Maybe Just Bet Chalk This Time, I Tell Myself Again
Every March…well, except this past one because of the ‘Rona, but every other March millions of Americans fill out their brackets for the NCAA Basketball Tournament. There is rampant gamb–er, I mean “office pools” and “pick ’em” contests of various types in filling out your sheet. The brave souls try to pick which upsets will happen, while many have systems of picking from colors, to team names, to throwing darts at a board. Everyone has an opinion, but one thing most folks agree on is the easy way out, and a sure way to draw comments from your pool, is to pick straight chalk, the term for just picking the favorites. Thing is, it usually works out better for you, too:
What if you picked a bracket where the better seed won every game?
Turns out, you’d do a whole lot better than the average bracket.
We looked at data from our Bracket Challenge Game since 2011, and compared a hypothetical bracket that picked winners based on the higher-seed team from the overall seed rankings and compared that bracket to the average bracket score from each year. For the most part, it’s not even close: Seed-based brackets perform much better than average…
…Moral of the story: If you’re tired of being embarrassed in your pool by your 2-year-old nephew who literally can’t read a bracket, play it safe and try picking the better-seeded team this year.
So, maybe, just to change it up a little bit around here, we dial back the 4D chess predictions and ask the obvious: If we are taking chalk for the fall election, what are we looking at?
Joe Biden wins the White House.
Other things may well happen. The way 2020 is going it is almost assured a half dozen weird things will happen between now and the November election. Plus, it is looking more and more like results might not be immediate in coming in said election. But now that we are 28 days out, we can at least admit to ourselves what the seedings are and the likely outcomes, sans upsets.
Biden’s polling leads are almost abnormally stable. While the most recent headline-making polls of 14 pt. (Fox) and 16 pt. (CNN) national leads are probably coming at it a tad high, it’s still significant. The president’s concrete floor of support that hovers just above 40% is stable as well. More importantly than the national number, the swing state polling has been pretty steady as, and the truth is, for all the thunder and roar of a crazy campaign season, and whatever that mess of a debate was, nothing much has changed at all numbers wise in the key swing states.
With nothing moving the needle in a major way, and absent an epic failure in polling that would eclipse anything politics in America has ever seen, that makes Joe Biden winning the chalk pick.
We who opine daily on politics often fall for over thinking things. As such, we should be just as willing to re-adjust to information as it becomes available. Sometimes, some folks just miss the obvious for the noise and shiny object of the news cycle issue du jour. Recall, if you will, the New York Times Editorial Board endorsement, which involved hours upon hours of interviews with all the major candidates still running, a televised special revealing the interviews and the decision, and all the social media promotion of said event. Attention fell on the, frankly, overwrought and too-cute-by-half split endorsement that was roundly mocked.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the folks around the fancy conference room table, a woman every single one of those NY Times employees had probably walked by a hundred times blew the whole premise up in 20 seconds.
The New York Times Editorial Board had a large conference table in a big room with the New York City skyline as the background. It had very serious people thinking very seriously about their very serious endorsement. It was weeks, if not months, in the making and culminated in an edited-for-TV hour of very serious discussion. And it’s been obliterated by 20 seconds of viral video that, as of this writing, has been viewed six times more than the videos of the Grey Lady’s endorsed candidates. Both of them. Combined.
We don’t know much about the lady in the elevator, and I hope to God the media leaves her alone. But, because of how she reacted and talked, I’ll bet she is exactly the kind of person who is going to stand in line to vote. Unlike the folks around the fancy table, she wasn’t moved by high minded ideological arguments, or how her choice might look to other people, or how she might influence others. She just looked at Joe Biden and said things like “I love you…I really do” and “You’re my favorite” and a thankful “You are awesome” to Joe asking her name and telling her they would get a picture together. This is Retail Politics 101 from someone who has done it their entire life.
I’ve been wrong about the Joe Biden candidacy. Biden, through a lot of luck and just being himself, has been able to turn his “C’mon man” version of “ahh, shucks” into a feeling of base level normalcy in the craziness of 2020. Way back in March of 2019, before he was officially in the race, I mused on the following:
It feels like some in the Democratic party would rather take a run at known quantity Joe Biden, or more specifically the highly-idealized concept version of Joe Biden currently being presented, than deal with the very hard questions a progressive wing that is rapidly growing both in influence and volume is demanding be addressed.
Joe Biden and the bulk of the Democratic party dealt with the looming prospect of a Bernie Sanders nomination and Democratic Socialist ascendency by jack slapping it back to the kids table while the old coalition — as in what the party has been for the last generation, not in age — would be running things in 2020, thank you very much. The turn in political fortune from pre-South Carolina primaries to Joe Biden, presumptive nominee in just over a two-week time span played out in real life with whiplash inducing speed. For at least one more presidential cycle, the DemSoc wing of the party will have to content themselves with Bernie once again writing large chunks of the platform and influencing from behind the scenes while their nominee declares in townhalls “I beat the socialist. That’s how I got elected. That’s how I got the nomination. Do I look like a socialist? Look at my career — my whole career. I am not a socialist.”
