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WIll Georgia Turn Blue?

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For all the turmoil in the country this year, our presidential election forecast has been remarkably stable. Dating back to June 1, the first date that we ran the forecast,1 only two states had flipped between Donald Trump and Joe Biden at any point: North Carolina and Ohio.second congressional district in Maine, which has one electoral vote … but a congressional district is not a state!

“>2 On Wednesday, though, they were joined by a third state, Georgia, where for the first time all year, Joe Biden is the favorite — the ever-so-slight favorite! — in our forecast.

Of course, it’s a bit silly to talk about states switching sides when FiveThirtyEight’s forecasts are probabilistic. With the addition of a new Quinnipiac University poll showing him 7 percentage points ahead there — more about that poll in a moment — Biden’s chances in Georgia rose from 46 percent to 51 percent. (They’ve since fallen to an even 50/50.) So a) that’s not really that big of a change and b) the race is tossup; Trump could easily re-emerge as the nominal favorite (turning Georgia red again in the snake diagram) by the time that you’re reading this.

In another sense, though, the shift in Georgia should come as no surprise. Consider:

  • In 2016, Trump won Georgia by only 5 points in an election where he lost the popular vote by 2 points nationally. Thus, Georgia was only 7 points more Republican than the country as a whole.
  • In 2018, Brian Kemp won Georgia’s gubernatorial election by 1 point over Stacey Abrams, in an election where Democrats won the popular vote for the U.S. House by 9 points. Thus, Georgia was 10 points redder than the country overall.

And if Georgia is 7 to 10 points more Republican than the country as a whole, then you might expect it to turn blue with Biden having a 10-point lead in national polls, as he currently does.

Our model has been a bit more skeptical about Biden’s Georgia chances, though, for a couple of important reasons. First, the state is relatively inelastic, meaning that it tends not to swing as much as the country as a whole does. That’s because there haven’t traditionally been a lot of swing voters in Georgia. Republicans have a base of conservative, religious, white voters; Democrats have a base of Black voters, plus younger white, Asian and Hispanic voters in Atlanta and in college towns. The Republican base has historically been slightly larger, though, so while Democrats could get to 45 percent or 48 percent or 49 percent statewide … 50 percent has been hard.

Second, Georgia has strict voting laws, and according to the Cost of Voting Index, a measure of how easy it is to vote in each state, those laws have gotten stricter since 2016. Our research shows that enacting stricter voting laws tends to hurt Democrats, too, which is factored into our estimates of the partisan baselines in each state.

So even as Atlanta’s suburbs have been shifting blue — leading to a win by Democrat Lucy McBath in the 6th Congressional District in the upscale northern suburbs of Atlanta in 2018 — these are still some fairly big hurdles for Democrats to overcome to achieve statewide wins. That’s why even though Biden had already been ahead in our Georgia polling average, our forecast — which also accounts for these other factors and also slightly discounts Biden’s current national lead — still had Trump slightly favored in Georgia.

Then came the Quinnipiac poll. What should you make of a poll that has one candidate 7 points ahead when everybody else has the race tied, or virtually so? Well, you should … throw it in the polling average. Generally speaking, it’s good when high-quality pollsters such as Quinnipiac are willing to deviate from the consensus; it means they’re not herding toward what everybody else says.

At the same time, Quinnipiac has produced perhaps the best set of numbers for Biden of any major pollster. Another recent release of Quinnipiac polls had Biden ahead by 11 points in Florida, 13 points in Pennsylvania and 5 points in Iowa, far better than the FiveThirtyEight averages in each state.

I’m not one to play poll doctor and dive into the crosstabs and declare whether a particular firm’s approach is right or wrong. Unless there’s something egregious, I think the right approach is to trust the process of averaging the polls. At the same time, a 7-point lead coming from Quinnipiac doesn’t mean quite the same thing as it would from a pollster like, say, Monmouth University, which has tended to show results for Biden that are near to or slightly worse than the consensus. (Monmouth’s most recent Georgia poll — taken before the debate — had shown Trump slightly ahead.)

Our model tries to account for all of these tendencies with our house effects adjustment; it accounted for the fact that Quinnipiac had previously shown Biden ahead by 3 points in Georgia, for instance, at a time when Trump was leading in our polling average there. Still, a 7-point lead for Biden was enough to impress our model, even coming from Quinnipiac.

Next question: Although Georgia could obviously go either way, could it actually be decisive in the election? In other words, could it be the tipping-point state, the one that nets Biden or Trump his 270th electoral vote?

That’s pretty unlikely: The model says there’s only a 2.4 percent chance that Georgia is the tipping point. That’s because if Biden has won Georgia, he’ll probably also have won at least one of its neighbors, North Carolina or Florida, where he has somewhat clearer leads in polls. And if Biden wins North Carolina or Florida, Trump is probably toast, with or without Georgia.

In theory, Georgia could matter if Biden completely collapsed in the Midwest: If he lost Michigan and Minnesota and Pennsylvania and Wiscosnin then Biden could still win the Electoral College by flipping Georgia and North Carolina and Florida while holding the other states that Hillary Clinton won. Again, though, we’re talking about some long-shot scenarios.

But where Georgia could be of great importance is in the U.S. Senate, where it actually has two races: a standard Class II Senate election between the Republican incumbent David Perdue and the Democrat Jon Ossoff, and a special election where the appointed Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler is defending her seat against challengers from both parties.

Georgia requires runoffs if no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, so the Perdue-Ossoff race could potentially require a runoff if the Libertarian candidate gets enough votes there. And the special election is very likely to require a runoff, since it has more than a dozen candidates and no candidate is polling particularly close to 50 percent of the vote there.

Recent developments have been favorable to Democrats in the special election, too. One Democrat — Raphael Warnock, the pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church — has consolidated the large majority of the Democratic vote following endorsements from Barack Obama and other prominent Democrats. He is very likely to advance to the runoff, based on recent polls. Meanwhile, the second runoff slot is a bitter feud between Loeffler and another Republican, Rep. Doug Collins, who have been trying to outcompete one another by bragging about how conservative they are and how much they support Trump. This is potentially toxic messaging in an increasingly purple state where Trump isn’t that popular. And indeed, Loffler and Collins have fallen behind Warnock in some recent polls that test one-on-one matchups.

Our model tries to consider all of these complexities — as well as the likelihood that the environment might not be as favorable for Democrats in January as it is in November — and now has Warnock with a 50 percent chance of eventually winning, Loeffler with a 29 percent chance and Collins with a 21 percent chance. The other candidates, such as Democrat Matt Lieberman, have virtually zero chance.

In the regular Georgia Senate race, Perdue has a 72 percent chance and Ossoff a 28 percent chance, per our “Deluxe” forecast. There’s around a one-in-four chance that race will require a runoff, too, which could mean there could be two uncalled Senate until the runoff is held on Jan. 5.

So there are certainly no sure things for Democrats in Georgia. But the fact that a formerly red state has become perhaps the most competitive battleground in the country is a bad sign for Republicans.

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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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– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
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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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