Amount “It,” the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, made last weekend. That would have been the best-ever September weekend at the domestic box office — except for the fact that it was the second weekend in cinemas for “It.” The movie notched a record-smashing $123 million opening the week before. So “It” now has the best weekend in September, the second best weekend in September, and then previous record-holder “Hotel Transylvania 2” is down in third place. [The Numbers]


$2.3 billion

Ballpark cost for the M7, a luxury submarine. Yes, rich people can totally buy submarines. No, I didn’t think that was legal either, but it’s legit. The M7 comes in at the shall-we-say high end of the luxury submarine market, as in “the most expensive private object worldwide” high-end. Too pricy? If you want something classier then a James-Cameron-class submersible but short of the M7, other sizable subs may soon be on sale that will appeal to the more price-conscious Nemo-wannabe in your life. [Bloomberg Pursuits]


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Posted by Julia Wolfe and Oliver Roeder

On Sept. 8, someone in New York City dialed 311, the city’s non-emergency hotline, and asked for information about a Hurricane Sandy disaster relief program. This was not a fluke. It’s been nearly five years since the storm devastated the mid-Atlantic, causing 43 deaths in the city and $19 billion in damage. But still, nearly 1,800 days later, the calls continue — there have already been 142 this year. 1

Sandy-related calls to 311

Colors represent the government agencies that were responsible for the information callers were requesting, such as City Hall. (Hover for more details)

NOV ’12DEC ’12

311

5,000 calls

Sandy arrives in New York.Sandy arrives in New York.

Public schools reopen.Public schools reopen.

Nearly all power is restored.Nearly all power is restored.

As hurricanes Harvey and Irma left Texas and Florida, they too left devastation behind. Dozens are dead, and untold billions of dollars lost. The roads to recovery will be steep — and they will be very long.

Hurricane recovery lingers beyond the first few months of hard work. Power is restored, homes are rebuilt and kids head back to school. But “normal” — life as it was before the storm — may never fully be reached. From New York City’s Open Data website, we downloaded the logs of over 36 million calls placed to 311 from the days ahead of Sandy’s arrival, in the fall of 2012, through today. Nearly 80,000 were directly related to the storm, and they tell the story of tragedy and recovery in one city. It’s a story that continues to unfold in New York, and one that is only beginning in Texas and Florida.2

Sandy hit New York on the evening of Oct. 29, and on that date, the city received 8,054 calls explicitly related to the storm. Over the next eight weeks, it received tens of thousands more.

Months after the hurricane, the calls kept coming. We’ve zoomed in from the scale above to help you see what they were about.

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Posted by Perry Bacon Jr.

Republicans are only a handful of votes short in the party’s latest attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And one of the key “no” votes from July, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, could flip to “yes,” since Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has endorsed this latest repeal legislation. (McCain has suggested he would be more likely to vote for a Ducey-backed bill.)

But there are not yet 50 Republicans publicly backing the newest Obamacare repeal bill, known as Graham-Cassidy. And the GOP has always been a handful of votes short. Those final few votes are the hardest, and it’s not clear Republicans can get them before Sept. 30, the day of an important deadline that will limit GOP options to repeal Obamacare afterward.

What’s surprising about the potential passage of this legislation is that it is in some ways more conservative than the bill that almost passed in July. Written by Sens. Bill Cassidy (Louisiana), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Dean Heller (Nevada) and Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), the legislation — unlike previous Obamacare repeal proposals — gives a lot of power to states to set their own health care policies. Before we get to how likely it is to pass, here are some of its policy highlights (I borrowed from analyses from the website Health Affairs by Washington and Lee University’s Timothy Jost and George Washington University’s Sara Rosenbaum):

  • Obamacare’s tax revenue — instead of paying for subsidies and tax credits to individuals and extra Medicaid funding — would go toward block grants for each state.
  • The total amount of money going to states will likely be less than if Obamacare stayed in place, according to an analysis by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
  • In effect, this legislation would take the money that goes to the 31 states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare and spread it to 50.9 So California would likely end up with tens of billions of dollars less, but Texas (which did not expand Medicaid) much more.
  • A state could require everyone to have health insurance and subsidize private insurance targeted at low-income people, like Obamacare. But a conservative state could create a system with few regulations, even allowing insurance companies to set higher prices for people with pre-existing conditions. (Graham-Cassidy only explicitly bars setting higher rates based on gender or race.)
  • There would be a cap on national spending on Medicaid outside of Obamacare, likely leading to the kind of cuts to the program that were estimated under previous GOP efforts at Obamacare repeal.

