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8 Tips To Stay Sane In The Final 15 Days Of The Campaign

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We’re in the final stretch of the campaign, with just 15 days to go until the election. Indeed, “the election” is something of a misnomer, since early or mail voting is already underway in most states and around 30 million people have already cast ballots.

This is a period of high anxiety for almost everybody. So here are a few tips for how to process news and polls over the final two weeks. I’m going to keep these fairly short and sweet; we’ll save the more philosophical stuff about election forecasting, etc. for elsewhere.

1. Keep the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in mind.

The most important story in the country is that 210,000 Americans and counting have died from the coronavirus, plus virtually everybody’s lives have been disrupted in some way by the pandemic. And far from the U.S. having turned the corner, cases and hospitalizations are growing again in most parts of the country. President Trump’s approval ratings on COVID-19 are poor, too, considerably worse than his overall approval numbers. The pandemic isn’t a new story, but it’s liable to be more important to voters than, say, whatever is in Hunter Biden’s emails

2. Don’t assume the race is in the bag for Biden.

Although COVID-19 and other issues make Trump’s road to reelection difficult, he still has a 12 percent chance of winning the Electoral College, according to the FiveThirtyEight model as of Sunday afternoon. And if Joe Biden maintains his current lead in the polls, Trump’s chances will fall further — although the forecast thinks it’s more likely that the race will tighten.

But say Trump’s chances do decline further — to 5 percent by Election Day, for example — I’d keep a few things in mind.

First, even a 5 percent chance is something you ought to take seriously if the consequences are very high, something I think both Trump and Biden supporters would say is true of this election. And second, the outcomes in this election aren’t entirely binary. Say Biden wins: His margin of victory will still be heavily scrutinized. Does he win by double digits nationally? Does he win a state like Texas? This could affect both the degree to which Democrats pursue a more aggressive agenda, and the extent to which Republicans regard Trumpism as having been repudiated. Also, many Senate races are competitive, and having control of 50 versus 52 versus 54 or more Senate seats will greatly affect Biden’s first two years in office. Statewide races matter too, especially in states where control of the redistricting process is still in play.

3. But also don’t buy the narrative that “polling is broken.”

Polling is an imperfect instrument, more so in some years than others. However, 2016 — while far from a banner year from the polls — was not quite so bad as some critics assume. The national polls were pretty good, and Trump’s wins in the swing states were not that surprising based on the close margins in those states beforehand. The 2018 midterms was one of the more accurate years for polling on record, meanwhile.

One other thing to keep in mind about polls in an election like this one: They do provide some way to measure public sentiment, however imperfect, independent of election results, which could be important if the election is disputed. It’s not surprising then that Trump frequently disparages polls — which could give Americans more confidence about the results if they closely resemble the polls — when he’s also repeatedly failed to commit to accepting the results of the election.

4. Don’t get too obsessed with comparisons to 2016.

I know it’s fashionable to make comparisons between 2016 and 2020, and to discuss the various ways in which they might or might not be similar (there are fewer undecided voters this year, for instance). But to some extent, I think those comparisons are misguided. You shouldn’t make too much of a sample size of one election. And you should avoid thinking in binaries, i.e., that the polls will either be “wrong” or “right.” Instead, it’s more of a spectrum: The larger Biden’s lead in the tipping-point states, the more that polls could be wrong and he could win anyway. And there’s also no guarantee that a polling error will work in Trump’s favor as it did in 2016. In 2012, polls underestimated then-President Barack Obama and Democrats instead.

At the same time, while there is no particular reason to think that polls will be wrong in exactly the same ways that they were in 2016, there are also precedents for larger polling errors than the one we experienced in 2016. The final Gallup poll in 1948 had Harry Truman 5 points behind Thomas Dewey, for example, but Truman actually won by 4 points, making for a 9-point polling error. A polling error of that magnitude probably would be enough for Trump to win the Electoral College, although not necessarily the popular vote.

5. Don’t pay much attention to individual polls; wait for polling averages to move.

This is perhaps the single piece of advice we give most often at FiveThirtyEight, but it’s especially important in the final couple weeks of a campaign. After a lull this weekend, there are likely to be a lot of polls the rest of the way out. On any given day, it will be possible to take the 2 or 3 best polls for Biden and tell a story of his holding or expanding his lead, or the 2 or 3 best polls for Trump and make a claim that the race is tightening.

