There just can't be that many mailbags out there that include RNC anagrams, trans equality, debates about election projections, the Uyghurs, online teaching, the clam chowder wars, T&A, and "Star Trek."
The 2020 Election
M.M. in Sheffield, Yorkshire, UK, writes: As I write this, the most recent EV count on your page (Aug 28) reads 388 Biden / 132 Trump. Discounting states where the candidates are in a statistical tie yields 303 Biden / 120 Trump.
I have been reading your website since 2004, and your helpful links make it easy to compare this link on previous dates:
- 2016: 303 Clinton / 191 Trump [291 Clinton / 156 Trump]
- 2012: 326 Obama / 212 Romney [225 Obama / 191 Romney]
- 2008: 278 Obama / 247 McCain [270 Obama / 176 McCain]
- 2004: 270 Kerry / 259 Bush [161 Kerry / 182 Bush]
Joe Biden's current position is stronger than every candidate on this list, whether one counts by total EV or only states where the polls show a statistically significant result. Conversely, of course, Trump's current position is weaker than every candidate on this list (including his past self from 2016). Moreover, Biden's position has been highly stable for months.
Although there are nearly ten weeks left until Election Day, it seems likely that Trump's only chance of a second term comes in the form of dirty tricks.
A.K.P. in Huntsville, AL, writes: I hate to say this because it's cynical, morbid and downright despicable, but I believe it is the truth. In order for Donald Trump to win, he needs more violence and deaths from the race protests. In order for Joe Biden to win, he needs more tragedies and deaths from COVID-19.
B.E. in Chico, CA, writes: Kellyanne Conway's' exit from the White House is probably the best indication yet that Donald Trump is on the way to losing the election. Kellyanne is like the canary in the coal mine. She knows a sinking ship when she sees one. She is abandoning the S.S. Trump before it plunges to the bottom of the political depths. After all, she is a survivor, if nothing else, and has no intention of going down with the ship. She intends to live to see another campaign, probably that of Nikki Haley.
As for George Conway, he knows that he has won this one and that the Lincoln Project will continue in fine form without him. By not piling on and not running up the score, he recognizes that he will ultimately do more scoring on his own domestic front, which most guys prioritize over the unpredictability of politics.
V & Z respond: Maybe, but having her daughter Claudia go to court to petition to become an emancipated minor forced her to choose between her boss and her daughter. She may be heartless but maybe she is not that heartless.
D.B. in Stewartsville, MN, writes: There has been much discussion about hidden "shy" Trump supporters in the media. Living in the rural Midwest, I can tell you that there are a good number of Biden supporters who are reluctant to reveal themselves in deep red counties. Many are fed up with the antics of the President and his administration, but with many of their neighbors thumping their Trump drums and deriding anyone who "dares" speak to the contrary, it's safer to keep one's head down until they can vote in private.
S.W. in Lake Orion, MI, writes: You have mentioned several times how important the upper Midwest will be in the presidential election, including this from yesterday: "There is zero chance the Biden ticket will carelessly overlook Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan..." As an ardent Democrat who has donated a good deal of money and volunteered a lot of time, I sadly feel very neglected by the Biden campaign here in Michigan. I live in Rep. Elissa Slotkin's (D-MI) district, and was very plugged into her campaign in 2018 when she beat the GOP incumbent and flipped MI-08 as did Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI) in the next district over, MI-11. I am still putting time and money into both of those re-election campaigns.
Thus, very involved in 2020 and I have to say: There is no sign of a Biden presence in Michigan. I called everyone I knew just trying to get ahold of a Biden yard sign to no avail. Tried to find a Biden office or staffer here in Michigan...and nothing. Asked congressional staffers and Democratic campaign managers and they told me there is no Biden office or staff in Michigan. So there's that. Very disappointing. So, I must say, I disagree with you at this point. Biden is carelessly overlooking Michigan. Just drive around and try to find a Biden yard sign. But there are a lot of Trump signs. Disturbing.