Democrats hate this proposal, as you might expect, since it includes several ideas from earlier GOP proposals that would cut Medicaid and potentially remove some patient protections as well as dramatically reduce the number of people with insurance.

So why are we going through this exercise again? For two reasons. First, Cassidy and Graham have been persistent. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had essentially said the party was done with attempting to repeal Obamacare after the most recent failed effort in July, is reportedly at least open to spending this week seeing if the bill can pass.

Second, this may be Republicans’ last opportunity to repeal Obamacare — at least for a while. The so-called reconciliation budget language, under which Republicans can pass bills that affect budgetary policy with 51 votes10 rather than 60, expires on Sept 30. The Senate can use the reconciliation process only once per fiscal year for a complicated bill like this and the GOP intends to use the 2018 reconciliation vote on the party’s tax reform proposal. So the next two weeks are likely the GOP’s last chance to pass an Obamacare repeal with 51 votes before the 2018 midterms, after which the GOP may not control both houses of Congress.

Remember the math. For a bill to pass the Senate, assuming all 48 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents vote against this, as expected, the GOP needs 50 of its 52 senators, so Vice President Pence can cast a potentially tie-breaking 51st vote.

Almost certain to vote ‘yes’: 41 Senate Republicans

In July, Republicans pushed three different repeal bills: a narrow, “skinny” version that would have left much of Obamacare in place; a more conservative bill that would have repealed essentially the entire law; and a piece of legislation written by McConnell that tried to split the difference between those approaches. Of the 52 Republicans, 39 voted for all three versions of the legislation. I think it’s safe to assume that this group will support virtually any anti-Obamacare bill.

The two senators that get us to 41 are Heller and Graham. Heller opposed two of the three previous Obamacare repeal bills, arguing that they cut Medicaid too deeply. (He backed the “skinny” repeal.) But Heller has now reversed course; he’s co-sponsoring this legislation even though it also cuts Medicaid funding. And Graham, another co-sponsor, is also obviously fully on board after opposing one of the repeal proposals in July.

Likely to vote ‘yes’: 5 Senate Republicans

Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito, Tennessee’s Bob Corker, Arkansas’s Tom Cotton and Ohio’s Rob Portman each cast essentially symbolic votes against one of the three Obamacare repeal provisions in July. (Capito and Portman, in particular, expressed concerns about Medicaid cuts). In a scenario in which an Obamacare repeal bill actually had the chance to pass, they would likely vote for it.

So that puts this legislation at 46 likely “yes” votes. It needs four of the other six Republicans. And that’s where the math gets harder …

Almost certain to vote ‘no’: 1 Senate Republican

Maine’s Susan Collins has been opposed to virtually every GOP effort to repeal the ACA, including all three bills that came up for a vote. Collins attacked them in scathing terms for potentially cutting billions from Medicaid and leaving millions more people uninsured.

Likely to vote ‘no’: 1 Senate Republican

Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski also voted against all three versions of repeal in July, criticizing what she viewed as an overly secretive and partisan process to write the various bills and raising concerns about the Medicaid cuts. She has not slammed the GOP repeal effort as aggressively as Collins, but she does not sound especially inclined to back Cassidy-Graham.

So if Collins and Murkowski are “no” votes, Republicans need all four members below to vote “yes.”

Wild cards: 4 Senate Republicans

Utah’s Mike Lee and Kentucky’s Rand Paul have been continual roadblocks for Republicans during the repeal process, fighting it from the right and essentially opposing any legislation that leaves Obamacare’s rules and regulations in place. Lee has been noncommittal about Cassidy-Graham. But Paul has attacked it, arguing that it still gives states the choice and ability to effectively leave Obamacare in place. He sounds like a hard “no” right now, but I’m skeptical he would cast the deciding vote to block an Obamacare repeal bill. The reason: Paul has cultivated a brand as a strong conservative, so a vote that would, in effect, save Obamacare would not be ideal for him.

