September 2019 update: 2020 Democratic presidential nomination scenarios and general election polling

With the third Democratic presidential nomination debate set for September 12, 2019 in Houston, Texas, it is time for an updated assessment of the relative position of the now-20 declared candidates. The more stringent criteria to qualify for this debate—the first to be held on only one night—presaged the end for three more campaigns. Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced on August 21 he would attempt instead to win a third term as governor. United States House of Representatives (“Representative”) member Seth Moulton of Massachusetts dropped out on August 23 (to seek reelection to his House seat), followed by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on August 28. The six candidates who have thus far abandoned their quest to be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee all exited the race with grace, class and dignity, and I commend them for it.

To learn how I calculate the value I assign to each candidate, NSW-WAPA (national-and-state-weighted weighted-adjusted polling average), please see here[1]. I recently made two other methodological changes. One, I now treat as distinct polling entities two sets of ABC News/Washington Post national-level polls of the 2020 Democratic nomination contest: 1) Two polls, conducted January 21-24 and April 22-25, of adults only which simply asked respondents to name their first choice (as opposed to being read a list of names and being asked to choose one) and 2) two more recent polls (June 28-July 1, September 2-5) which used a list of names. Two, as of their poll conducted August 24-27, I am now using the “likely voters” version of the Harris X tracking poll; I treat these as coming from a distinct “pollster” than the “registered voters” version.

And, of course, here is the September 2019 lighthouse photograph in my Down East 2019 Maine Lighthouses wall calendar.

Sep 2019 lighthouse.JPG

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I begin with a heartfelt methodological apologia.

While conducting the “post-first-debate-polls-only” analysis I discuss below, I noticed a significant glitch in how I weighted polling within distinct polling firms. I was also not incorporating more recent national polls correctly. The combined effect was to lower every candidate’s final NSW-WAPA (thus) at most 1.7 percentage points (“points”), while increasing the “Don’t Know/Other” value 4.6 points. However, the relative ordering of the candidates and the spacing between them was unaffected.

Even so, it is an embarrassing error on my part, and I apologize.

Table 1 below aggregates data from all national and state-level polls publicly released since January 1, 2019 (as of 12 am EST September 12, 2019), including:

  • 178 national polls (including 36 weekly Morning Consult tracking polls)
  • 21 Iowa caucuses polls
  • 25 New Hampshire primary polls
  • 6 Nevada caucuses polls
  • 19 South Carolina primary polls
  • 43 Super Tuesday polls[2]
  • 36 polls from 15 other states.[3]

This makes a total of 328 polls, up from 293 in the last update.

Table 1: National-and-state-weighted WAPA for declared 2020 Democratic presidential nomination candidates

Candidate National IA NH NV SC Post-SC NSW-WAPA
Biden 29.0 24.9 23.8 28.6 40.3 27.8 28.7
Sanders 16.2 16.6 19.5 19.9 14.3 15.8 17.4
Warren 13.0 14.9 15.5 17.5 10.5 14.2 14.5
Harris 8.8 10.1 8.6 8.0 10.8 9.1 9.3
Buttigieg 5.3 9.6 8.9 6.5 5.3 6.3 7.5
O’Rourke 3.3 2.8 2.6 2.6 1.9 6.5 2.7
Booker 2.3 2.6 1.6 1.6 3.7 1.6 2.3
Klobuchar 1.2 2.8 1.0 1.0 0.7 1.0 1.5
Yang 1.4 0.8 1.9 1.5 0.9 0.9 1.2
Gabbard 0.8 0.8 2.0 1.2 0.4 0.7 1.1
Castro 1.0 0.8 0.2 1.2 0.2 1.4 0.70
Steyer 0.2 0.1 0.5 2.1 0.5 0.2 0.65
Delaney 0.3 1.0 0.6 0.00 0.4 0.2 0.49
Bennet 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.4 0.2 0.4 0.28
Williamson 0.3 0.1 0.4 0.4 0.4 0.1 0.28
Ryan 0.3 0.1 0.2 0.4 0.3 0.2 0.23
de Blasio 0.3 0.1 0.00 0.6 0.1 0.1 0.19
Bullock 0.3 0.4 0.00 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.17
Sestak 0.02 0.1 0.00 0.2 0.00 0.1 0.07
Messam 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.1 0.04 0.03
DK/Other 13.9 9.6 11.4 4.7 7.6 12.3 9.5

The race has settled into a kind of stasis following the first two rounds of debates. Former Vice President Joe Biden remains the frontrunner (28.7), primarily because of his 26-point lead in South Carolina primary polls. However, he is less strong in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the candidates battling for second place overall, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (17.4) and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (14.5), are even closer to first place. Rounding out a clear top five, both overall and in the four earliest states, are California Senator Kamala Harris (9.3) and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (7.5). These five candidates account for over three-quarters (77.4%) of Democratic voter preferences at this point, and the conventional wisdom is the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee will be one of them.

In the next tier are candidates with NSW-WAPA between 1.0 and 3.0 who could yet rise in the polls with strong debate performances: former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard. Of this group, only Gabbard did not qualify for the September 2019 debate, though may yet meet the criteria for the fourth round of Democratic presidential nomination debates (October 15 and possibly October 16). Just behind Gabbard, essentially tied for 11th place, are former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and billionaire activist Tom Steyer; Castro is the 10th and final September 2019 debate qualifier, while Steyer has already qualified for the October 2019 debate(s).

These 12 candidates total 87.0% of Democratic voter preferences. With 9.5%[4] undecided or choosing an unlisted candidate, the remaining seven candidates are divvying up just 3.5% between them; as none of them appears close to making the October 2019 debate(s), I expect them to end their campaigns by the end of 2019.

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Because I have been playing them out in my head, I will sketch out some likely nomination-winning scenarios at this point; as these are purely thought experiments, they should not be taken as predictions. These scenarios incorporate additional information like endorsements, my own study of the presidential nomination process[5] and the data in Table 2, derived only from polls that began on June 28, 2019 or later (i.e., after the first round of debates; n=137).

Table 2: National-and-state-weighted WAPA for declared 2020 Democratic presidential nomination candidates—starting date of poll June 28, 2019 or later

Candidate National IA NH NV SC Post-SC NSW-WAPA
Biden 27.8 23.8 21.9 26.1 38.5 26.2 27.0
Sanders 15.9 14.5 19.8 21.4 15.0 15.3 17.3
Warren 15.4 18.7 19.0 19.0 12.0 16.7 17.2
Harris 9.2 12.2 10.2 8.2 12.9 10.0 10.8
Buttigieg 5.0 9.3 9.1 5.3 4.7 5.4 7.0
Booker 2.1 2.0 1.6 1.2 3.2 1.3 1.9
O’Rourke 2.4 1.4 1.2 1.8 1.0 6.2 1.9
Yang 1.9 1.0 2.4 1.3 0.9 1.1 1.4
Gabbard 1.0 0.9 2.6 1.3 0.5 0.9 1.3
Klobuchar 1.1 2.5 1.2 0.9 0.7 0.6 1.3
Steyer 0.4 0.02 0.7 3.4 0.9 0.3 1.0
Castro 1.1 0.7 0.3 1.4 0.2 1.4 0.75
Delaney 0.3 0.8 0.6 0.00 0.7 0.2 0.52
Bennet 0.3 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.3 0.5 0.38
Williamson 0.5 0.1 0.6 0.3 0.5 0.2 0.36
de Blasio 0.4 0.3 0.00 0.9 0.1 0.1 0.28
Ryan 0.4 0.00 0.00 0.6 0.5 0.2 0.25
Bullock 0.3 0.5 0.00 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.24
Sestak 0.03 0.1 0.00 0.4 0.00 0.1 0.11
Messam 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.1 0.01
DK/Other 13.7 9.6 7.2 3.8 6.0 12.2 7.8

The top five remains the same (and combine for a slightly higher 79.3%), though Biden and Buttigieg are lower, while Sanders, Harris and, especially, Warren are higher.  The next tier of seven candidates is closely bunched together between 0.7 and 1.9. And a slightly smaller percentage (7.8) are undecided or prefer a different candidate.

But the real differences may be seen in Iowa, where Warren is now a close second to Biden, and New Hampshire, which is essentially a three-way tie between Biden, Sanders and Warren; Nevada is similar, with Biden slightly further ahead—and Steyer has his best showing (3.4) by far. Gabbard (2.6) and Yang (2.4) are similarly rising in New Hampshire.

In these scenarios I assume two things:

  1. Results in the four early states will continue to have an outsized impact on all subsequent contests,
  2. Candidates not finishing in the top five in any of Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina will end their campaign before March 3, 2020

Scenario 1: Biden wins easily.

This is the most obvious scenario: the front-runner wins. Biden has consistently led national and most state polls. He leads Harris in endorsement “points,” though relatively few Democratic party officials have endorsed a candidate. He is winning the “Hillary Clinton 2016 coalition”: older, moderate/conservative and black Democrats. And even after two shaky debate performances, Biden is still nearly 10 points ahead of Sanders and Warren overall in the most recent polling—and about five points ahead in the leadoff Iowa caucuses.

In this scenario, Biden wins the Iowa caucuses by closer to 10 points, with Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg splitting the votes of whiter, younger, more liberal Democrats, and Harris a distant fifth; no other candidate is close. Biden, who lately has been downplaying his chances in the early states, looks like the winner he was presumed to be.

Klobuchar, who had pinned everything on Iowa, drops out of the race and endorse Biden (instead of a Senate colleague or the untested Buttigieg). This, along with support from supporters of former candidates, breaks the logjam in New Hampshire. Biden wins there in the high single digits as Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg continue to split the not-Biden vote between them. Nevada becomes an afterthought (allowing Steyer to finish a surprising fourth), as all eyes turn to South Carolina—where Biden wins easily.

After the remaining candidates make their last stands on Super Tuesday (Warren in Massachusetts; Harris, Yang, Steyer and Gabbard in California; O’Rourke and Castro in Texas), Biden wins the majority of delegates awarded that day, after which only Sanders and Warren are serious challengers. Uncommitted officials, sensing a chance to focus on President Donald J. Trump, quickly coalesce behind Biden. He effectively wraps up the nomination on April 28, when he trounces Sanders and Warren in the Pennsylvania primary, the state where he was born, and whose southern neighbor (Delaware) he served in the Senate for 36 years.

Scenario 2: Warren’s early state strength vaults her to the nomination.

This is essentially the inverse of Scenario 1 and, to my mind, about equally as likely. Warren wins the Iowa caucuses because her far-more enthusiastic supporters show up to a caucus site on a Monday night in early February. Biden’s supporters, however, do not caucus in expected numbers, and he finishes a disappointing third, behind Sanders and barely ahead of Buttigieg and Harris. Booker finishes a surprisingly strong sixth, thanks to a core of enthusiastic supporters, though it is still disappointing. Nobody else is even close; Klobuchar again drops out of the race, though this time she endorses Warren. Harris, meanwhile, focuses on doing well in South Carolina and California.

Sensing a winner, supporters of other “liberal” candidates break for Warren, who edges out Sanders to win the New Hampshire primary; Biden actually finishes third behind Buttigieg. Yang and Gabbard finish higher than expected, but not enough to garner any momentum. Warren then makes it three-for-three in Nevada, as even some Sanders voters caucus for her; Biden finishes fourth, behind a surprisingly-strong Steyer.