R.D. in Shelby Township, MI, writes: You noted how, in Michigan, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) was being sued by Republican leaders for wanting to send out an absentee voter application to all voters in Michigan. It made me think of a Donald Trump ad that I received from the Michigan Republican Party, essentially pleading for Republicans to fill out an absentee voter application and vote by mail. It made me laugh a bit that they are asking people to do the thing that they allegedly fear will cause "fraud".
Then, today, I got another ad from the Michigan Republican Party, except this time, they sent me not one, but two Michigan Absentee Voter Ballot Application forms, along with pictures of Trump on the ad and quotes from the President saying how great absentee voting is. I found this interesting, thinking that their moves point to either:
- Trying to get the SOS to back down from sending the applications, but then sending them on their own only to Republicans, trying to suppress the Democratic mail-in vote in Michigan.
- They feel, probably justly, that an absentee voter application sent by a Democratic SOS to Trump loving Republicans will be quickly sent to the trash heap, and they are afraid of those voters staying home and not voting.
Also, you wrote: "GOP lawmakers criticized the decision again when they began receiving reports that applications had been mailed to people who were long since dead or moved." This is funny to me because the Trump ad I received with the ballot applications was addressed to the previous home owner.
I think this is why I got so disillusioned with the Republican Party when I was in college. I know both parties engage in hypocrisy when it suits them, but the Republicans really ratchet it up to the Nth degree.
T.J.R. in Metuchen, NJ, writes: I believe that your answer to the question from N.P., in London was somewhat misleading. Florida (as well as any state) can and will be called (by AP and the networks) as soon as the polls close. These calls are based on exit polls as it is too soon to have any ballots counted. So Florida can be called at 7:00 ET, (though a couple of districts close at 8).
All specific exit poll data is embargoed until the state closes. They'll let some generic slices slip by beforehand. For example: "Among soccer moms who say the economy is their #1 issue, Biden is winning by 3 points."
The part of N.P.'s question, about if Florida is called at 7 and that depresses Texas voters, is a logistical problem. Your hypothetical voter would have to be sitting in front of the TV set at 7, hear the result, then decide he/she is too lazy to mosey on down to his/her polling place before 8 p.m. because it doesn't matter anyway. I'd postulate anyone watching election results at 7 probably has already voted.
I have heard in the past that, during electoral landslides, the turnout is depressed in California. It does not matter for the Presidential races, but does affect downballot races if there is no Senatorial or Gubernatorial election.
Also, as far as bellwethers go, if Indiana and Kentucky are not called at 7 p.m. for DT, life is good for the Democrats. And if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is also losing...
V & Z respond: Yes, quite a few folks took us to task for that. That was written by (Z), based on his experience watching returns in California. Local stations keep silent, but national outlets start to run with results as soon as polls close in the East. In any event, our main point—which you also made—remains intact; we are skeptical this could have an impact on any major statewide contest, since so many votes will be cast by the time polls close in the East. Furthermore, this year most of the votes may have been cast weeks ago by absentee ballot.
A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: G.Y. from Ocean Springs, MS, asked if Joe Biden gets elected and dies before the Electoral College meets, is Kamala Harris automatically president? You are correct in your response; just thought you might want to mention that Jeff Greenfield wrote a book about this very possibility. It is called The People's Choice. It is actually a very fascinating read!
D.C. in Portland, OR, writes: For the first time, I've bitten on the activist hook, and so I recently signed up to volunteer for the grassroots activist organization DemCast, who impressed me with the professionalism of their approach.
They begin by asking sign-ups to indicate their interests and skill sets (eg. writing, social media amplification, reporting, etc.) and encourage volunteers to "adopt" up to three "Focus 14 States."
I indicated interest in research and writing and adopted South Carolina and Georgia as my states, as I'm particularly interested in taking back the Senate and ridding the chamber of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
I'd like to take this opportunity to encourage your readers to look into DemCast and consider getting involved.