Kansas’s Jerry Moran, meanwhile, has been a vocal defender of Medicaid, so it’s not clear if he would back a bill that cuts Medicaid as much as Graham-Cassidy does.

McCain, for his part, was a key vote against Obamacare repeal in July and it seemed like a capstone to the Arizona senator’s career as a self-described maverick. He urged Republicans just this Sunday not to engage in a hurried process that skips over the relevant committees and doesn’t include Democrats. Cassidy-Graham is being rushed, hasn’t gone through the committees for hearings and has no Democratic support.

What could switch McCain to a “yes”? Graham and McCain are extremely close friends, perhaps the tightest relationship of any two members of the Senate. I have some doubt that McCain would vote down a bill that Graham has advocated so strongly for. And the Ducey endorsement of this legislation could also move the Arizona senator towards supporting it.


So, yes, the Republicans are close to having the votes to repeal Obamacare. But, as Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn wrote recently, “Any Obamacare repeal bill has 45-46-47 votes in the Senate. The issue for the GOP has always been the last few to get to 50.”

By the time this legislation gets a CBO score (which is likely to predict that it would leave millions of additional people uninsured), Democrats and activists whip up opposition to it, and the press writes a bunch of stories about who will not be covered under its provisions — three things that have happened each time Republicans have neared Obamacare repeal this year — a “yes” vote will be harder for wavering GOP senators than it seems today.

Also, this bill — even if it passes the Senate — must still be approved by the House. So Republicans seem close to repealing Obamacare. But that’s what everyone has been saying for months. Will they finally do it? Stay tuned.

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Posted by FiveThirtyEight

FiveThirtyEight
 

About a dozen high-profile Democrats came out last week in favor of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s single payer health care bill. At about the same time, Hillary Clinton accused Sanders of disrupting the Democratic Party with unrealistic policy proposals during the 2016 primary. The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast team debates the role that Sanders, Clinton and the ideas they’re advocating for will play in the party’s future.

Plus, the crew weighs the risks for both President Trump and Democratic leadership of working together on codifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Monday evenings, with occasional special episodes throughout the week. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

Eli Manning Is Profoundly Mediocre

Sep. 18th, 2017 08:18 pm
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Posted by Ty Schalter

Even after Eli Manning’s 200 consecutive regular-season NFL starts, quantifying his career is difficult.

Manning is in his 14th season, and nearly every one has felt like a crossroads. Which quarterback would show up for the Giants: the one capable of winning two Super Bowl MVPs — or the one capable of leading the NFL in interceptions for three seasons?

The answer was probably somewhere in between. Manning has been reliably, and historically, mediocre.

Only 10 quarterbacks in NFL history have started at least 200 games, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com, and the list is a who’s who of all-time legends: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Fran Tarkenton, Dan Marino, Brett Favre, Warren Moon and John Elway. And Eli Manning. And, OK, Vinny Testaverde — but still.

Save Eli Manning and Testaverde, all have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or are virtually certain to be.


What to expect from the Lions vs. Giants

ESPN Video Player

Among that group, Eli Manning ranks either last, or ahead of only Testaverde,11 in nearly every season-indexed rate stat: completion rate, yards per attempt, interception rate, passer rating, adjusted yards per attempt, net yards per attempt and adjusted net yards per attempt.

But Manning is not just terrible at being great — he regularly tests the lower boundaries of even being good. He has finished among the top 10 in ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating just four times out of the 11 seasons for which QBR has been calculated; his average rank is a middling 16th. He has finished among the top 10 in passer rating just once in 12 starting campaigns, finishing an average of 18th. From 2004, when Manning entered the league, through Week 1 of 2017, he was in the bottom half of both season-indexed passer rating and season-indexed adjusted net yards per attempt12 (among quarterbacks with at least 50 starts):

The truth is, the NFL’s eighth all-time leading passer has produced like a below-average starter across his entire career. That average contains some really low points, like his miserable 27-interception 2013 season, when he finished 35th in passer rating in a league with just 32 teams.

But that is as close as Manning has come to truly poor play. That reliability — that no matter how much he teases us with flashes of greatness, he at least definitely won’t be bad — has prompted the Giants to lean on him for more than a decade. What’s more, he’s rewarded that trust: Tonight, Manning will make his 212th consecutive start, the longest active Ironman streak in the NFL — and third-longest in the history of the league.