In a matter of days, the very core of Biden’s appeal—his “electability”—is irreparably damaged. He still wins the South Carolina primary on the strength of moderate/conservative Democrats alarmed by the one-two punch of Warren and Sanders; pragmatic black Democrats split their votes between Biden, Harris and Warren (with a smattering for Booker), who finish in that order.

Just prior to Super Tuesday, though, Booker, Buttigieg, Castro and Yang—all eyeing the vice-presidential nomination—drop out of the race and endorse Warren. As a result, on Super Tuesday, besides her home states of Massachusetts, Warren wins Colorado, Minnesota and, in a narrow upset, Virginia. Biden wins the southern states of Alabama, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee, but by smaller margins than expected.

Texas is an inconclusive muddle, with Biden, Warren and O’Rourke battling for first place (roughly in that order)—but the game-changer is California. On the strength of white liberals (who have broken decisively from Sanders, especially women) and a slight plurality of LatinX voters, and with Biden and Harris splitting the black vote between them, Warren wins the California primary.

Harris, O’Rourke and Steyer see the writing on the wall and drop out, endorsing Warren. Gabbard also drops out, but chooses to endorse Sanders instead.

It is now effectively a two-person race between Biden and Warren, the clear front-runner. Sanders soldiers on, despite not having won a single contest, though his percentages languish around 10-15%, just enough to win some delegates here and there.

Biden continues to win primaries in the south (including the Florida primary on March 17) with Harris and Booker out of the race, but his only win outside the south is Ohio on March 10. Making his last stand in Pennsylvania, his high-single-digit win is deemed a disappointment. Warren then wins the Indiana primary on May 3, effectively wrapping up the nomination.

Scenarios 1a and 2a: Biden and Warren split the early states

It is highly plausible that Biden wins Iowa and South Carolina, while Warren wins New Hampshire and Nevada. Sanders, Harris and Buttigieg survive to battle on Super Tuesday, but Warren ends up winning California (as just enough Harris supporters instead vote for Warren), while Biden wins Texas (with O’Rourke a distant third). Sanders soldiers on, but it would once again be a Biden-Warren race. Given his base of support, Biden would probably be the slight favorite in this scenario.

In fact, nearly every scenario I game out ends up with either Biden or Warren as the nominee. There are, however, some entertaining (if less likely) exceptions:

Scenario 3: Sanders wins Iowa and New Hampshire

This is essentially 2016 all over again (Sanders barely lost Iowa before a landslide win in New Hampshire), except with three or four other viable candidates instead of one.

In this scenario, Biden and Warren begin to attack each other directly in the September and October debates, ultimately depressing turnout for both as voting begins in February 2020. The beneficiary is Sanders, who suddenly appears to be the sage elder statesman (and whose head-to-head polling numbers against Trump cause a second look at his candidacy): his loyal supporters push him over the top in Iowa—ahead of a surprisingly-strong Buttigieg, who picked up many disgruntled Biden and Warren voters. Harris also benefits, essentially tying the latter two for third place.

New Hampshire now becomes a battle between Sanders and Buttigieg, with Harris focusing on South Carolina and California. Once again, New Hampshire supports the familiar neighbor, though Buttigieg again makes it surprisingly close.

And national Democrats get very nervous, despite those head-to-head polls.

Ignoring Nevada (which Sanders wins easily), and taking solace in the prospect of a solid, historic ticket to go against Trump and Vice President Mike Pence[6], they rapidly and tactically endorse Harris and Buttigieg. Having finished no higher than sixth in any of the first three contests, every other candidate drops out and endorses either Harris or Buttigieg (except Williamson and Gabbard, who back Sanders).

Biden and Warren fight on, but with their candidacies fatally damaged, Harris wins South Carolina, with Buttigieg a solid second, well ahead of Sanders. Harris and Buttigieg then make a strategic decision to make every Super Tuesday contest a one-on-one battle against Sanders, who can no longer win with around 20-25% of the vote.

On March 3, Harris wins California and the southern states (Alabama, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia) while Buttigieg wins Colorado, Massachusetts and Minnesota. Sanders finishes second or third in every state, collecting some delegates, while Biden and Warren see their campaigns end with a whimper.

Opening a commanding one-two lead in delegates, Harris and Buttigieg follow the same path as Kerry and North Carolina Senator John Edwards in 2004: a relatively calm trek through the remaining primaries and caucuses, with Harris steadily closing in on the nomination. Once she does, she surprises nobody by selecting Buttigieg as her running mate, just as Kerry chose Edwards in 2004.

Scenario 4: Someone other than Biden, Sanders or Warren wins Iowa and/or New Hampshire

This is the true wild card scenario, which is nearly impossible to game out at this point.

Still, let us suppose Booker continues to have very strong debate performances, and with them now on a single night (for the sake of argument, the October debate is one night), this finally resonates with voters, who take a long second look at him.

As a result, he surprises everyone by winning the Iowa caucuses. Rather than campaign in New Hampshire or Nevada, which he concedes to Sanders and Warren, he focuses exclusively on South Carolina. Sensing weakness in Biden, and excited by his Iowa win, black voters overwhelmingly support Booker, who just edges Biden, effectively ending that latter’s campaign.

Booker and Warren (who won New Hampshire and Nevada) then battle it out on Super Tuesday. With Harris making a last stand in California, and O’Rourke doing the same in Texas, Warren wins the former, Booker the latter. Warren and Booker now effectively replay the 2008 campaign between then-Senators Barack Obama and Clinton, with the most likely outcome either a Warren-Booker or a Booker-Warren ticket.

An alternative scenario sees Buttigieg finishing in the top two or three in Iowa (behind Biden and Warren in some order), then winning the New Hampshire primary. Nevada is again an afterthought, and Biden wins South Carolina. This feels somewhat like the 1988 Republican nomination battle, when then-Senator Bob Dole of Kansas won Iowa, but ultimately lost to the front runner, then-Vice-President George H. W. Bush; Biden thus eventually prevails.

What these scenarios suggests is that, based upon what we know now, Biden and Warren are far and away the most likely nominees, but there are universes in which Harris or Booker win the nomination. By contrast, it is very difficult to see Sanders or (probably) Buttigieg doing so…or any other candidate, for that matter.

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Because Democrats other than Biden and Sanders, who would beat Trump nationally by 9.0 and 5.7 points, respectively, are also winning (or barely losing) hypothetical head-to-head match-ups, “2020 Democratic nominee” (averages vs. Trump weighted by likelihood of being the nominee) now beats Trump by 4.1 points. This is higher than the median Democratic presidential margin (+3.0 points) in the previous six presidential elections, which include three elections with an incumbent seeking reelection and three elections with no incumbent. However, once you exclude Biden and Sanders, the margin over Trump decreases to 1.0 points; Warren would hypothetically win by 2.5 points and Harris by 1.9 points, while Buttigieg, O’Rourke and Booker would lose by less than one point.

Still, given that state-level results actually determine the winner of a presidential election (via the Electoral College), it is more informative to look to those polls, where they are publicly-available. Using my 3W-RDM, a measure of how much more or less Democratic a state’s voting is relative to the nation as a whole, this polling[7] implies Democrats would win the national popular vote by between 3.2 (excluding Biden and Sanders) and 6.5 (including Biden and Sanders) points on average. Most encouraging to Democrats should be the polls from North Carolina (R+6.0) and Texas (R+15.3), which show a very close race, implying a national Democratic lead of 5-7-and 12-15-points, respectively; these polls confirm strong opportunities for Democrats in the southeast and southwest. By contrast, however, a few polls from Democratic-leaning Maine (D+5.9) and Nevada (D+2.0) imply Democrats would lose nationwide by 1-6 points. Those remain the exceptions, however, to what continues to be encouraging news for Democrats in 2020.

Until next time…

[1] Essentially, polls are weighted within areal units (nation, state) by days to the nominating contest and pollster quality to form a unit-specific average, then a weighted average is taken across Iowa (weight=5), New Hampshire (5), Nevada (4), South Carolina (4), the time-weighted average of all subsequent contests (2) and nationwide (1). Within the subsequent contests, I now weight the 10 March 3, 2020 “Super Tuesday” states (Alabama, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia) twice as much as the subsequent contests. As of this writing, I have at least one poll from (in chronological order) Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Washington, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Oregon and New Jersey.

[2] Primarily Texas (15), California (14)

[3] Primarily Florida (9), Pennsylvania (5), Wisconsin (5)

[4] This does include polls that limit the number of candidates queried.

[5] As a doctoral student in government at Harvard in the early 1990s, I was a teaching assistant for an undergraduate course on this very topic.

[6] As of this writing, anyway.

[7] From Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, Iowa, Arizona, South Carolina, Minnesota, Nevada, Massachusetts, Florida, New York, Kentucky, Maine, Ohio, North Dakota, California, Alaska, Washington, Colorado, Missouri, Utah.

A post-Labor-Day look at 2019 elections for U.S. House and governor

In May, I took a “wicked early” look at, among other elections, the three gubernatorial elections to be held on November 5, 2019 in Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi. I also updated my estimated effects of incumbency for Democratic and Republican United States Senators (“Senators”) and governors.

Having passed Labor Day, the traditional start of the fall campaign season, I want to take a closer look at those three 2019 gubernatorial elections, as well as a “do-over” election for the United States House of Representatives (“House”) to be held in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District (“CD”) on September 10, 2019[1].

Specifically, I want to add available public polling to the fundamentals of each election: a baseline estimate of the outcome of an election. I calculate an election’s fundamentals by summing three values:

  1. State partisan lean, measured by my 3W-RDM[2],
  2. Incumbency advantage, which I estimate to be 5.7 percentage points (“points”) for incumbent Democratic governors and 8.5 points for incumbent Republican incumbent governors, and
  3. National partisan lean, measured by the “generic ballot” question for the House[3]. As of the evening of September 5, 2019, FiveThirtyEight gave Democrats a 6.5-point edge on this measure.

Before I discuss the individual races, however, just bear with me while I discuss my new approach to converting fundamentals and polling averages into probabilities, as well as the weights I now use to combine those two values into a single “projection” and probability of victory.

Probability. When I calculated updated advantages for Senators and governor, I used the simple arithmetic difference between the “expected” result (fundamentals-only) and the actual results. This means I have an “error” distribution for 106 gubernatorial elections going back to 2011. These errors are roughly normally distributed, with a mean of 0.6 points and a very high standard deviation of 17.5 points, suggesting inordinate uncertainty in my fundamentals estimates.

Still, using the properties of the normal distribution, I can estimate the probability a given estimate of fundamentals equates to a Democratic win (i.e., Democratic margin > 0).

Similarly, I can generate the probability a WAPA equates to a Democratic win using the formula

Standard deviation = square root of ((D average*R average)/total number polled),

using the simple polling averages for the Democratic and Republican candidates. Technically, this is calculating the margin of error (without multiplying by a “z-score” to get, say, a 95% confidence level), but with an assumed normal distribution it is the functional equivalent of a standard deviation.

Time weighting. This close to election day, polling averages should be given more weight than fundamentals, and that weight should increase daily. Since my polling data for these races begins on January 1, 2019, I used the number of days between that day and November 5, 2019[4]—308—as the denominator for my weight. The numerator is the number of days between January 1, 2019 and the closing field date of the most recent poll of that election. That ratio is the weight given to WAPA, with one minus that weight applied to the fundamentals.