B.B. in Portland, OR, writes: I thought this might be of interest to you or your readers; a very comprehensive state-by-state guide to the state of voting by mail, along with suggestions for changes that state officials can make to improve the situation in their state. Sightline is a well-respected research group and think tank, so I have good reason to believe that this information is accurate.
A.Q. in North Aurora, IL, writes: Some observations about the Republican National Convention:
- The Orange One seems to be running as if he is the challenger, not the incumbent. They have been touting some of the "accomplishments" of his term, although everything seems to be distorted and exaggerated. The main theme seems to be attack, misrepresent, and out-and-out lie about Joe Biden and his proposed policies, let alone the Democratic Party. (I think we expected a lot of this.)
- There are almost no high-profile GOP politicians, whereas the DNC featured several every night. Also, the "Democrats" that have endorsed this presidency really are not Democrats at all. I have interacted with several of my friends who happen to be Black, and am yet to find one that thinks any of the Black speakers represent the views of them or their families (no shocker there).
- There is no policy or plan moving forward. All the Orange One is running on is a continuation of the Obama economy, and fear that Democrats are actually Communists that want to take away God and your guns, allow homosexuals and pedophiles (which I think they view as the same thing) to run rampant throughout the country, and tax the hell out of everyone. When you have no policy and no plan, all you have to run on is fear.
- The RNC is just a reality show that peddles in half-truths and sensationalism.
A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I've seen some media outlets report that the Republican party didn't adopt a platform at this year's convention. Not so. Their official platform is whatever Trump says it is at any given moment. This is truly frightening, and I'm surprised that this and its implications haven't gotten more attention. I'm truly stunned at the complete capitulation of the party to this one man. No Republican currently serving in office or anyone associated with the Republican party apparatus will say a word against him. And those same people want to see him with absolute power over the country. One of your readers mentioned a book about Hitler's rise—I'm guessing it looked a lot like this.
R.H. in Macungie, PA, writes: Text exchange with my son and wife:Me: There's no Republican Party Platform this year.
Son: Wow. So what is their purpose for existing if they don't have a platform?
Wife: To worship Donald Trump.
Me: That sums it up.
Son: Pretty much.
J.T.B., Brookline, MA, writes: Best fact I learned this week—an anagram of "Republican National Convention" is "Con Vulnerable Nation into Panic."
M.W. in Glendale, AZ, writes: My takeaway after watching the Retrumpican Convention is that if Joe Biden gets elected we will have riots in the streets, storm troopers attacking citizens, a rampant virus plaguing the country, an economic recession worse than in 2008, with record high deficits and dishonesty the likes of which we have never seen before, and the President under the thumb of a Communist dictator. (That doesn't exist now, does it?) Trump the Savior is the only one who can fix it. He's shown us how he can "fix" things: (1) keep up the Orwellian gas-lighting projections; (2) damn the ethics and legal torpedoes!; (3) full speed lies and corruption ahead: Putin/Trump/Pence 2020.
I'm just not sure which slogan(s) the Retrumpicans should go with this fall:
- Support Kidnapping and Caging Children: Vote Retrumpican
- Support Misappropriation of Funds: Vote Retrumpican
- Make Health Care Unaffordable for the Masses: Vote Retrumpican
- Support Blatant Violations of the Constitution: Vote Retrumpican
- End Social Security and Medicare: Vote Retrumpican
- Kill the Post Office: Vote Retrumpican
- Gut Public Education: Vote Retrumpican
- Increase Income and Wealth Gaps: Vote Retrumpican
- Destroy NATO: Vote Retrumpican
- Power for Power's Sake: Vote Retrumpican
- Support Presidential Profiteering: Vote Retrumpican
- Support Bounties on American Soldiers: Vote Retrumpican
B.M. in Birmingham, AL, writes: As I read daily the reviews of the DNC last week and now (through day 2) of the RNC, I am disappointed in the analysis (Z) gives. I will call out only one example from today, but it epitomizes the increasing lack of objectiveness that continues from him about all things Trump. The "Gimmickry" segment was just poorly argued. Clearly, Trump needing some good optics on immigration is a fact. Opportunities to show this would and should be displayed by his campaign to overcome the candidate's perceived weakness. What Trump said to the newly naturalized citizens is a widely held Republican position: that all people of every tribe and tongue are welcome to the U.S. as long as they come legally. Trump praised their diligence and welcomed them as freshly minted citizens. Instead of giving any credit for at least trying to show why the party is not "xenophobic," (Z) said, " It is interesting that when these set pieces involve white people, the President generally asks them to tell their stories themselves. When they involve people of color or immigrants, he takes care of it."