Above all, that may be Manning’s greatest skill: just being there. Since he took the starting quarterback job away from Kurt Warner in November 2004, the Giants have not had to worry about the position, allowing the team to devote resources and draft picks to other areas. By comparison, the Giants’ roommates, the Jets, have started 15 quarterbacks in this span. The Cleveland Browns have started 23.

But considering that Eli will turn 37 in January, how much longer can the Giants expect this to last? Quarterbacks seldom hang on to starting jobs beyond age 35. Then again, elite quarterbacks have blown past this expiration date — especially in recent years. Brady and Brees combine for 78 years of life, and together, they threw for more than 800 passing yards when they faced off on Sunday. Favre, Moon and Eli’s brother Peyton all played some of their most efficient football very near the end of their starting career. So maybe Eli Manning will soon reach a never-before-seen level of performance?

But even his best passing performance, in 2011, still couldn’t match up with the best of his peers’. He threw for 501 more yards than he ever had before or ever has since, but 543 fewer than Brees that season. Manning gained an impressive average of 8.4 yards per attempt, but Aaron Rodgers gained an average of 9.2. Manning’s passer rating in 2011, 92.9, was worlds away from the NFL-record 122.5 that Rodgers posted that season.

Even if Manning finds another level sometime soon, he’ll still be several levels shy of Brady, Brees and Rodgers’ best.

In some ways, Manning is a throwback: A high-risk, high-reward passer who is rarely efficient but sometimes makes big plays in big moments. A Joe Namath in an era when offensive innovations have made the average NFL quarterback better than Roger Staubach.13

But this is why advanced statistics exist: to help isolate a player’s performance from that of his teammates’ (hello, defensive lines and David Tyree) and to compare his performances against those of his peers. That analysts at major outlets were still citing rings and wins to claim that Eli is better than Peyton as late as 2013 is proof that we still need to look deeper.

A handful of high-leverage highlights can’t outweigh hundreds of games’ worth of mediocre play, not when we’re trying to pick the best of the best. But then, Eli Manning has never been one of the best.

No, the most prolifically mediocre quarterback in NFL history is in a class all by himself.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

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Posted by Walt Hickey

Things That Caught My Eye

Zeke contained

The Denver Broncos have cracked Ezekiel Elliott. Their defense held the Dallas running back to only eight yards on nine carries in their 42-17 victory Sunday. Elliott’s previous career low — on a professional football field at least — was when he ran only 51 years in his first game. [NBC]

Cleveland finally loses!

After three weeks of loss-free baseball, the Cleveland Indians finally dropped a game on Friday to the Kansas City Royals, ending their streak at 22 games with a combined scoring margin of 142-37. Of course there’s an old-timey baseball fly in the ointment here, namely the 1916 New York Giants’ 26-game winning streak. Still, if you account for the size of rotations and the era in which the Indians are playing, a generic MLB contender had a 1-in-65,566 chance of matching the streak by our calculations, making it the best run ever by far. [FiveThirtyEight]

New Tight End Record

Antonio Gates’s third-quarter touchdown against Miami was the 112th of the longtime Chargers star’s career. This put him ahead of Tony Gonzalez with the record for most touchdowns ever caught by a tight end. It’s a delightful scene. [Deadspin]

Clemson climbs

Clemson climbed to No. 2 in the AP poll after beating Louisville on Saturday. The Tigers are now behind only Alabama, the team they beat in the final seconds of the College Football Championship Game last year. [ESPN]

A ridiculous rule taken to its logical conclusion

Mike Scioscia, manager of the Los Angeles Angels, used 12 different pitchers over the course of 11 innings in a Labor Day victory over Oakland. Major League Baseball allows teams to expand rosters from 25 to 40 players in September, which in addition to allowing for ridiculous feats like that also modestly slows down play and aggravates clubhouses dealing with some cramped facilities. [ESPN]


Big Number

79.6 percent

Younghoe Koo’s missed 44-yard field goal attempt in the last seconds of Dolphins-Chargers led to the biggest swing in win probability observed in Sunday’s NFL games. When Koo’s kick sailed wide right, the Chargers’ chances of winning instantaneously dropped from 79.6 percent to nil. At least there were fireworks! [ESPN]


Leaks from Slack

annonymous sarcastic colleague:

Will the streak ever end?

neil:

lol

neil:

This is still Cleveland we’re talking about here

neil:

They’re backloading the losing so they can instantly be swept in the ALDS


Predictions


Oh, and don’t forget
Boxing makes soccer look decisive.