For example, the most recent poll of the Kentucky gubernatorial election was in the field from August 19 to August 22, 2019. It is 233 days from January 1 to August 22 this year; dividing 233 by 308 yields 0.754. Thus, as of now, I weight WAPA in Kentucky 0.754 and fundamentals 0.246. The other two gubernatorial elections have similar 3-1 ratios of polling to fundamentals, which seems right.

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Let us begin the election in North Carolina’s 9th House CD. In the 2018 midterm election, Republican Mark Harris, a conservative pastor, appeared to defeat Democrat Dan McCready, an entrepreneur and former Marine Corps captain, by just 905 votes (0.4%). However, once substantial evidence emerged of ballot tampering by a Republican operative named Leslie McCrae Dowless, the state election board refused to certify the election results. Instead, they called for a new election—including new primaries to select each party’s nominees. While McCready ran unopposed, Republicans chose State Senator Dan Bishop in a July 9 runoff election.

According to the Cook Political Report, this CD leans 8.0 points more Republican than the nation. With no incumbent running, the fundamentals suggest a generic Republican would beat a generic Democrat by 1.5 points.

However, examination of available public polling[5]–adjusted for mean partisan bias and pollster quality, as well as time to election (what I call “WAPA”: weighted-adjusted polling average)—suggests McCready is ahead by 0.5 points. That lead increases to nearly two points in the two most recent polls, both taken in late August. Take this WAPA with multiple grains of salt, however, as the average pollster rating is just C+.

Still, the time-weighed polling and fundamentals by time, gives you an aggregate of D+0.3, making this race a true toss-up, and likely within recount territory. But any outcome between D+2 and R+2 is extremely plausible…and that includes R+0.4; it would be a beautiful bit of irony if Bishop wins by the same 0.4 points Harris led by on election day 2018.

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That Democrats are reasonably competitive in all three gubernatorial elections this fall is extraordinary given they average 23.1 points more Republican than the nation (Table 1). A word of caution, however: the available public polling in these races ranges from an average of C+ (Mississippi) to B/B- (Kentucky).

Table 1. 2019 Gubernatorial elections

Incumbent Party State 3W-RDM Fund WAPA Comb Prob D win
John Bel Edwards D LA R+22.2 R+10.0 D+9.1 D+3.8 79.5%
Open seat R MS R+18.5 R+12.0 R+4.0 R+6.1 6.9%
Matt Bevin R KY R+28.7 R+30.7 D+4.7 R+4.0 76.5%

The likeliest Democratic win is in Louisiana, where Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards remains fairly popular (favorable 47%, unfavorable 33% in the most recent Morning Consult polling). This is remarkable in a heavily Republican state; even as an incumbent in a strongly-Democratic year, he would still be expected to lose by about 10 points to a generic Republican (though that would still give him about a 30% chance based on recent electoral history).

John_Bel_Edwards

Photograph of John Bel Edwards from here

Louisiana will actually hold a “jungle primary” on October 12 in which every declared candidate will run regardless of party affiliation. If no candidate captures more than 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters will face off in a runoff election on November 16. The available polling[6] shows Bel Edwards far ahead of his two primary Republican challengers, House Member Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone. WAPA values across the available public polls shows Bel Edwards at 46.5%, Abraham at 24.9% and Rispone at 10.3%, with the remaining 18.3% scattered among a handful of other candidates and undecided. Bel Edwards could well fall shy of a majority on October 12.

His likeliest opponent appears to be Abraham, though he recently stirred up some self-inflicted controversy. Head-to-head matchups suggest Bel Edwards would defeat him by about 7 points. Similar polls suggest Bel Edwards would defeat Rispone by about 16 points. If we assume Abraham would be roughly a 5:2 favorite to be Bel Edwards’ runoff opponent, the weighted average is a Bel Edwards win by about nine points. Overall, Bel Edwards is about a 4:1 favorite to win reelection.

At the other end of the popularity spectrum, meanwhile, is Republican governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky, the least popular governor in the country (if you subtract his unfavorable rating of 56% from his favorable rating of 32%). In fact, the incumbent Bevin only defeated State House member Robert Goforth in the May 21 primary 52-39%. Still, even with a -24-point differential in favorability and a divided party, Kentucky is such a Republican-leaning state that the fundamentals have Bevin beating a generic Democrat by a whopping 30.7 points. That generic Democrat would have only about a 4% chance of winning, based on recent electoral history.

However, in a closely-fought primary, Kentucky Democrats nominated state Attorney General Andy Beshear, whose father Steve was governor of Kentucky (as a Democrat) from 2008-2016. And Beshear’s name may be just enough to defeat Bevin, even in the 7th most Republican state in the country. The Democrat leads by 4.7 points in the WAPA, which would make him essentially a shoo-in to win; this value is derived from only three publicly-available (two with a strong Democratic lean) polls, though[7].

BeshearAndy_320

Photograph of Andy Beshear from here.

The time-weighted average of fundamentals and WAPA is Bevin+4.0, reflecting the enormous disparity between the two. Still, with WAPA weighted 3-1 over fundamentals, Beshear would seem to be about a 3:1 favorite.

I remain skeptical, though, and consider this race essentially a toss-up (maybe even a slight advantage for Bevin) until I see more and higher-quality polling.

As for the open seat in Mississippi, where Republican Governor Phil Bryant is not seeking reelection, the fundamentals have a generic Republican defeating a generic Democrat by 12.0 points, giving that Democrat about a 1-in-4 chance of winning based on recent electoral history.

On August 6, Democrats nominated state Attorney General Jim Hood, who easily defeated seven other candidates, while Republicans nominated Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, who edged state Supreme Court Chief Justice William Waller in a controversial August 27 runoff election. In fact, following filmed instances of electronic voting machines switching Waller votes to Reeves, Waller refuses to endorse his party’s gubernatorial nominee.

Unlike in Kentucky and Louisiana, though, the few publicly-available Mississippi polls[8] are broadly in line with the fundamentals; the WAPA is Reeves+4.0, making him a near-certain victor. In fact, if you remove two Democratic-leaning Hickman Analytics polls, Reeves’ lead over Hood jumps to about 10 points. The time-weighted average has Reeves up about six points, with a roughly 93% chance of victory.

In sum, then, the good news for Democrats in these three races—in heavily Republican southern states—is that they are unlikely to lose any ground in governor’s mansions overall (they now trail Republicans 23-27), and could even net one new seat in Kentucky, of all places.

Until next time…

[1] There will also be a special election in North Carolina’s 3rd CD that day, to fill the seat vacated when GOP House Member Walter Jones died on February 13, but Republican Greg Murphy is heavily favored to win that seat over Democrat Allen Thomas.

[2] Essentially, how much more or less Democratic a state’s presidential voting has been relative to the nation as a whole over the last three presidential elections.

[3] If the election for were held today, would you vote for the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, or some other candidate?”

[4] November 16 for Louisiana

[5] RRH Elections, 8/26-8/28/2019, 500 LV: Harper Polling/Clarity Campaign Labs, 8/26-8/28/2019, 551 RV; Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, 7/15-7/18/2019, 450 RV; Atlantic Media and Research, 5/20-5/30/2019, 358 RV; JMC Enterprises, 5/21-5/24/2019, 350 RV

[6] Market Research Insight 8/13-8/16/2019, 4/9-4/11/2019, 600 LV; Multi-Quest International, 7/19-7/21/2019, 601 RV; Remington Research Group, 6/1-6/2/2019 (1,471 LV), 3/13-3/14/2019 (1,484 LV); JMC Enterprises, 4/25-4/29/2019, 650 LV; LJR Custom Strategies, 1/14-1/17/2019, 600 LV

[7] Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, 8/19-8/22/2019, 501 LV; Clarity Campaign Labs, 8/12-8/13/2019, 792 LV; Gravis Marketing, 6/11-6/12/2019, 741 LV

[8] Hickman Analytics, 8/11-8/15/2019 (600 LV), 5/5-5/9/2019 (604 LV); Survey Monkey, 7/2-7/16/2019, 1.042 RV; Impact Management Group, 6/10-6/14/2019, 610 LV; Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc., 1/30-2/1/2019, 625 RV; OnMessage Inc., 1/28-1/30/2019, 600 LV

Looking in the mirror, 2020 Democratic nomination polls edition

Monthly since April 2019, I have updated my weighted-adjusted polling averages for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. You may read about my aggregation methods here, but a key difference between my algorithm and those used by some other polling aggregators (e.g. RealClearPolitics) is that I use every publicly-available poll (as listed on FiveThirtyEight.com) released since January 1, 2019.

I Voted sticker

This means I do not:

  1. Exclude polls based on “quality,”
  2. Drop polls from the algorithm after a certain period of time, or
  3. Distinguish between polls of adults, registered voters and likely voters.

I do, however, give much more weight to polls from higher-quality pollsters (as measured by FiveThirtyEight) and those released more recently. I weight “quality” by converting grades to numeric equivalents (A+=4.3, A=4.0) then dividing by 4.3. And I weight more recent polls by dividing the number of days between the poll’s field dates midpoint and January 1, 2019 by the number of days between January 1, 2019 and the election being assessed. Finally, I have not seen any appreciable difference in candidate standing based upon what set of respondents is sampled.

Simply put, I would rather collect more information, even of lower “quality” or “outdated,” than less. I would prefer to avoid defending exclusion/inclusion criteria.

My aggregation process also does something no other polling average or selection process does. It yields a single score (national-and-state-weighted weighted-adjusted polling average, or NSW-WAPA) for each 2020 Democratic nomination candidate based upon the fact nominations are won through the accumulation of delegates committed to voting for them at the 2020 Democratic National Convention. These delegates are accrued at the state level, usually based upon the results of that state’s presidential primary or caucuses. NSW-WAPA combines state and national polling averages (WAPA), weighting WAPA from the early state contests of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina higher than those from later states (with Super Tuesday states weighted twice as high) and national WAPA lowest of all.

As a brief aside, while I try to keep my personal feelings as far from this site as I can, there are two things even the best political journalists do that annoy me to no end:

  1. They call caucuses simply “caucus.” (Multiple such events, requiring time and effort, each called a “caucus,” will be held on the same day in such states as Iowa and Nevada)
  2. They refer to a complex, multi-stage, months-long nomination process as a “primary.” (“Primary” implies a single, national, one-day event in which every interested party member casts a ballot for the person they want to be their party’s presidential nominee. There is no such event.)

It is, frankly, lazy writing and reporting from people I otherwise respect and who should know better. I understand that “caucuses+ is an awkward word to pronounce, and that “nomination process” is a mouthful, but that is no excuse for inaccuracy and imprecision.

OK, I have put my soapbox back in the closet. Thank you for listening.

**********

Having chastised political journalists, I now look in the mirror myself.

I believe my algorithm approach (modeled to a large extent on the FiveThirtyEight approach) is the appropriate one, because it is both more comprehensive (individual higher quality polls may be outliers while certain lower quality polls may better reflect current preferences) and less prone to fluctuate wildly based on any single fluky poll or set of polls.

Nonetheless, it is important to ask if my algorithmic choices are biasing my NSW-WAPA in some way. By “bias,” I mean the mathematical difference between a calculated value and some platonic ideal “true” value.

There are three ways to think about this question:

  1. What would happen to NSW-WAPA if I excluded “lower quality” polls entirely?
  2. Does my current weighting scheme give outdated polls too much influence on what is essentially a snapshot of current voter preferences?
  3. Am I correct that the type of voters sampled (e., registered vs. likely voters) does not make an appreciable difference in NSW-WAPA?

