12/19/19: State of the Race, pt. 4

Photo (ABOVE): Senate Democrats / Wikimedia Commons

Written by Ben Szioli

This is State of the Race, where I break down the week’s election news so that you don’t have to melt your brain by reading it yourself, much like the premise of the Elder Scrolls franchise. Above, you can find the first three weeks of the column and catch up; or find your candidate below.

FiveThirtyEight Average

The first thing I want to discuss is the new adjusted polling average launched by Nate Silver’s powerhouse polling aggregate website FiveThirtyEight.

As discussed on the FiveThirtyEight site, the new polling average accounts for several factors in order to ensure that (to greatly oversimplify it) today’s polling average predicts tomorrow’s polling average as best as possible. What this means is that the FiveThirtyEight polling average is a forward-facing average that is resistant to polling swings that may ultimately pass.

As a result, while RealClearPolitics (RCP) polling averages show regular wave-like fluctuations, FiveThirtyEight is able to smooth those fluctuations out. This new polling average is more stable day-to-day, but it masks short-term polling changes that might reveal what direction a candidate is trending in.


Above, you can see a comparison of the RCP average on the left and the new FiveThirtyEight average on the right. These graphs show the period between September 12th and November 21st, when Senator Liz Warren (MA) led Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) for second place.

RCP showed Senator Warren with an exaggerated spike and a peak where she tied Former Vice President Joe Biden (DE), making it clear that voters were not buying a “Warren takes the lead” narrative. The shape of the spike showed that Warren would soon fade. The RCP average is defined by up and down periods of polling confidence followed by caution, followed by confidence. Much like the concept of resistance in market economics, the trend of those confidence peaks can indicate when a candidate has reached their maximum level of support and will therefore likely take a turn for the worse.

On the other hand, during Warren’s surge, the FiveThirtyEight average showed less of a peak and more of a slope. This made it clear that Warren never really tied Former Vice President Biden; her numbers pushed toward that, but it was never realized, due to a lack of confidence from polling respondents. The FiveThirtyEight average was also so smooth and flat during that surge that it would have been difficult to visually predict Warren’s subsequent decline. The RCP average showed a noticeable, unsustainable pattern. So while the FiveThirtyEight average was a better predictor of all four candidates’ long-term polling performance, the RCP average is a better indicator of short-term swings.

Because of this, I will use the more stable FiveThirtyEight averages when I report each candidate’s polling average every week. For my own purposes, I will still pay attention to the RCP average, which contains more information but is less reliable day-over-day.


The United Kingdom general election went disastrously for the left-wing Labour Party.

American media tends to view the politics of other nations as being defined by individual leaders, whereas we see our own internal politics as being much more nuanced. This isn’t unique to Americans; the press of other nations often define us by President Donald Trump (FL), or by Senator Sanders, or by Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (NY); just as we understand the Philippines through Rodrigo Duterte, or France through Macron.

In the same way, the American media has focused closely on Labour’s leftist leader, Jeremy Corbyn, as it analyzes UK politics. So when Labour collapsed, the media here processed the events in terms of Jeremy Corbyn; specifically, in terms of what (or who) Jeremy Corbyn resembles in the United States: Senator Sanders.

Because Labour lost at the hands of the conservative Tories, American commentators have rushed to insist that this means Sanders will lose to the Republicans. When you state it that simply, you reveal how little sense the idea even makes. Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn resemble each other. That doesn’t intertwine their destinies.

Beyond that, the issues at hand in the UK election are in no way comparable to electoral issues in the United States. The Labour Party lost in large part because it had no plan for Britain’s exit from the European Union. Voters in the UK have been focused on Brexit for years now, and it has dominated their electoral patterns. First, Prime Minister David Cameron resigned over the initial referendum, then Prime Minister Theresa May stepped down after three failures to negotiate an exit plan. The Independence Party and Brexit Party, two nationalist parties, rose and fell during the UK electorate’s search for a Brexit plan.