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Posted by Katherine Hobson

Want to see a group of parents shudder? Whisper that your kid has “pinkeye.” That one little word evokes images of ocular goop cutting a swath through a pre-K class like a lion through a herd of gazelles.

And as it turns out, how that eye grossness is labeled can make parents feel differently about how they’d want it treated in their own child. A study published last year looked at parents’ reactions to a hypothetical scenario in which a doctor describes a child’s symptoms of the viral form of conjunctivitis14 as either “pinkeye” or an “eye infection.” Participants also saw a photo of an afflicted eye.

When parents were told the child had an “eye infection” and that antibiotics were unlikely to help (because it was probably viral), their interest in the drugs declined. But when they heard “pinkeye,” parents still wanted antibiotics, even when they were told the drugs weren’t necessary. The finding suggests that word choice has consequences, especially given the overuse of antibiotics and the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Compared to those who heard “eye infection,” parents who heard “pinkeye” also thought the condition was more contagious and weren’t as likely to believe that their kid could attend child care.

The study is part of an emerging body of research investigating how the words used to describe a disease or a condition can influence how patients feel about treatment options. “The words we use around health and diagnosis are incredibly powerful,” said Kirsten McCaffery, a behavioral scientist at the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney Medical School in Australia. She’s an author of a new review of the research on this topic, which comes at a time of growing concern about overdiagnosis. Overdiagnosis occurs when people are diagnosed with a disease that never would have threatened their health or life. In most cases, they’re treated, sometimes aggressively. If the language used to describe a condition makes patients more likely to opt for the most aggressive treatment, that could make the overdiagnosis problem worse.

For example, one study looked at the effects of labeling a baby’s crying and regurgitation as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Real parents were asked for their reaction to a hypothetical situation in which their infant was spitting up and crying, but was otherwise healthy. Those told that their infants had GERD were more interested in treating the problem with drugs even though they were unlikely to help than parents whose babies’ symptoms weren’t labeled with a medical diagnosis. GERD is of interest because of concern about the overuse of proton pump inhibitors to treat reflux in babies. Another study, whose authors include McCaffery, found that women given a hypothetical diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome had a greater intention to have an ultrasound and thought their condition was more severe than those told that they had a “hormonal imbalance.” Some experts worry that the condition is being overdiagnosed; depending on the diagnostic criteria used, up to 20 percent of women of reproductive age may qualify as having polycystic ovary syndrome.

But language doesn’t just influence the risk of unnecessary tests and treatments; the women labeled as having the syndrome also felt worse about themselves. When people are told that they have a disease, they may start thinking of themselves as abnormal or sick. This shift in mindset can change their behavior or sense of well-being, even if all that’s changed is the label that’s been applied to them. People told that they have hypertension, for example, started missing days of work more often once they found out, mostly because of self-reported illness that wasn’t explained by changes in blood pressure or medication.

Labels are particularly consequential in oncology, where the stakes are very high. Hearing the words “you have cancer” can fundamentally change someone’s self-identity. That’s one reason researchers are debating which abnormal cells should be called cancer. It’s a discussion that comes amid a rising awareness that at least some people are getting aggressive, potentially harmful treatments for lesions that aren’t likely to hurt them.

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) — a diagnosis made when abnormal cells are detected in the breast’s milk ducts — is one example. These cells have the potential to progress to invasive breast cancer, but many never do. Yet even though studies don’t suggest that double mastectomies improve the long-term outcome for most cases, some women are getting them. The best way to treat DCIS remains a matter of debate and a personal decision on the part of the patient, but fear may bias the choices that people make.

A study in the review shows that treatment preferences change when DCIS is described as a “noninvasive cancer,” “breast lesion” or “abnormal cells.” The word “cancer” seems to lead women to opt for surgical treatments, at least in hypothetical scenarios.