I altered my algorithm to reflect these three questions then compared the resulting NSW-WAPA to what I typically calculate. The results are summarized in the following sections.

**********

Pollster Quality. As noted, FiveThirtyEight assigns a letter grade to dozens of polling organizations based on how they conduct polls (e.g., do they call cellphones as well as landlines; do they use live callers or recordings, sometimes called “robo-polls;” do they randomly select subjects or are they Internet- or panel-based). They also assign a C+ to pollsters who did appear in their May 2018 update.

I include A+-level pollsters like Monmouth University and Seltzer & Co. (gold standard of Iowa polling, extremely difficult in multi-candidate caucuses), C- (and lower)-level pollsters like Zogby Interactive/JZ Analytics (C), McLaughlin & Associates (C-) and Survey Monkey (D-), as well as all pollsters in between.

On balance, the polling is OK, averaging between B and B-, depending on the location; B is a good midpoint.

But what if I only included pollsters with at least a B rating from FiveThirtyEight (while still weighting as before)?

First, the set of polls drops essentially in half, from:

  • 157 national polls to 62 (34 to 17[1] pollsters)
  • 20 Iowa polls to 10, (10 to six pollsters)
  • 22 New Hampshire polls to 11 (10 pollsters to six pollsters)
  • Five Nevada polls to two (four to two pollsters)
  • 18 South Carolina polls to six (eight to five pollsters)
  • 36 Super Tuesday polls (10 states) to 16 polls, with 0 polls from Alabama, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee or Virginia
  • 32 polls from 14 other states to 10 polls from six other states (Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Oregon).

The number of polls overall drops from 293 (national, 28 states) to 117 (national, 15 states). However, the overall quality rises from B/B- to A-/B+ (precisely the student I was at Yale).

Table 1 compares NSW-WAPA with and without “lower quality” pollsters for the 21 announced Democratic candidates:

Table 1: NSW-WAPA for declared 2020 Democratic presidential nomination candidates with and without pollsters rated B- or lower by FiveThirtyEight

Candidate All Polls Pollster Rating≥B Difference
Biden 27.5 29.8 2.27
Sanders 16.0 15.8 -0.20
Warren 13.2 12.5 -0.73
Harris 9.2 8.8 -0.40
Buttigieg 7.5 6.5 -1.05
O’Rourke 2.6 2.7 0.13
Booker 2.2 2.2 -0.01
Klobuchar 1.5 1.5 -0.02
Yang 1.1 1.0 -0.10
Gabbard 0.9 0.7 -0.17
Steyer 0.6 0.2 -0.41
Castro 0.6 0.6 -0.02
Gillibrand 0.5 0.5 -0.05
Delaney 0.4 0.4 0.02
Bennet 0.3 0.3 -0.03
Williamson 0.3 0.3 0.04
Ryan 0.2 0.2 -0.04
Bullock 0.2 0.1 -0.07
de Blasio 0.1 0.0 -0.11
Messam 0.0 0.1 0.02
Sestak 0.0 0.0 0.01
DK/Other 14.1 15.0 1.16

On average, there is no appreciable difference (-0.04) based on the two criteria. Regardless of direction, the average candidate shift is just 0.28.

Most of that comes from former Vice President Joe Biden, who has a 2.27 higher NSW-WAPA (29.8) in the higher-quality polls than among all polls. While I did not examine the data this way, this would imply a NSW-WPA of “just” 25.0 using only the lower-quality polls, though he would still clearly be in first place, about nine points ahead of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (~16.2). No other candidate does appreciably better in the higher-quality polls, with the possible exception of former Texas United States House of Representatives (“House”) member Beto O’Rourke (2.75 vs. 2.62).

In fact, a number of candidates fared worse in the higher-quality polls relative to all polls, most notably South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (-1.05), Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (-0.73) and billionaire activist Tom Steyer (-0.41). However, the only one of the three whose relative positioning would change is Steyer; using only the highest-quality polls, he drops from 11th place to 17th place.

Curiously, the number of respondents selecting “don’t know/not sure” or an unlisted candidate rises 1.16 to 15.1 when only higher-quality polls are analyzed.

Overall, however, while my aggregation method may slightly underrate Biden’s position (and percentage not choosing a listed candidate) and slightly overrate the positions of Buttigieg, Warren and Steyer, these differences are fairly minor.

**********

Poll recency. One simple way to down-weight older polls faster is to square the weight. For example, in my current algorithm, a poll whose field midpoint is August 22 (weight=0.417) is weighted four times as much as a poll whose field midpoint is February 28 (weight=0.104). Squaring each value, however, gives the more recent poll 16 times more weight (0.174 to 0.011).

Table 2 compares NSW-WAPA using more gradual down-weighting to more rapid down-weighting for the 21 announced Democratic candidates:

Table 2: NSW-WAPA for declared 2020 Democratic presidential nomination candidates, simple time weighting vs. squared time weighting

Candidate Simple time weight Squared time weight Difference
Biden 27.5 26.3 -1.22
Sanders 16.0 15.2 -0.75
Warren 13.2 13.7 0.48
Harris 9.2 9.1 -0.07
Buttigieg 7.5 7.5 -0.05
O’Rourke 2.6 2.2 -0.40
Booker 2.2 2.0 -0.23
Klobuchar 1.5 1.4 -0.15
Yang 1.1 1.1 0.00
Gabbard 0.9 0.9 0.01
Steyer 0.6 0.7 0.10
Castro 0.6 0.6 -0.01
Gillibrand 0.5 0.5 0.00
Delaney 0.4 0.4 -0.01
Bennet 0.3 0.3 0.03
Williamson 0.3 0.3 0.02
Ryan 0.2 0.2 -0.01
Bullock 0.2 0.2 0.02
de Blasio 0.1 0.1 0.01
Messam 0.0 0.0 0.00
Sestak 0.0 0.0 0.00
DK/Other 14.1 16.2 2.25

If anything, the differences are even smaller here: although the mean “actual” difference is -0.11, the mean shift, regardless of direction, was only 0.17.

Table 2 does suggest Warren is rising faster (13.7 vs. 13.2) than my more-conservative algorithm shows, while Biden (-1.22), Sanders (-0.75) and O’Rourke (-0.40) are dropping faster; New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar also appear to be losing ground recently[2]. Meanwhile, the proportion not choosing any listed candidate seems to be increasing, suggesting greater volatility in the race than my algorithm suggests.

Again, however, these differences are minor.

**********

Likely vs. registered voters. If I were only analyzing national polls, this might make a meaningful difference; of the 157 national polls, just 88 limited their sample to likely voters. And while most eliminated polls are from lower-quality pollsters, it also eliminates polls from Monmouth (A+), CNN/SSRS (A), IBD/TIPP (A-), Quinnipiac University (A-) and Reuters/Ipsos (B+).

However, just two polls (both by Gravis Marketing) in total from Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina are of registered voters. Moreover, just 18 polls from every other state combined (mostly from Pennsylvania and Texas) were not of registered voters, meaning the number of polls analyzed only drops from 293 to 204, primarily from the lowest-weighted polls (national).

Not surprisingly, there is barely any difference between NSW-WAPA using all polls and only those of likely voters. The mild exception is Steyer dropping from 11th to 15th place (0.62 to 0.39), while the percentage not choosing a listed candidate drops from 14.1 to 13.4.

All combined. Just for fun, I limited the polls being analyzed only to those which were from pollsters with at least a B rating AND sampled likely voters, AND I used the squared time weight. This left 32 national polls, 10 Iowa polls, 11 New Hampshire polls, two Nevada polls, six South Carolina polls, 12 Super Tuesday polls and six polls from all other states (Ohio was dispatched), for a total of just 79 polls.

Table 3: NSW-WAPA for declared 2020 Democratic presidential nomination candidates, comparing original algorithm to most restrictive

Candidate All Polls Pollster Rating≥B Difference
Biden 27.5 29.8 2.29
Sanders 16.0 15.4 -0.61
Warren 13.2 13.4 0.12
Harris 9.2 8.7 -0.50
Buttigieg 7.5 6.8 -0.80
O’Rourke 2.6 2.2 -0.36
Booker 2.2 2.1 -0.14
Klobuchar 1.5 1.4 -0.16
Yang 1.1 1.0 -0.04
Gabbard 0.9 0.8 -0.12
Steyer 0.6 0.2 -0.38
Castro 0.6 0.5 -0.05
Gillibrand 0.5 0.5 -0.05
Delaney 0.4 0.5 0.06
Bennet 0.3 0.3 -0.01
Williamson 0.3 0.4 0.09
Ryan 0.2 0.1 -0.05
Bullock 0.2 0.1 -0.06
de Blasio 0.1 0.0 -0.12
Messam 0.0 0.1 0.02
Sestak 0.0 0.0 0.01
DK/Other 14.1 15.2 1.26

As with limiting polls to those from pollsters with a B rating or better, the average “actual” difference is -0.04, while the average shift, regardless of direction, is 0.29. Other than Biden (+2.29) and “unlisted/unsure” (+1.26), no candidate did measurably better when limiting the analysis to these 79 national and state polls. Buttigieg (-0.80), Sanders (-0.61), Harris (-0.50) and Steyer (-0.38) all did somewhat worse, but—again—only Steyer’s rank changed (11th to 17th).

Conclusion. While my algorithm may somewhat understate Biden’s strength—and overestimate Steyer’s—while not fully capturing the rate at which Warren is gaining support, the overall differences are so minor I see no reason to alter it.

Until next time…

Postscript. For those who are curious, here is a comparison, as of August 28, 2019, between NSW-WAPA and the RealClearPolitics (RCP) averages, combining national and state polls, using my weighting scheme. I exclude New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand—who dropped out on August 28—and Miramar, FL Mayor Wayne Messam, who is not included in the RCP averages; if a candidate’s average was not listed by RCP (i.e., it was less than 0.5%), I assigned her/him a value of 0.25%.

Table 4: Comparing NSW-WAPA to RealClearPolitics averages for declared 2020 Democratic presidential nomination candidates

Candidate All Polls RealClearPolitics Difference
Biden 27.5 27.8 0.3
Sanders 16.0 15.9 -0.1
Warren 13.2 15.3 2.1
Harris 9.2 10.7 1.5
Buttigieg 7.5 6.4 -1.1
O’Rourke 2.6 1.8 -0.8
Booker 2.2 2.0 -0.2
Klobuchar 1.5 1.8 0.3
Yang 1.1 1.5 0.4
Gabbard 0.9 1.4 0.5
Steyer 0.6 2.0 1.4
Castro 0.6 1.0 0.4
Delaney 0.4 0.5 0.1
Bennet 0.3 0.3 0.0
Williamson 0.3 0.3 0.0
Ryan 0.2 0.4 0.2
Bullock 0.2 0.3 0.1
de Blasio 0.1 0.4 0.3
Sestak 0.0 0.2 0.2
DK/Other 14.1 10.1 -4.0

Other than underestimating the polling strength of Warren, California Senator Kamala Harris and Steyer—and overestimating the strength of O’Rourke—these differences are minimal; the much lower percentage not choosing a listed candidate in the RCP average could easily result from assigning 0.25% (likely too high) to unlisted candidates. The average actual difference is just 0.1, and the average difference, regardless of direction, is 0.7.

The next comprehensive update will come just before the September 12, 2019 debate.