Which leads me to something else I was wrong about, this time from March of this year right after the last of the Biden-Sanders primary debates:
The policy parts of the social security portion of the debate will make the rounds on social media and campaign ads, but the issue at hand isn’t lying about past positions. Joe Biden not being honest is not a revelation to anyone with the ability to read. What is concerning is when Bernie hit him with it, you could see Joe Biden trying to reset his mental computer to avoid saying something he knew he couldn’t say out loud, failing to find an answer, and went with a lie followed by his laugh-it-off routine. Bernie let it go once the subject got changed to votes he himself isn’t particularly proud of, but the moment is telling. Joe the dyed-in-the-wool politician has habits on a debate stage, habits where his prep work of current positions clash with his half a century of record. There will be moments when those things cannot be reconciled in real time at game speed by the current Biden 3.0 system. Thus, you get what happened last night, and you can bet that clip will make it into the Trump Team’s pre-gaming for the general election debates. Thinking you are going to out lie Donald Trump is not sound strategery.
What debate prep the president did do, which has become far more infamous for other reasons now that have nothing to do with trading barbs with Joe Biden, was utterly pointless due to the president’s approach to the debate. By dominating the debate, in his own mind winning by controlling the event through interruptions and bluster, the president alleviated any need for Joe Biden to have to think about much of anything. The rhetorical onslaught and ensuing chaos meant all that Joe had to do to come out looking good from the debate was to not lose his temper, something the sharp digs were no doubt designed to try and do. The effect of the president going full bull in the china shop was it lowered, again, the expectations for his opponent to look good in contrast. Much like insisting the former vice president was utterly senile for months on end meant Joe just being Joe on camera amounted to a win, so did going hard after Biden mean surviving upright just made the VP look the more composed of the two.
Which brings us to another confession of being wrong in 2020 electoral predictions, from that same piece in March:
Democrats would be foolish to count on coronavirus, the economy, and a past-his-prime Joe Biden just winning the presidency by default ’cause he showed up.
Well, that is pretty much what is happening at the moment. Frankly, Joe Biden hasn’t even really had to show up all that much, calling so many media “lids” — beat coverage slang for no further events for the day — that it has become its own internet meme. But that has also allowed him to duck and cover while his opponent continues to shoot himself in the foot. The president, having recovered enough from his bout with Covid-19 to return to the White House, has been trying to make some political hay from his experience, but it isn’t working. While his supporters continue to loudly insist this ordeal will be a net good for the president, they are kidding themselves on the optics of the president contractg the disease while flouting the basic preventative measures most American’s have been dealing with for months. Measures that span the spectrum from minor inconveniences like wearing a mask to life-altering crises like closed schools, shuttered businesses, and other restrictions. The president’s concrete-like low approval number of just north of 40% endures regardless, it seems, but it is not enough to win an election. It is just big enough to keep itself convinced that everything not purporting a Trump re-election is fake news, until it isn’t. In which case no doubt it was shenanigans on the part of them over there to blame, not 9 months of data that the light at the end of the tunnel was not the Trump train a’coming, but the Trump fatigue express.
The telling poll number asked in the aftermath of the president’s weekend stay at Walter Reed wasn’t the myriad questions that flashed across the screens and found in the crosstabs of the CNN/SSRS poll, but in the simple question of what comes next. “There is agreement across party lines, though, that Trump’s diagnosis will not change the way he handles the pandemic,” CNN found. “Most Democrats (70%), independents (59%) and Republicans (62%) agree on that.”
After four years of President Trump, the biggest difference between 2016 and now is in the one remaining constant from that election: There are almost no neutral opinions on Donald J. Trump. Short of that epic failure the MAGA folks insist is happening either through incompetence or malice, the vaunted and fawned over “undecideds” are the difference in polling this time. So maybe, while it’s fun to come up with the clever perfect scenario, or the long shot upset, or to be set-up for a sweet “I told you so” to come later, the steadiness of this race’s dynamics means what we think is happening, is happening.
So, as we all settle on our predictions for 28 days from now, enjoy filling out your election bracket. But just to mix it up a little, I think I’m done trying to out-think the room. I don’t think President Donald Trump is going to change. I don’t think Joe Biden is going to change. And I don’t think much is going to change in this race or the electorate between now and election day.
You do as you will, but as far as predictions go, I’ve seen enough to just take the easy way out this time. I’m going chalk.
And if the 2-year-old nephew beats me with some upset prediction, so be it. Might even write a piece about it. I don’t mind, I’ve been wrong before.