In 2012, the National Cancer Institute convened a group of experts who proposed changing the name of precancerous cells like ductal carcinoma in situ to indolent lesion of epithelial origin. There’s precedent for removing the world “carcinoma” from low-risk tumors. In 1998, the World Health Organization did that with certain kinds of bladder tumors that only rarely progressed to invasive cancer. Similarly, some abnormal cervical cells are now referred to as low-grade lesions instead of cancer, and the change has led more patients to opt for watchful waiting rather than invasive procedures. Importantly, this switch in treatment has not increased the number of lesions ultimately diagnosed as invasive cancer. Last year, a panel of pathologists and other experts suggested that “encapsulated follicular variant of papillary thyroid carcinoma” become “noninvasive follicular thyroid neoplasm with papillary-like nuclear features.” Both names are a mouthful, but the new one is missing the word carcinoma, and the hope is that this will help doctors and patients feel more comfortable treating it with less aggressive means.

Labels like “cancer” can make people scared, said psychologist Laura Scherer of the University of Missouri, an author on the pinkeye and reflux studies. Diagnostic labels can also trigger preconceived ideas about what needs to be done: Cancer always needs to be cut out immediately. GERD involves stomach acid, and there are drugs for that. Pinkeye is super-contagious, so my kid can’t go to day care. Scherer’s work suggests that changing the names of some conditions might help patients break out of these preconceptions.

Some research suggests that language is more important when people know less about the condition. A small study published in July looked at how urgently people would seek care for hypothetical health scenarios. Whether a condition was described in medical lingo or lay language didn’t seem to matter for familiar conditions like heart attack — “myocardial infarction” in medicalese. But for newly medicalized conditions that people didn’t know much about, the more technical-sounding term was associated with a greater sense of urgency. For example, people were more likely to seek more urgent care for “androgenic alopecia” than “male pattern baldness.” But in general, research hasn’t nailed down precisely why some terms prompt people to say they’d want treatment and others not.

For now, simply being aware that terminology can influence your choices may prompt you to focus less on the name of the condition and more on the questions you should ask about it. How serious is this problem? What are the treatment options, and what are their risks and benefits? My child has caught pinkeye multiple times, but I’ve become a lot less freaked out about it since our pediatrician told me her preferred terminology: a cold in the eye.

What The World Thinks Of Trump

Sep. 18th, 2017 02:51 pm
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Posted by Gus Wezerek and Andrea Jones-Rooy

President Trump is attending the opening of the annual U.N. General Assembly in New York City this week for the first time.15 On Monday, he’ll host an event to discuss reforms to the organization, and on Tuesday he’ll make his first formal address to the body. The world isn’t just watching; this time they’re Trump’s target audience. So what does the world think of Trump?

Our best information on global public opinion toward Trump comes from the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes & Trends annual survey. Since 2000, Pew typically has asked approximately 1,000 residents each in a variety of countries for their views on the U.S., the U.S. president, other world leaders and several issues.16 We compared the results for the past three years for two questions: Whether respondents have a favorable view of the U.S., and whether they have confidence in the current U.S. president to “do the right thing regarding world affairs.”17

Two patterns jump out. First, since Trump took office, confidence in the president has gone down further, on average, than favorability toward the U.S.: Confidence dropped 47 percentage points; U.S. favorability just 13 points. Since 2005, perceptions of the U.S. have changed less than those of the president.18

Second, while respondents’ views of both America and the president have decreased in the past year, the drops are not uniform. Some of the biggest declines have been in countries with whom the U.S. has a collective defense agreement, such as NATO members and Japan, especially when it comes to confidence in the president. Mexico, unsurprisingly, also saw a big public opinion drop on both questions. On the other hand, public favorability toward the U.S. has gone up in Russia, and public confidence in the president has gone up in both Israel and Russia since Trump took office.19

Overall, though, Trump has brought a return to George W. Bush-era levels of favorability for the U.S. and the presidency.20

What about the actual content of what Trump will say at the U.N.? Beyond U.N. reforms, other major issues on the international agenda are North Korea, Syria, terrorism and climate change. In its 2017 survey, Pew asked respondents whether they approve or disapprove of five of Trump’s specific policies, some of which track with U.N. priorities.

Foreign publics generally do not approve of any of the five policies, but the idea of withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran agreement drew the least disapproval, at an average global net approval of -15.7 percent. Trump’s plans to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and to withdraw from major trade agreements were almost universally disliked (average net approval of -50.5 and -49.7 percent, respectively).21

CORRECTION (Sept. 19, 4:55 p.m.): A previous version of the third chart in this article, showing the net approval rating of President Trump’s proposed policies, mislabeled Israel, Germany and Russia. The chart has been updated.