[1] Emerson College, Monmouth, GBAO, CNN/SSRS, ABC News/Washington Post, Quinnipiac, YouGov, Suffolk University, WPA Intelligence, YouGov Blue, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, Perry Undem-YouGov, SurveyUSA, Public Policy Polling (PPP), IBD/TIPP, Reuters/Ipsos, Fox News

[2] This may be illusory for Booker. Taking a simple average of national polls, Booker was at 1.7% between the first and second Democratic debates, but he has risen to 2.7% since then.

August 2019 update: 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and general election polling

It has been just over two weeks since the second Democratic presidential nomination debates, so it is time for an updated assessment of the relative position of the 23 declared candidates remaining. Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel ended his campaign on August 6, 2019, and it appears former Colorado John Hickenlooper will end his bid on August 15, 2019.

To learn how I calculate NSW-WAPA (national-and-state-weighted weighted-adjusted polling average), please see here[1]. Note that I recently altered my methodology slightly: within my post-early-state weighted average of each candidate’s WAPA, I now weight the nine states[2] scheduled to hold their nomination contests on March 3, 2019 (“Super Tuesday”) twice as much as all subsequent contests[3]

And, as usual, here is the August 2019 lighthouse photograph in my Down East 2019 Maine Lighthouses wall calendar.

Aug 2019 lighthouse.JPG

Table 1 below aggregates data from all national and state-level polls publicly released since January 1, 2019, including:

  • 149 national polls (including 32 weekly Morning Consult tracking polls)
  • 19 Iowa Caucuses polls
  • 22 New Hampshire Primary polls
  • 4 Nevada Caucuses polls
  • 18 South Carolina polls
  • 35 Super Tuesday polls[4]
  • 33 polls from 13 other states.[5]

This makes a total of 280 polls, up from 247 in the last update.

Table 1: National-and-state-weighted WAPA for declared 2020 Democratic presidential nomination candidates

Candidate National IA NH NV SC Post-SC NSW-WAPA
Biden 29.5 23.6 23.3 30.2 36.4 27.3 27.9 (-0.7)
Sanders 16.7 15.1 19.0 19.1 12.6 15.3 16.4 (-0.1)
Warren 10.4 13.1 13.5 18.0 9.1 12.6 13.2 (+0.6)
Harris 8.6 9.7 8.7 8.6 9.9 9.7 9.2 (–)
Buttigieg 5.6 9.1 9.1 8.0 4.9 6.7 7.7 (-0.3)
O’Rourke 4.1 2.6 2.2 3.1 1.8 5.3 2.8 (-0.3)
Booker 2.5 2.5 1.6 1.3 3.5 1.5 2.2 (-0.2)
Klobuchar 1.3 2.7 1.5 1.1 0.6 1.0 1.5 (–)
Yang 1.0 0.7 1.3 1.5 0.7 0.7 1.1 (–)
Gabbard 0.7 0.6 1.4 1.1 0.3 0.5 0.84 (+0.11)
Castro 0.9 0.7 0.2 1.0 0.1 1.0 0.59 (–)
Gillibrand 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.4 0.3 0.3 0.50 (+0.09)
Delaney 0.3 0.9 0.5 0.00 0.3 0.2 0.43 (–)
Steyer 0.03 0.1 0.4 1.0 0.4 0.1 0.40 (+0.30)
Inslee 0.4 0.4 0.2 0.3 0.1 0.3 0.26 (+0.06)
Williamson 0.2 0.05 0.3 0.4 0.3 0.1 0.24 (+0.07)
Bennet 0.2 0.3 0.2 0.00 0.2 0.4 0.20 (+0.04)
Ryan 0.3 0.1 0.3 0.00 0.2 0.2 0.16 (-0.01)
Bullock 0.2 0.3 0.00 0.00 0.1 0.1 0.10 (+0.03)
de Blasio 0.3 0.05 0.00 0.00 0.1 0.1 0.04
Moulton 0.1 0.04 0.1 0.00 0.00 0.03 0.03
Messam 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.1 0.04 0.03
Sestak 0.00 0.1 0.00 n/a 0.00 0.06 0.02
DK/Other 14.6 15.8 15.0 4.4 16.9 16.0 13.7 (+0.4)

There has been little substantive change in the relative standing of the 23 remaining candidates over the last two-three weeks, despite some short-term effects from the second round of debates (see below). Former Vice President Joe Biden remains the nominal frontrunner (27.9), primarily because of his dominant position in South Carolina primary polls; his weighted average of 36.4% is well ahead of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, California Senator Kamala Harris and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. By contrast, the race is much closer in polling for the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary; in these first two contests, Biden is only averaging 23-24%, with Sanders close behind at 15-19% and Warren at 13-14%. Harris and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg are not much further behind, hovering around 9%.

These five candidates continue to dominate the race overall, albeit with Biden continuing to decline while Warren continues her steady ascent (up from 8.5% in early June to 13.2% now), capturing just under three-quarters of the support of those polled. Just behind these five are four other candidates with an NSW-WAPA of 1.0 or higher: former Texas member of the United States House of Representatives (“Representative”) Beto O’Rourke, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Perhaps not surprisingly, these are also the only nine candidates to have qualified for the next round of Democratic presidential nomination debates (September 12-13, 2019). Overall these nine candidates account for 81.9% of currently-declared Democratic nomination preferences. Factor in 13.7%s[6] undecided or choosing an unlisted candidate, that means the remaining 14 candidates are divvying up just 4.4% between them.

**********

In the previous update, I assessed the short-term impact of the first round of Democratic presidential nomination debates by comparing support for each candidate in polls conducted by the same pollster within one month prior to, and just after, those debates. Meeting these criteria for the second round of debates are six national polls[7] and one Texas poll[8]. For ease of presentation, Table 2 presents data only for the 12 candidates with an NSW-WAPA of 0.5 or higher (including Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand). Values listed are simple arithmetic averages (with the Texas poll change weighted twice the changes in national polls); weighting by pollster quality or time between polls made little difference.

Table 2: Average change in polls from the same pollster before and after July 2019 Democratic presidential debates:

Candidate National TX Weighted Average
Biden -1.0 +4.5 +0.4
Sanders +1.8 +4.0 +2.4
Warren +1.8 +1.0 +1.6
Harris -3.5 -3.0 -3.4
Buttigieg +0.3 +3.0 +1.0
O’Rourke -0.3 -14.5 -3.9
Booker +0.8 +1.0 +0.9
Klobuchar -0.5 0 -0.4
Yang -0.3 +2.0 +0.3
Gabbard +0.3 0 +0.3
Castro -0.2 +2.0 +0.4
Gillibrand -0.2 0 -0.1
DK/Other +1.0 -1.0 +0.5

Examined this way, support for Harris—who had risen 7.7 percentage points (“points”) following the June debates—dropped fully 3.4 points following the July 2019 Democratic debates. O’Rourke also declined significantly (-3.9 points), but that was almost exclusively due to an astonishing 14.5-point drop (from 38% to 23.5%) in the Texas poll. The largest post-July-debate increases were for Booker (+0.9), Buttigieg (+1.0), Warren (+1.6) and Sanders (+2.4); no other candidate saw her/his support shift by more than 0.4 points in either direction. Finally, the percentage not choosing a listed candidate increased slightly.

**********

To the extent that the polling for the 2020 presidential election between a named Democrat and Republican Donald J. Trump changed, it is due to the modestly-increased likelihood (55.7%) that someone other than Biden (who would hypothetically beat Trump nationally by 8.4 points) and Sanders (by 5.2 points) will be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee. Thus, once you weight for the likelihood of being the nominee, the Democrat would beat Trump by 3.6 points. This is actually slightly higher than the median Democratic presidential margin (+3.0 points) in the previous six presidential elections, which include three elections with an incumbent seeking reelection and three elections with no incumbent. However, once you exclude Biden and Sanders, the margin over Trump decreases to 0.7 points; Warren would hypothetically win by 1.5 points and Harris by 1.0 points, while Buttigieg would lose by 1.5 points.

Still, given that state-level results actually determine the winner of a presidential election (via the Electoral College), it is more informative to look to those polls, where they are publicly-available. Using my 3W-RDM, a measure of how much more or less Democratic a state’s voting is relative to the nation as a whole, this polling[9] implies Democrats would win the national popular vote by between 2.6 (excluding former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders) and 5.6 (including Biden and Sanders) points on average. Most encouraging to Democrats should be the polls from North Carolina (R+6.0) and Texas (R+15.3), which show a very close race, implying a 6-7-point win and a 12-14-point win nationally for Democrats, respectively; these polls confirm strong opportunities for Democrats in the southeast and southwest. By contrast, however, a few polls from Democratic-leaning Maine (D+5.9) and Nevada (D+2.0) imply Democrats would lose nationwide by 2-5 points. Those remain the exceptions, however, to what continues to be encouraging news for Democrats in 2020.

Until next time…

[1] Essentially, polls are weighted within areal units (nation, state) by days to the nominating contest and pollster quality to form a unit-specific average, then a weighted average is taken across Iowa (weight=5), New Hampshire (5), Nevada (4), South Carolina (4), the time-weighted average of all subsequent contests (2) and nationwide (1).

[2] Alabama, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia

[3] As of this writing, I have at least one poll from (in chronological order) Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Washington, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Oregon

[4] Primarily from California (14) and Texas (9)

[5] Primarily Florida (9) and Pennsylvania (5)

[6] This does include polls that limit the number of candidates queried.

[7] Morning Consult Tracking, HarrisX, Change Research, Quinnipiac University, YouGov, Reuters/Ipsos

[8] University of Texas at Tyler

[9] From Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, Iowa, Arizona, South Carolina, Minnesota, Nevada, Massachusetts, Florida, New York, Kentucky, Maine, Ohio.

July 2019 update: 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and general election polling

With the second Democratic presidential nomination debates scheduled for the evenings of Tuesday, July 30, 2019 and Wednesday, July 30, 2019, here is an updated assessment of the relative position of the 25 declared candidates; because United States House of Representatives member (“Representative”) Eric Swalwell of California dropped out of the race on July 8, 2019, a spot opened on the debate stage for Montana Governor Steve Bullock on the first night of the debates. Among those not making the cut are billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who declared his candidacy on July 9, 2019.

To learn how I calculate NSW-WAPA (national-and-state-weighted weighted-adjusted polling average), please see here[1]. Note that I recently altered my methodology slightly: within my post-early-state weighted average of each candidate’s WAPA, I now weight the nine states[2] scheduled to hold their nomination contests on March 3, 2019 (“Super Tuesday”) twice as much as all subsequent contests[3].

And, of course, here is the July 2019 lighthouse photograph in my Down East 2019 Maine Lighthouses wall calendar.

July 2019 lighthouse.JPG

Table 1 aggregates data from 129 national polls (including 30 weekly Morning Consult tracking polls) released since January 1, 2019; 18 Iowa Caucuses polls; 20 New Hampshire Primary polls; three Nevada Caucuses polls; 17 South Carolina polls; 30 Super Tuesday polls[4] and 30 polls from 12 other states.[5] This makes a total of 247 polls, up from 176 last month.