A contradictory message on Brexit tanked Labour’s chances in the election, as well as an anti-Semitism scandal. Jeremy Corbyn was politically doomed as a result of his inability to handle those two domestic UK issues. There’s simply no comparison to be seen between that and Bernie Sanders in the United States.


Finally, tonight’s debate was thrown into doubt on Friday, December 13th, when Senators Warren and Sanders led the other five candidates in boycotting the debate due to a union dispute involving the debate venue, Loyola Marymount University, and its food service workers. The debate seemed unlikely to happen until Tuesday, when the union announced that they had come to an agreement with the university, and the debate was back on.

The seven top candidates in the polls happen to be the seven candidates that made the debate stage.


Former Vice President Joe Biden (DE): Biden continues to lead, sitting at 27% in the FiveThirtyEight average. He picked up endorsements this week from a California union leader, who issued a campaign ad, as well as Former President Barack Obama (HI)’s Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew and a number of Texas state lawmakers. Gold Star father Khizr Khan, who famously rebuked President Trump, appeared at an event for Biden, as well. Biden’s doctor also signed off on his health.

Biden came out against standardized testing this week, an interesting position. His appeal with suburban voters is undeniable, and this speaks to them, since many deal with absurd standardized test once or more a year. However, Biden is also playing into right wing anti-education sentiments that have come down hard on the idea of a national curriculum. You could almost call it a dog whistle, since I believe Biden’s intent was for Republicans to see him as anti-political correctness, but for Democrats to see him as pro-education reform.

Finally, Biden laid into Warren in advance of the debate, criticizing her as unable to compromise with Republicans, saying (without naming her) that Warren believes we cannot unify the country. The same day, Warren called Biden naive for believing that adopting Republican arguments against our policies will somehow help pass those policies.

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Senator Bernie Sanders (VT): Bernie is still at a relative high of 18% in the polls. He was endorsed this week by the Russian dissident punk band Pussy Riot, and Representative Ilhan Omar (MN) reiterated her support at a New Hampshire rally. And reportedly, Democrats are afraid to attack Bernie.

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Senator Liz Warren (MA): Polling at 15% and steadying out, Warren captured an influential media endorsement this week, from beloved soccer star Megan Rapinoe. She also washed away Biden’s endorsement from Jack Lew with a torrent of Obama administration endorsements.

Warren debuted an anti-corruption plan this week, aimed at international money laundering. Perhaps she hopes to distract from her continuing retreat from universal healthcare.

And although Warren was shown this week to be the second-favorite presidential candidate of Buttigieg’s shady McKinsey & Company associates, she won progressive points by attacking Hillary Clinton’s weak debate performances in 2016.

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South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (IN): Pete landed himself in a bit of trouble this week. First, he swore off private fundraisers and released a list of his campaign donation bundlers. Then, he held a private wine cave fundraiser, and POLITICO caught him in a lie after he omitted more than twenty names from the list. Polling at 9% and trending downward, Buttigieg has done himself no favors here.

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Former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg (NY): Bloomberg has continued his evil villain tour while polling around 4.5%, buying a news outlet and firing half its staff, cozying up to megadonors, and admitting that he intends to hide his finances until after the Iowa caucus, by which point there is no reason to believe he will still be a competitor.

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Andrew Yang: Yang is slipping, as the momentum runs dry. He’s making some good moves, but not ones that will land him in the White House. He spoke well of Joe Biden, hoping for a vice presidential spot that wouldn’t really make sense. He also encouraged his primary opponents in the Senate to continue campaigning through the impeachment trial, a sign of good faith. And finally, he suggested that psilocybin mushrooms should be more widely available. Research has indicated that the mushrooms may help a number of conditions, and they are essentially non-toxic.

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Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN): Klobuchar is the lowest-polling candidate in the debate tonight. She sits at 2.8% in the polling average, but that actually represents quite a swell from where she was a week ago, in particular in the early voting states. This debate performance can make or break her campaign.