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Posted by Walt Hickey

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.


8 Emmys

Julia Louis-Dreyfus won her eighth primetime acting Emmy award on Sunday night, which ties the career record set by Cloris Leachman. Besides “Veep,” the other big winners last night included “Saturday Night Live,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Big Little Lies.” [The New York Times]


18 percent

Obesity rate in Brazil in 2015, up from 7 percent in 1980. One effect of globalization is that the same processed foods, sugary drinks and poor nutrition habits that made America obese have now been efficiently exported to the rest of the world. [The New York Times]


22 floods

The federal flood insurance program has paid more than $1.8 million between 1979 and 2015 to rebuild a single house in Kingwood, Texas. The house has been flooded 22 times since 1979, but Hurricane Harvey was the last straw — the homeowner wants out. [The Wall Street Journal]


10,000 snaps

Congratulations to Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns, who on Sunday played his 10,000th consecutive snap since being drafted in 2007. The left tackle has never missed a play in an NFL game. [ESPN]


10,046 runners

Of the 28,206 runners who officially crossed the finish line in the Mexico City Marathon, 10,046 missed at least one of the eight timing mats around the course. (Nearly 300 missed all eight!) Widespread evidence of runners skipping portions of the course and other shenanigans has led to the disqualification of more than 5,800 people, which is legitimately absurd. [Runner’s World]


$25 million

Amount reportedly spent on President Trump’s pre-inauguration Lincoln Memorial concert — a tad more than the $5 million spent on Obama’s inauguration concert or the $2.5 million spent on George W. Bush’s. Toby Keith and Three Doors Down must be pricy. [Associated Press]

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Posted by Harry Enten

There are no national elections for president in the United States. Democrats relearned that lesson the hard way in 2016, when President Trump won the Electoral College despite earning fewer votes nationally than Hillary Clinton. Of course, we still mostly talk about the president’s popularity nationwide in non-election years. It’s simpler, and job approval polls for all 50 states are harder to come by. But it’s worth checking in on Trump’s state-by-state strength when we can, and that’s now possible thanks to two polling firms, Gallup and SurveyMonkey22, which recently released Trump’s state-by-state approval and disapproval ratings.

Although Trump is quite unpopular, the political map hasn’t changed much in the eight months since Trump won (not surprisingly). Compared to his standing nationally, Trump is still strong in key swing states.23 He has, however, experienced a disproportionate drop off in his popularity in red states, suggesting the president’s base isn’t as solid as it once was.

Overall, Trump’s relative popularity in each state tracks very closely24 with how well he did in each state in November. Here’s an average of Gallup and SurveyMonkey’s net approval ratings25 compared to Trump’s margin over Clinton in each state:

Trump’s best net approval ratings are in West Virginia (+21 percentage points) and Wyoming (+20 points). Those were his two strongest states last November. His lowest net approval ratings are in Vermont (-41 points) and Massachusetts (-38 points), two of his worst states in 2016.

Trump’s also still more popular in key Midwestern swing states than he is nationally. His net approval ratings in the states that helped put him over the top in 2016 (Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) ranged from -10 percentage points to -12 percentage points. That’s slightly better than his net approval nationally (-15 percentage points) during the same period.

Trump’s continued popularity in the Midwest (relatively speaking) is important because (i) there are a ton of Electoral College votes in those states, and (ii) it shows that Democrats still have a problem there. That may also mean that Clinton didn’t lose the election because she was uniquely unpopular in key swing states. (She likely didn’t lose Wisconsin, for example, because she didn’t campaign there, as some have argued.) Trump may just have outsized appeal in the Midwest. Or perhaps the region — which used to lean slightly more Democratic than the nation as a whole — has simply become more Republican-leaning relative to the country. That trend could have little to do with Clinton or Trump.