Table 1: National-and-state-weighted WAPA for declared 2020 Democratic presidential nomination candidates

Candidate National IA NH NV SC Post-SC NSW-WAPA
Biden 29.6 22.9 24.7 32.6 36.8 27.1 28.6 (-2.6)
Sanders 16.8 15.9 19.5 17.5 13.0 15.7 16.5 (-1.1)
Warren 10.1 12.3 13.8 15.8 8.9 12.2 12.6 (+1.3)
Harris 8.6 9.5 9.1 8.4 9.8 10.1 9.2 (+0.9)
Buttigieg 5.6 9.3 9.7 7.8 5.1 6.9 8.0 (+0.6)
O’Rourke 4.3 3.0 2.5 3.7 2.0 5.7 3.1 (-0.7)
Booker 2.5 2.7 1.8 2.0 3.8 1.5 2.4 (-0.5)
Klobuchar 1.3 2.7 1.4 1.1 0.5 1.2 1.5 (-0.2)
Yang 1.0 0.6 1.2 1.9 0.8 0.6 1.1 (+0.1)
Gabbard 0.7 0.6 1.0 1.1 0.3 0.5 0.73 (+0.09)
Castro 0.9 0.8 0.1 1.0 0.1 1.1 0.59 (+0.04)
Delaney 0.6 0.9 0.5 0.1 0.3 0.2 0.43
Gillibrand 0.4 0.4 0.6 0.0 0.4 0.3 0.41
Hickenlooper 0.4 0.2 0.3 0.0 0.2 0.4 0.24 (+0.04)
Inslee 0.5 0.4 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.2 0.20
Williamson 0.3 0.1 0.3 0.0 0.4 0.1 0.17 (+0.13)
Ryan 0.03 0.1 0.3 0.0 0.2 0.2 0.17 (-0.03)
Bennet 0.2 0.3 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.3 0.16 (+0.08)
Steyer 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.3 0.1 0.10
Bullock 0.00 0.2 0.00 0.0 0.1 0.1 0.07
Gravel 0.3 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.1 0.07
de Blasio 0.2 0.1 0.00 0.0 0.1 0.1 0.05
Moulton 0.00 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.00 0.04 0.04
Messam 0.1 0.00 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.02 0.03
Sestak 0.00 0.1 0.00 n/a 0.00 0.02 0.02
DK/Other 14.1 16.3 12.4 6.7 15.7 15.0 13.3 (+2.0)

Were the Democratic National Committee using NSW-WAPA to determine eligibility for the July Democratic debates, Steyer would be on stage instead of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Still, these are differences of fractions of a 1/10 of a percentage point—a coin flip would be just as effective.

It is clear the first Democratic presidential nomination debates measurably impacted the relative standing of the candidates. Thus, while he remains the (nominal) front-runner, especially in South Carolina (36.8%, well ahead of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders at 13.0%), former Vice President Joe Biden saw his support drop 2.6 percentage points (“points”) to 28.6% in just over one month. This is a substantial amount given that my methodology (slow to discount older polls; weighs early state polls much higher than national polls) mitigates against rapid polling fluctuations. Other candidates with notable declines are Sanders (-1.1 points to 16.5%), former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke (-0.7 points) and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (-0.5 points).

By contrast, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren continues her steady climb, from 8.5% at the beginning of June, to 11.3% at the end of June to 12.6% at the end of July; she is close to challenging Sanders for the second spot behind Biden. California Senator Kamala Harris, meanwhile, has moved back into fourth place behind Warren, jumping 0.9 points to 9.2%. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg also climbed 0.6 points (to 8.1%), while a modest increase for entrepreneur Andrew Yang (1.1%) now makes him one of only nine candidates with an NSW-WAPA higher than 1.0.

At this point, fully three-quarters of those likely/eligible to vote in a 2020 Democratic presidential primary or caucus choose one of just five candidates: Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris and Buttigieg. Another 8.1% choose O’Rourke, Booker, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and Yang, with fully 13.3% (up 2.0 points[6]) undecided or choosing an unlisted candidate. The remaining 16 candidates are divvying up just 3.7% between them.

**********

A more apples-to-apples way to measure the (short-term) impact of the June Democratic debates is to compare support for each candidate in poll—conducted by the same pollster—in June 2019 (end date no later than June 25, 2019) to those with a start date no earlier than June 28, 2019. Meeting these criteria are eight national polls[7], two Iowa Caucuses polls[8], two New Hampshire Primary polls[9], two South Carolina Primary polls[10] and one Texas poll[11]. For ease of presentation, Table 2 presents data only for the 11 candidates with an NSW-WAPA of 0.5 or higher (including Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro). Values listed are simple arithmetic averages; weighting by pollster quality or time between polls made little difference.

Table 2: Average change in polls from the same pollster before and after June 2019 Democratic presidential debates:

Candidate National IA NH SC TX Weighted Average
Biden -4.9 -8.5 -8.5 -9.0 -4.0 -7.9
Sanders -3.4 -5.5 -1.0 +1.0 0.0 -1.9
Warren +1.8 +5.5 +2.0 +2.0 +2.0 +3.0
Harris +7.3 +11.5 +3.5 +8.5 +7.0 +7.7
Buttigieg -1.1 +2.0 -1.5 -3.0 -4.0 -1.1
O’Rourke -0.3 -1.0 -2.0 -3.0 +2.0 -1.4
Booker -0.5 -2.0 0.0 0.0 -1.0 -0.7
Klobuchar 0.0 -0.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 -0.1
Yang +0.5 0.0 +0.5 -0.5 +1.0 +0.2
Gabbard -0.1 -0.5 +1.5 +1.0 -2.0 +0.3
Castro +0.1 +1.0 +0.5 +0.5 +1.0 +0.7
DK/Other +0.1 -0.5 +1.0 -0.5 -9.0 -1.0

Examined this way, support for Biden in public polls dropped fully 7.9 points from the month prior to the June 2019 Democratic debates to the month after those debates, almost exactly mirroring the 7.7-point increase for Harris. Moreover, the 3.0-point increase for Warren equals the sum of the declines for Sanders (-1.9 points) and Buttigieg (-1.1 points). Also noticeably declining were O’Rourke (-1.4) and Booker (-0.7), while Castro had a modest increase (+0.7). The percentage not choosing a listed candidate actually dropped by a not-insignificant 1.0 points.

**********

To the extent that the polling for the 2020 presidential election between a named Democrat and Republican Donald J. Trump changed, it is due to the modestly-increased likelihood that someone other than Biden (who would hypothetically beat Trump nationally by 8.3 points) and Sanders (by 5.2 points) will be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee. Thus, once you weight for the likelihood of being the nominee, the Democrat would beat Trump by 3.4 points. This is actually slightly higher than the median Democratic presidential margin (+3.0 points) in the previous six presidential elections, which include three elections with an incumbent seeking reelection and three elections with no incumbent. However, once you exclude Biden and Sanders, the margin over Trump decreases to 0.4 points; Warren would hypothetically win by 1.4 points and Harris by 0.9 points, while Buttigieg would lose by 1.5 points.

Still, given that state-level results actually determine the winner of a presidential election (via the Electoral College), it is more informative to look to those polls, where they are publicly-available. Using my 3W-RDM, a measure of how much more or less Democratic a state’s voting is relative to the nation as a whole, this polling[12] implies Democrats would win the national popular vote by between 2.4 (excluding former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders) and 5.3 (including Biden and Sanders) points on average. Most encouraging to Democrats should be the polls from Texas (R+15.3), which show a very close race, implying a 12-14-point win nationally for Democrats; these polls confirm strong opportunities for Democrats in the southwest. By contrast, however, a few polls from Democratic-leaning Maine (D+5.9) and Nevada (D+2.0) imply Democrats would lose nationwide by 2-5 points. Those are the exceptions, however, to what is generally encouraging news for Democrats in 2020.

Enjoy the debates!

Until next time…

[1] Essentially, polls are weighted within areal units (nation, state) by days to the nominating contest and pollster quality to form a unit-specific average, then a weighted average is taken across Iowa (weight=5), New Hampshire (5), Nevada (4), South Carolina (4), the time-weighted average of all subsequent contests (2) and nationwide (1).

[2] Alabama, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia

[3] As of this writing, I have at least one poll from (in chronological order) Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Oregon

[4] Primarily from California (13) and Texas (7)

[5] Primarily Florida (9)

[6] This does include polls that limit the number of candidates queried.

[7] Emerson College, Morning Consult Tracking, YouGov, Reuters/Ipsos, Change Research, Quinnipiac University, CNN/SSRS, Fox News

[8] Change Research, YouGov

[9] Change Research, YouGov

[10] Change Research, YouGov

[11] YouGov

[12] From Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, Iowa, Arizona, South Carolina, Minnesota, Nevada, Massachusetts, Florida, New York, Kentucky, Maine, Ohio.

Road trips and the fine art of tipping (Epilogue)

Following the election of Republican Donald J. Trump as president of the United States in 2016, I immediately began to donate small sums to a wide variety of organizations and political candidates. And as the race to the be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee began to take shape, I began making $10 donations to my favorite candidates. Specifically, I donated to eight different candidates (including one Senate candidate in South Carolina), four of the them twice.

As a consequence, however, my e-mail Inbox is flooded with fundraising pitches; nearly all of them go directly into my Trash folder, unopened (ditto for text messages). I did open e-mails that offered to put me into a raffle of sorts if I made another donation, one to meet and have a drink (alcoholic or otherwise) with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and one to be flown to the first Democratic debates, courtesy of California Senator Kamala Harris. I did not win either prize, though, to be fair, I had already briefly met Senator Warren in Logan International Airport in 2013.

Another e-mail I opened revealed that South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg was going to be speaking in Somerville, Massachusetts, a short drive over the Charles River from our Brookline apartment. Intrigued, I soon learned that attendance required a minimum donation of $50. I passed.

But that meant when I received an e-mail from the campaign of former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro alerting me to three town halls the candidate would be holding in July 2019, I was wary. Nowhere in the e-mail could I find a payment requirement, though, so I tried registering to attend the Thursday, July 18, 2019 town hall at Nashua Community College (NCC), scheduled to start at 7 pm.

It was not until I had completed the process that I discovered there was no donation “cover charge”—and I was, in fact, registered. For the day after my wife Nell, the girls and I were scheduled to return from a three-night vacation in Maine…itself the day before I planned to rise at 7:30 am to watch Special Counsel Robert Mueller testify before the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees of the United States House of Representatives (“U.S. House”). I figured the last thing I would want to do was make the hour-long drive (likely twice that at that time of day) to attend a town hall meeting.

But then Mueller’s testimony was postponed until July 24…and I decided, what the heck?

The only question: would I go alone or with one/both daughters?

**********

In Part 1 of this series, I observed that my zeal for tipping stems from three sources:

  1. My father’s example, especially the year he spent driving a taxicab in Philadelphia
  2. My own experience delivering food
  3. Observing how hard folks in the service industry work for a low base salary

I also presented photographic evidence of the appeal of Bath and described an epic six-hour drive (in which I tipped multiple able servers) one recent Sunday night/Monday morning.

Part 2 details that trip to Maine, mixing family adventure (and ample tipping) with two visits to the Denny’s in Augusta, Maine, where I encountered a female manager and a waitress who exemplified matter-of-factness (and, in the latter case, sunny optimism) in the face of personal setbacks.

**********

Our social butterfly nine-year-old daughter had a previously-scheduled engagement that Thursday afternoon (requiring Nell’s oversight), leaving our 11-year-old daughter free. Grudgingly, she agreed to make what I anticipated would be a two-hour drive north to Nashua. I mitigated her reluctance somewhat by promising that if she got too bored, she could take her book and read quietly somewhere, just so long as I knew where she was.