Resist buying too much into those narratives. Instead, turn to polling averages like FiveThirtyEight’s that are smart at distinguishing (ahem) the signal from the noise. We do program our averages to be more aggressive in the closing days of the campaign — so if there’s a shift in the race, our average should start to detect it within a few days. But while there is such a thing as underreacting to news developments,gave Trump a better chance than others in 2016 is because it shifted more following then-FBI Director James’s Comey letter to Congress.

“>1 the more common problem in the last days of a campaign is false positives, with partisans and the media trying to hype big swings in the polls when they actually show a fairly steady race.

6. Beware talk of “October Surprises.” They’re usually overhyped.

Indeed, while the Comey letter really did matter in 2016, contributing to a 3-point shift toward Trump in the waning days of the campaign, it’s more the exception than the rule. On average, in elections since 1972,2 national polling averages shifted by an average of 1.8 points and a median of just 1.4 points in the final 15 days of the race.

The final two weeks usually don’t change much

How much the national polling margin changed between 15 days before the presidential election and Election Day, since 1972

Leader in FiveThirtyEight national polling average
Year 15 days before ELECTION Election Day Change
2016 Clinton +6.9 Clinton +3.8 +3.1
2012 Romney +1.2 Obama +0.4 +1.6
2008 Obama +6.8 Obama +7.1 +0.3
2004 Bush +2.4 Bush +1.6 +0.8
2000 Bush +2.7 Bush +3.5 +0.8
1996 Clinton +14.9 Clinton +12.8 +2.1
1992 Clinton +14.1 Clinton +7.1 +7.0
1988 Bush +11.8 Bush +10.4 +1.4
1984 Reagan +16.7 Reagan +18.0 +1.3
1980 Reagan +2.3 Reagan +2.1 +0.2
1976 Carter +2.0 Carter +0.8 +1.2
1972 Nixon +25.5 Nixon +24.1 +1.4

The averages listed are calculated retroactively based on FiveThirtyEight’s current polling average methodology.

Also, keep in mind that relatively few voters are undecided this year, and that many people have already voted, which could dampen the effect of any last-minute news developments.

7. Don’t read too much into the campaigns’ behavior.

These last two points are things I’ve learned by experience. There’s enough conflicting information in the final days of the campaign that it can help to triage, and one category of information I’d generally ignore are reports about how the Biden or Trump campaigns are feeling about the race. Even if reporters have good access into campaigns and are accurately reflecting their thinking, presidential campaigns often do not have a better read on the race than public polls. Campaigns are often just as surprised by unexpected results as anyone else; the Trump campaign’s models gave it a 30 percent chance of winning the Electoral College on the eve of the election in 2016, the same as FiveThirtyEight’s forecast did. And of course, less diligent reporters are subject to being spun by the campaigns, or to publishing information that is designed to deceive or bluff the campaign’s opponents.

8. Don’t get carried away with early voting data.

Democrats have a huge edge in early voting so far … but as I talked about on my weekly segment for ABC’s “This Week,” I’m not sure I’d read too much into it. The early-voting lead for Democrats is largely in line with what polls predicted, and Republicans are likely to draw the race closer with a huge Election Day turnout. Moreover, our experience in past elections is that people tend to read more into early voting data than is warranted and often cherry-pick data in ways that are favorable to their preferred party or candidate.

Also, the huge partisan split in early in-person voting and mail voting is new — historically, it was something that both parties took advantage of — and that makes it hard to put it into context. Maybe it really will turn out to be a bad sign for Republicans that Democrats are banking so many votes. Or maybe Democrats will underperform polls because mail votes have a higher rate of ballot spoilage. On balance I’d rather have a lot of votes locked in than not, but we’re flying pretty blind here. Besides, most polls try to account for early voting — for instance, by asking voters whether they’ve already voted — so to the extent that Democrats are benefiting from it, it should be reflected in the polls already.

It’s going to a long 15 days — and perhaps beyond, since we may not know the winner on Nov. 3. FiveThirtyEight will be providing all the content that you might want, from daily podcasts to near-constant updates of our forecast. But you’ll usually know all that you need to if you’re pacing yourself and only checking in with news coverage of the campaign once a day or a couple of times a week. Stay safe and stay sane, and we’ll enjoy watching the rest of the election with you.

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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