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Senator Cory Booker (NJ): Booker is powering down in New Hampshire after missing the ballot in Vermont. He has issued a call for the debate rules to open up, but that likely wouldn’t take hold until at least February, which is far too late for Booker.

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Representative Tulsi Gabbard (HI): Gabbard’s week was dominated by speculation about impeachment, and now, next week will be dominated by the fallout. Gabbard elected to vote “present” rather than “yea” or “nay” on the impeachment, effectively jabbing her thumb in the Democrats’ eyes… but for what purpose? If anything, this plays into the “Russian asset” narrative.

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Tom Steyer: Steyer had a humanizing moment with a voter this week when she began to cry while speaking at a town hall. He’s trying to own up to his fortune while also giving the middle class what it wants. Considering that he is sitting behind Enemy of the State Gabbard in the polls, the chances of that working are slim.

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Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro (TX): This week, Castro is still fighting. He roasted ICE online with the classic “delete your account” meme. He’s reaching out to Spanish-speaking voters to identify with them through his own struggle to unify his language and his identity. However, it still doesn’t seem that this outreach will be enough. The already caustic Castro has ruffled feathers in Iowa by stating and then re-stating that Iowa doesn’t deserve its early state status. He just isn’t positioning himself as a unifier.

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The Curious Case of Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (NY): Clinton is now launching a Hulu documentary about herself. No, I’m sorry; someone who Hillary totally didn’t pay decided to launch the documentary, because they just love her so much. This is highly reminiscent of Clinton’s history of pre-election book tours and the like. As one writer put it, Clinton 2020 just “clawed another few more feet out of the depths of Hell.”

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Former Representative John Delaney (MD): We struck gold this week. Another workout video from Delaney. Enjoy.

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Senator Michael Bennet (CO): Bennet is in the desperation fundraising stage of campaign death, asking for $700K to keep himself going. In one of the few positive moves he has made since entering the race, Bennet joined with Senator Mitt Romney (UT) to put forward a basic income program. What is significant about this is that currently, basic income is considered a left wing program, but there’s no reason that needs to be true. Basic income, because it does not increase the bureaucracy of the government, is politically neutral. Folks like Andrew Yang are not actually advocating for a partisan program.

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Marianne Williamson: In a total reversal of her mood from last week, now Williamson believes she is actually “the most electable.” Wow. That really is a “newsflash.”

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Former Governor Deval Patrick (MA): Patrick missed the ballot in Michigan this week. He’s also being criticized back home for controversial Massachusetts court appointments considered to be weak on crime. And he is polling in dead last. Any day now…

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Incumbent President Donald Trump (FL): Well, Trump was impeached this week. And somehow, that has absolutely no electoral impact. As, in a way, it shouldn’t. Impeachment is not meant to be a victory. Nobody wins when the government is found to have done wrong. Trump continues to clamp down on ballot access in as many states as possible, hoping to steal a win now that Republicans have united behind him.

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Former Governor Bill Weld (MA): Weld hasn’t improved much this week, though he did indicate that he will not run as an independent if he loses the 2020 Republican primary.

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Former Representative Joe Walsh (IL): Walsh continues to flounder. He was banned from Twitter temporarily this week, but the controversy did little to elevate him in the news.

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Roque “Rocky” de la Fuente: De la Fuente had a quiet week, continuing to sue for ballot access in Minnesota, as well as nationally.

The Curious Case of Senator Mitt Romney (UT): With impeachment finalized, all eyes are on Mitt. He had that lovely lunch with Trump a few weeks back, so let’s see what he ends up doing during this Senate trial. All indications are that he will do whatever the GOP leadership tells him to do.

The Curious Case of Former Ambassador Nikki Haley (SC): A poll from this week has illuminated Haley’s true goal in cozying up to Trump: to save his presidential ticket in 2020. A third of Republicans said they would prefer Haley to Vice President Mike Pence. Sounds good, except that 37% of them prefer Pence. Still, it looks like someone is trying to probe the idea of a Haley vice presidency.


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