Meanwhile, while the Denny’s in Salem, New Hampshire that used to be the endpoint of many a meandering solo nocturnal drive had closed, the one in Nashua is still open…and still open 24 hours a day. I told “11” (hat tip here) that we could stop for a meal there after the town hall.

“What kind of food do they have?” she asked.

I answered something to the effect of “a little bit of everything” before “9” chimed in with, “They have crepes!” Apparently, the latter daughter had seen a commercial for Denny’s highlighting their new crepes. I was dubious but said nothing.

Because the doors would open at 6:30 pm, my plan was to leave no later than 4:30 pm, knowing that our route—Beacon Street west to I-95 north to US 3 north—would put us in rush hour traffic. And, in fact, we pulled into the NCC parking lot shortly at about 6:25 pm, giving me time to make a mad dash for the men’s room.

Having answered that urgent call of nature, we checked in at the table covered in bumper stickers, window placards and informational brochures. I grabbed a handful of bumper stickers and brochures, provided my e-mail address (“You already have my e-mail address.” “Yes, but we like to have an accurate head count.” Fair enough), and found two seats for us. They were about three rows back from the platform on which Secretary Castro would speak, to the right if you were standing on stage.   4130-32

IMG_4130.JPG

And we waited. I instantly regretted not bringing my coffee thermos (black, half regular/half decaf) from the car, but I did not want to risk missing anything.

I need not have worried. Seven pm came and went, with no sign of Secretary Castro.

At 7:23 pm, I began tweeting…more out of boredom than annoyance (“11” was engrossed in her book):

Waiting for @JulianCastro to start his Nashua, NH town hall. (Running 22 minutes late)

The two young women in pink Planned Parenthood t-shirts sitting behind us are cracking me up, dissecting the admittedly-eclectic playlist and the relative heights of the various candidates.

Ten minutes later:

32 minutes and counting…

Finally, at 7:40 pm, some news:

“He should be here very soon. His flight was extremely delayed from San Antonio.”

Oy.

40 minutes and counting…

Soon after, a young female aide began to distribute blank pieces of white paper (hastily cut into halves) for attendees to write questions for Secretary Castro. I had hoped that I—or even “11”—could ask a question live, but they were trying to save time. The question I wrote (“11” demurred), having just read Rachel Maddow’s excellent Drift, was “Under what circumstances, if any, would you bypass Congress to deploy American troops?”

At around 7:50 pm, a local student organizer took the stage to explain how Secretary Castro’s position on strengthening public schools was why he was backing him. He then introduced a longtime leader of New Hampshire’s Latinx Democrats (I neglected to record his name).

I noticed that once they started to speak, the previously apathetic “11” started to pay close attention.

Finally, at 8:04 pm, the second speaker gestured to our rear…and I turned to see Secretary Castro standing there, smiling widely, wearing a white dress shirt open at the color and black suit pants.

And the entire room came to life. As I tweeted:

8:04 pm — Secretary Castro takes the stage to standing ovation.

**********

Cynics may mock the first-in-the-nation status of the Iowa Caucuses and venerable New Hampshire Primary, primarily because they are predominantly white rural states, but I have two counter-arguments:

  1. Recently, both states have become swing states at the presidential level, with Iowa just 4.7 points more Republican than the nation as a whole—and New Hampshire all of 0.1 points more Democratic.
  1. For all that you can follow various presidential candidates on television and other media, nothing better reveals what a candidate is like than to see her or him negotiate a town hall, where anyone and everyone can ask any and every question they choose. And said candidate must answer every question.

There are many versions of the apocryphal story of the New Hampshire voter who, when asked whether she was ready to support Candidate X, responded that, well, she had only met him four times, so it was too soon to say.

Conversations I overheard in the audience confirmed that notion, including the young ladies sitting behind us who were both remarking on the height of former Texas U.S. House member Beto O’Rourke and dissecting the eclectic playlist that, with great foresight, did not repeat a song for nearly 90 minutes. New Hampshire (and Iowa) voters take their roles as the earliest voters very seriously.

And besides, the 2020 Massachusetts Democratic Primary, in which Nell and I cast our ballots, is on March 3, only 24 days after the 2020 New Hampshire Primary.

**********

Secretary Castro has been a top choice of mine since I watched his announcement video on January 16, 2019. His remarks that Thursday night covered much of the same ground, including the fact his grandmother emigrated from Mexico to Texas when she was seven years old, supporting herself as a maid and house cleaner. Her daughter became a single mother to Secretary Castro and his twin brother Joaquin, now a Democratic member of the U.S. House from Texas, when her husband died while the Castro brothers were young. Those same brothers would ultimately attend Ivy League universities, earn law degrees, and achieve high-level political offices.

I single out these biographical elements because they resonate deeply with me. Both of my grandfathers[1] were born it what was then called the Pale of Settlement, arriving in Philadelphia (where I was born) when they were four and seven years old, speaking only Yiddish. One became a successful business owner and community leader, while the other served on the Philadelphia Police Department for nearly 20 years. Ten years after I was born, meanwhile, my parents would separate, and my mother (who would soon buy the small carpet-cleaning company she first joined as a telephone solicitor in 1976) raised me alone; my father died a few years later, aged 46. I would then attend Yale (BA, political science, 1988) and Harvard (MA [ABD], government. 1995) before earning a doctorate in epidemiology in May 2015. That said, the highest political office I have yet won is Chair of the Ezra Stiles College Council.

Still, while his remarks were familiar, he was even more charismatic in person, speaking completely off the cuff about a wide range of domestic issues, including health care, education, jobs and wages, and immigration. Curiously, it was only during the latter discussion that he mentioned President Trump. The question of impeachment never arose.

What also never arose, including in the four questions he answered (I only remember the first one—”How will you make immigrants feel welcome?”—because it was asked by a local nine-year-old girl) was any discussion of foreign, national security or military policy. That is not, apparently, what interests early-state voters at this point. I made this same observation to two high school girls who interviewed me for their newspaper as I stood in the “selfie line.”

Or, as I tweeted at 9:05 pm:

45 minutes of remarks followed by four questions. Audience rapt. My 10-year-old daughter even interested.

Striking, though, that outside of immigration—not a single word or question about foreign or military policy.

Now waiting in line for photo. 🙂

Yes, that is an egregious typo regarding “11” s age. I make no excuse.

As the selife line snaked slowly forward, Secretary Castro excitely announced that he would appear on night 2 of the July 30-31, 2019 Democratic presidential nomination debates. He also read of the names of the nine other candidates with whom he would be appearing.

Shortly after this news, “11” asked how much longer we would be. I said, in that hopeful parental way, “not too much longer…but you may sit down if you want.” Relieved, she did just that.

And then something remarkable happened.

She quietly put down her book, walked over to the registration table, and picked up one of the placards. As she sat down again, she asked me to make sure she went on stage with me so that she could get Secretary Castro to sign it.

Well, I’ll be. (To be fair, she still prefers Harris or Warren…but if Castro ran with a female vice-presidential running mate, she would be down with that).

Finally, we walked on to the stage; for the record, I am a hair under 5’10” tall.   4135

IMG_4135.JPG

As a young male aide kept his finger pressed on the photo app of my iPhone, I introduced myself, thanking Secretary Castro for adding his voice to the most diverse field of candidates ever; I have never been prouder to be a Democrat, I added. He then turned to “11,” who politely (and with great maturity) introduced herself, after which he asked what grade she was in.

Oh, and he signed her placard.

Castro 2020 poster 1.JPG

Castro 2020 poster 2.JPG

And that was that.

*********

We made our way to Denny’s, and not a moment too soon because I was famished. “11” ordered the banana chocolate hazelnut crepes (“9” was correct) with scrambled eggs, hash browns and bacon (she ate about half of that, which was fine) along with orange juice. I ordered their version of a chicken cheesesteak with peppers and onions, seasoned fries (of course) and decaf.

Our order was taken by an older white-haired waitress best described as “a lifer.” She was cheerful and efficient, and when a rowdy party was seated in our section—with a husband sitting in a booth with four other patrons, while his wife and two men sat a nearby table—she never lost her cool.

I tipped her accordingly.

The drive south to Brookline was much faster, and we arrived home shortly after 11 pm. “11” and I chattered incessantly, both about the town hall and more personal, edge-of-adolescence matters, the entire way.

*********

I end where I began, pointing out that all servers must be adequately tipped, both because it is primarily how they earn a living and because it simply is the decent human thing to do. Mr. Pink’s cynical aversion to tipping is flat wrong, as the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs makes that clear.

One final note about art.

On June 2, 2019, I drove to Providence, Rhode Island to spend time with a close college friend who lives in Beirut, Lebanon; he was there for a mathematics conference. We ate a superb meal here, then we walked and talked for a bit. Down one street, I came across this passionate call to artistic arms.

Until next time…

[1] By which I mean my “legal” grandfathers. I was adopted in utero.

Happy July 4th! Here is my American story.

Happy 4th of July!

Let me first note, transparent in my pedantry, the Declaration of Independence was actually approved on July 2, 1776. Nonetheless, it was dated July 4, 1776 and signed August 2, 1776.

Allow me next to relate I was physically born (at long-since-closed Metropolitan Hospital, then at 3rd and Spruce) roughly 1/5 of a mile (about 4½ city blocks) southeast of Independence Hall, where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were written.

And permit me to conclude with the fascinating coincidence that both the 2nd president of the United States, John Adams, and the 3rd president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, died on this day in 1826—50 years to the day from the day we designate as our official day of independence from England.

That is, I conclude these introductory paragraphs that way.

**********

A few hours, I began to write a thread on Twitter. It opened thus:

1/ For July 4, I present my American story.

I was born in Philadelphia–where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States were written.

I was adopted in utero in the late summer of 1966. Both of my (legal) grandfathers were born outside the US.

The thread ties together the various elements of my background into a single, “American” story. Regular readers of this site will not be surprised, given a series of posts I have written (collected here) telling parts of this same story.

Moving right along:

2/ Morris Berger was born in what is now Poland in 1894 and came to the US when he was 4 years old. A Yiddish speaker, he became a successful business owner and Jewish community leader in West Philadelphia.

His son David Louis was my (legal) father.

He went the other direction.

Two things here (besides proudly observing I was given the Hebrew name Moshe ben David Leib in his honor).

One, the year of my (legal) paternal grandfather’s birth is incorrect. Twitter, however, lacks an edit function, so I could not correct this tweet once it was posted.

Two, there is some uncertainty as to when, exactly, Morris Berger (and three of his siblings) was born.

Next:

3/ Charming, gregarious and generous, “Lou” spiralled down after his iron-willed mother died in 1972. A gambling addiction cost him the business his father and uncle had built. He also lost his marriage–though he never lost me. He died, broke, from a heart attack at 46 in 1982.

David Louis “Lou” Berger died on June 30, 1982, meaning the 37th anniversary of his death was four days ago. By an egregious act of bad timing, June 30 is also the birthday of a close cousin. In fact, my mother and I spent the evening he died at a birthday party for this cousin. As we walked in the front door of our apartment after the celebration, the phone was ringing shrilly. My mother walked behind her white-and-chrome desk to answer it. It was her ex-husband’s—what is the adult form of “girlfriend?”—calling from her hospital bed to inform us of Lou’s sudden passing.