Instead, Trump has seen a disproportionate decline in his popularity in red states. Let’s compare Trump’s net approval rating in each state to his 2016 margin there. In doing so, we’re basically pretending that the 2016 vote was a big job approval poll, with a vote for Trump being “approve” and a vote for Clinton “disapprove”:

Trump has seen his biggest decline in red states

Difference between Trump’s 2016 election margin and an average of his net approval ratings in 2017 Gallup and SurveyMonkey polls, by state

STATE TRUMP’S 2016 MARGIN 2017 NET APPROVAL CHANGE
Wyoming +46 +20 -26
Oklahoma +36 +12 -24
Idaho +32 +9 -23
Nebraska +25 +3 -22
Kentucky +30 +8 -22
Indiana +19 -3 -22
Utah +18 -3 -21
North Dakota +36 +15 -21
West Virginia +42 +21 -20
Minnesota -2 -22 -20
Tennessee +26 +6 -20
South Dakota +30 +10 -19
Texas +9 -9 -18
Kansas +20 +3 -17
Colorado -5 -21 -17
Missouri +19 +2 -16
Alaska +15 -1 -16
North Carolina +4 -12 -16
New Hampshire 0 -16 -15
Vermont -26 -41 -15
Arizona +4 -11 -14
Arkansas +27 +13 -14
Iowa +9 -4 -14
Maine -3 -17 -14
Mississippi +18 +4 -14
South Carolina +14 +1 -13
Connecticut -14 -27 -13
Georgia +5 -8 -13
Ohio +8 -5 -13
Michigan 0 -12 -13
Virginia -5 -18 -12
Alabama +28 +15 -12
Washington -16 -27 -12
Louisiana +20 +8 -12
New Mexico -8 -20 -12
Montana +20 +9 -11
Wisconsin +1 -10 -11
Pennsylvania +1 -10 -11
Oregon -11 -22 -11
Massachusetts -27 -38 -11
New Jersey -14 -24 -10
Florida +1 -8 -10
Illinois -17 -26 -9
New York -22 -31 -9
Maryland -26 -35 -9
Nevada -2 -10 -8
Rhode Island -16 -23 -7
Delaware -11 -19 -7
California -30 -34 -4
Hawaii -32 -25 7

All numbers are rounded.

SOURCE: DAVE LEIP, GALLUP, SURVEYMONKEY

There’s a clear negative correlation26 between the “change” numbers in the table above and Trump’s margin in each state. In states where Trump won by at least 10 points, his net approval rating is down 18 percentage points, on average, compared to his margin last November. In states that were decided by 10 points or less in November, it’s down only 13 points. And it’s down 8 points in states Clinton carried by at least 10 points.

The fact that Trump has lost the greatest number of supporters in red states is perhaps the clearest indication yet that he is losing ground among some form of his base, if you think of his base as those who voted for him in November

Well … with a couple caveats. It’s possible that the polls are merely underestimating Trump in these red states. Trump most outperformed his polling in 2016 in red states. Maybe that’s happening again. That said, he also beat his polls in Midwestern states, and he’s holding his own (relatively speaking) there, which argues that his red-state decline can’t be written off only as polling error.

But even if this polling is perfect, Trump still might not have lost ground, per se. Trump was able to win in 2016 in large part because he was able to win a decent share of the vote among people who held an unfavorable view of him. That group of voters — we’ve dubbed them “Reluctant Trump voters” — may have been more plentiful in red states.27 In deeply red Kentucky, for example, Trump lost among people who held an unfavorable view of him by just 40 percentage points. In deeply blue California, he lost this same group by 74 points.

So perhaps what we’re seeing isn’t a decline in Trump’s support in conservative states, but rather a reflection of its weakness from the start: Red-state voters who pulled the lever for Trump but didn’t like him, still don’t like him.

What will be interesting to see is how many of these red-state voters who dislike Trump now will be willing to vote for Republicans in 2018 without Clinton on the ballot. Off-year elections, like those coming up in 2018, are usually a referendum on the party in power. We’ve already seen that Democrats have been able to do well in special elections this year, as Trump’s approval ratings have slumped. We’ve also seen that House Republicans are picking up very few supporters among people who disapprove of Trump’s job performance in national polling. That is, there aren’t a lot of voters who dislike Trump and are still willing to say they’re going to vote Republican.

If red state voters who dislike Trump but voted for him in 2016 abandon the Republican Party in 2018, it could lead to some unexpected electoral results. It’s another reason that Democrats, if they want to maximize their chances of winning back the House, should compete in a wide variety of districts.

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