At the time, he was driving a cab for a living (quite happily, I hasten to add, because it gave me a freedom he had rarely known). He was headed to Little Pete’s diner (which closed in 2017) to meet some fellow cabbies for a meal, when he collapsed on the sidewalk in front of the Warwick Hotel (where my wife Nell and I stayed a few times early in our relationship). He was dead before he hit the ground from his third heart attack in 10 years.

Ignoring decades-old tears and moving on:

4/ Yisrael HaCohen was born in what is now Ukraine in 1904. He came to the United States when he was 7, speaking Yiddish. To join the Philadelphia Police Department in the 1930s, he changed his name to Samuel Kohn (sounded less Jewish) and changed his birthplace to Cleveland.

This story I have told before, so let us proceed:

5/ He served for nearly 20 years, rising to Detective. He ultimately retired to Atlantic City.

His daughter Elaine was my (legal) mother.

Serious reproductive health issues (and hysterectomy) led her only natural child (b. 1962) is “severely intellectually disabled.”

Again, one cannot edit a tweet—that should read, “led…to be.”

Because it is better to laugh than to cry, I sometimes tell the following “joke”: My mother had two miscarriages and a hysterectomy, and then I was born!

It was not until I became my sister’s sole legal guardian and began receiving her annual Life Enrichment Plans that I knew the extent of my mother’s reproductive miseries. Besides the two miscarriages—and a prolonged, painful labor resulting in her daughter being deprived of oxygen at critical moments during her birth process—Elaine Berger also had uterine cancer. Thus, the hysterectomy.

Oy.

Next:

6/ I am my sister’s legal guardian. She lives in a facility run through private-public partnership; she is funded through supplemental Social Security income. Thank you, FDR.

Elaine took the opposite path from Lou. After her marriage ended in 1977, she worked a minimum wage job.

She actually took that job—cold-calling folks on behalf of the A-1 Carpet Cleaning Company—some time around October 1976, as her marriage was inexorably coming to an end.

And I must say this: the end of my (legal) parents’ marriage was about as amiable as such an event can be. As painful as it must have been (the night before they officially separated was the only time I saw my father cry), I will always be grateful to them for this civility.

Meanwhile, this is what I mean by “supplemental Social Security income.”

Moving on:

7/ Eventually, Elaine bought that business and, with some help from her own business-owning mother, made a good living for nearly 25 years.

But her reproductive issues returned, and she died from ovarian cancer, aged 66, in 2004.

Oh…her mother. Irene Gurmankin, later Goldman.

Yes, my (legal) maternal great-grandfather—or, at least, his four daughters—also Anglicized his name.

Three years after Elaine Berger began as a minimum-wage-earning telephone solicitor, the owner—a lovely man named (if memory serves) Schwartz—retired. My mother worked out a deal with the man who owned the actual carpet-cleaning machinery to run the business together. A few years after that, this other man retired (or something, my memory defies interrogation on these points), and Elaine Berger took over the A-1 Carpet Cleaning Company (a two-person operation—three when I pitched in, mostly by filing or placing leaflets on car windshields—to be sure) for good.

Here she is in 1988 running that business (same desk, different apartment) with her two children framed in the background:

1988-2.jpg

Next:

8/ After divorcing Samuel Kohn in (I believe) 1964–a rarity in those days–she started a cosmetics and costume jewelry business. That business–and her own iron will and fierce work ethic–became fairly successful, allowing her to live comfortably until her death at 92 in 2007.

For some reason, Irene Kohn (she kept the surname) soon moved 60 or so miles west to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where she set up shop at the newly-opened Host Farm. Because of her beauty and extroverted (if sometimes cruel—my relationship to her was complicated) charm, she quickly established herself as the unofficial hostess of the sprawling resort. This was a great boon to my cousins and me, who effectively had the run of the place (two pools, a game room, a gift shop, three great restaurants with employee discounts, endless hallways to explore, a superb daylong program called the Peppermint Parlor). Heck, I got to see my man Rupert Holmes perform in the Host Farm Cabaret (for free) in the summer of 1981!

She finally moved back to Philadelphia in 1984, though she never actually retired, running a mail-order business for loyal customers well into her 80s.

Next:

9/ Meanwhile, Morris Berger died, aged 61, in 1954 (correction, he was born in 1893–if only Twitter allowed editing), and Samuel Kohn died, aged 73, in 1978.

OK, that is my legal family, the only family (prior to marriage and parenthood) I have ever known.

I really wish I could have known my namesake—whose death was one of a series of blows to young Lou Berger, who was asked to shoulder more responsibility than he was prepared to. As for “Pop Pop Sam,” for all his “combative personality” and temper, he was a kind and loving grandfather, and I miss him still.

The next few tweets in the thread speak for themselves:

10/ Here is what I know about my genetic family.

My maternal grandmother could trace her ancestry–and family presence in the United States–to the 1700s. English, Dutch. Her ancestors primarily lived in the southeasterern [sic] United States.

Where they fought for the Confederacy.

**********

11/ Alice Mulkey married an Irish Catholic Philadelphian named William Dixon, and moved to Philly. Their first child is my genetic mother.

They lived in what was then a working class area

At 19, while working at Philadelphia’s Drexel University, she met my genetic father.

**********

12/ This part is…fuzzy…so I elide it.

However, the man she met was almost certainly the only son of legendary naval historian Reuben Elmore Stivers. Assuming I am correct, my genetic father died in 2006.

The Stivers family also goes back in the United States to the 1700s.

I exaggerate only slightly when I use the word “legendary” to describe the man who is almost certainly my (genetic) paternal grandfather. When I explained to a different cousin, who serves his country ably and proudly as a Lieutenant Commander, Naval Intelligence, “Smokey” Stivers was likely my ancestor, he said admiringly, “Oh, THAT Reuben Stivers!”

Continuing the thread:

13/ Except they were primarily in Kentucky.

And those men fought for the Union during the Civil War.

“My” branch settled in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. This could explain my (legal) mother’s belief that my genetic father was Colombian.

I miss her (and my father).

Two points.

One, it was not just Kentucky. It was specifically around Lexington, Kentucky, based on what I have learned on Ancestry.com and through discussion with newly-discovered genetic cousins (who have been unfailingly gracious).

But more to the point, I was shocked to learn my genetic ancestors fought each other (perhaps literally, I do not know) in the American Civil War; ponder that counterfactual for a while. This discovery also fits well within the context of my “split identity” first post.

Two, Elaine Berger was so convinced (after a bad game of Telephone: my genetic mother conveyed what she knew to Modell, who passed it on to his client, who probably misunderstood “District of Columbia”–which had only just received its three electoral votes—as “Colombia”) of my genetic paternal heritage she went to the library to see what Colombian children looked like. I do not know what photographs she saw, but she told me numerous times she thought I would be black, or at least much darker-skinned.

She was one of a kind, my mother was.

14/ Upon learning she was pregnant, my genetic mother–unmarried and lacking means–chose to put me up for adoption.

That adoption was arranged through another child of Jewish immigrants, Herman Modell.

How, you ask, did my (legal) father and uncle know the powerful Mr. Modell?

I scrupulously avoid injecting my own political beliefs onto this site, but I make an exception here.

Had I been conceived seven years later, my genetic mother could have had her fetus legally aborted, thanks to Roe v. Wade.

Now, because of her Catholic upbringing—and this is pure speculation on my part—my genetic mother may have carried me to term anyway. She also may have been living in different economic and/or personal circumstances after January 1973. The counterfactuals make my head spin.

And let me back up a second here.

Nell and I have discussed on more than one occasion how much of a role privilege (read: white privilege) plays here. Her own mother was raised with a modicum of wealth, and there is no doubt that if she had found herself with an unwanted pregnancy early prior to 1973, her family would have quietly arranged an abortion for her. It is a near-certainty my genetic mother had no such option (which is why, as long as I am shouting from my soapbox, I have always been opposed to the Hyde Amendment—it denies less well-off women access to a Constitutionally-protected medical procedure and is thus, frankly, unconstitutional. Talk about an “undue burden!”).

But if, under ANY circumstances, my genetic mother had chosen to abort the fetus gestating in her womb—the fetus that would not really become yours truly until the end of September 1966—I would absolutely and unequivocally support that decision.

It was her body, so it was her choice. As it is for all women, everywhere. If you do not like abortions, do not have one, but do not sit in any sort of judgment on any woman who makes that most painful of decision in private consultation with her medical providers and selected loved ones.

Just as I do not get to sit here, more than 50 years later, and judge my genetic mother for any decision she made (or did not make, or could/would have made). I did not yet exist as an autonomous being…and I if I had never existed as an autonomous being, so be it. It was never my decision to make.

My (legal) mother would often remark something to the effect of “If men could get pregnant, you would be able to get an abortion on any street corner.”

For a woman with only a few years of post-high-school medical technician training, she saw things with exceptional clearly.

Returning to my Twitter thread:

15/ Through their simultaneous membership in La Fayette Lodge No. 71.

Yes, my (legal) father, his uncle and the powerful lawyer who arranged my adoption were brother Freemasons.

To be fair, my (legal) father was asked to leave La Fayette Lodge No. 71 for non-payment of dues.

I have told some of this story before, so let us move on; see also here. I would just add that to the extent you knew my father—and realize he was a Freemason for about 10 years—any support for the myth of the controlling influence of the Freemasons evaporates.

16/ But consider this.

When the unplanned child of two people who could trace (mostly) ancestry in the United States to the 1700s was placed for adoption, with whom was he placed?

The children of Yiddish-speaking immigrant fathers who had built successful lives in Philadelphia.

And there it is…thank you for continuing to “just bear with me.” Often lost in our collective squabbles over immigration: the descendants of recent immigrants often do better economically and socially than the longer-term “original settlers.”

Speaking of bearing with me:

End/ I was fortunate to be raised by loving parents of some means in the leafy suburbs north and west of Philadelphia. Nature and nurture cooperated successfully, and I enrolled in Yale College in 1984, sparking a fairly successful life of my own.

And that is #MyAmericanStory

Here is a photograph of those leafy suburbs, as my (legal) father holds his two children (backstory here):

Sue Ellen Drive Feb 1967 or October November 1967

And here I am with my legal mother and maternal grandmother at my graduation from Yale in 1988.

Yale graduation with Nana and Mom 1988.jpg

Here is the first postscript:

PS/ I am writing a book (inspired by, of all things, trying to explain why I love #FilmNoir so much) detailing this history. Working title: Interrogating Memory: Film Noir, Identity and a Search for Truth.

For more, please see justbearwithme.blog.

Thank you, and Happy 4th!

Hmm, this is getting very circular.

And, finally:

PPS/ My profile picture is from my (legal) parents’ wedding in January 1960. Their wedding, literally and metaphorically, took place about half a mile south of City Line Avenue. They were on the Philadelphia side, but maybe they could see their future home in the suburbs.

For those of you who do not follow me on Twitter (tsk, tsk–@drnoir33), here is that photograph:

Elaine and Lou Berger with parents January 17 1960.jpg

I do not know who the gentleman on the far left is (a great-uncle?), but from left to right are Rae Caesar Berger (mother of the groom, Lou Berger, Elaine Kohn Berger (photograph taken after exchange of vows), Irene Kohn (mother of the bride) and Samuel Kohn (father of the bride).

I LOVE this photograph, even if the men on either end look dyspeptic.

Please have (or continue to have, or I hope you had) a safe and festive holiday!

Until next time…