A convention thus far that has featured several people of color telling their own stories contradicts this excessively skeptical viewpoint, especially given that (Z) has repeatedly stated that Trump is "producing" the entire event. You can't have it both ways. I know (Z) hates Trump, but in his capacity on this site I would think that he would at least try to be intellectually fair-minded. When reading most of his views these days, it reminds me that I could just turn on CNN. It just saddens me to see this site become more and more of an echo chamber of the left-leaning media. In the words of Nick Sandmann: "I look forward to the day the media returns to providing balanced, responsible and accountable news coverage." Fox News is included here as well. I truly hope this site will return to the "slightly left" leanings of (V) from when I began reading this site prior to the 2008 election.
D.N. in Panama City, FL, writes: With regard to the question about the importance of prosecuting Hatch Act violations without looking like victors' justice, I have a suggestion, something akin to marrying a truth and reconciliation commission with the penalty incentives of Operation Varsity Blues. You can separate the wheat from the chaff by offering every rank-and-file participant the opportunity to sign a statement that says, "I've reviewed the prohibitions of the Hatch Act. I can see how the things I've done appear to violate the provisions of the Act." Those who sign immediately are required to perform 20 hours of community service, and it's over. What to do with the ringleaders in the West Wing and the Cabinet, however, would be a more thorny question. And the biggest question of all: figuring out how to reconstitute the Act, so that it will never again be toothless and useless in real time.
V & Z respond: Some readers wrote in to point out that Hatch Act violations are not criminal. That is true, of course; we took that part of the original e-mail as a broad allusion to the various civil offenses allegedly perpetrated by members of the administration.
D.G. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I am amazed and dismayed that the Democrats did not to go to court and obtain an injunction against the RNC on using the White House (and a lot of federal employees) to stage this show on Thursday night, with Donitto Mussolini performing.
V & Z respond: We assume the members of Team Trump missed the irony of concluding the evening with some Italian opera.
R.M. in Long Valley, NJ, writes: Having recently watched Shark Week, I'm now confronted with Trump Week. Each day featuring a story on the great orange and the various remoras hanging on for dear life. So sad, so sad.
M.A.H. in Akron, PA, writes: Here are some former Obama staffers talking about the conventions. One makes a point that Al Gore and John McCain both got convention bounces because they, like Trump, were under-performing during their conventions.
R.K. Denver, CO, writes: You repeatedly referred to RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel by including the former "Romney" portion of her name. Is there a reason you continue to mis-name her in your posts?
While this may seem a minor point for pedantry, I find this kind of deliberate naming to be a little more than problematic. As a transgender individual (or whatever the appropriate terminology is these days), I have a simple expectation that people use my legal name. I try to extend the same courtesy to others and use appropriate names/pronouns as preferred. Deliberately mis-naming someone against their stated intentions comes across as a bit petty, and frankly, unprofessional.
I do understand the background behind it, namely that she likely made the change to please Trump, rather than as an issue of claiming a personal identity (perhaps one and the same?), but that is something that should be somewhat off-limits to scrutiny.
V & Z respond: It is crystal clear to us that this was not her personal choice, as she kept "Romney" for her entire married life, right until a powerful man (Trump) demanded that she change her name as part of the terms of employment. She was obviously (and rightfully) proud of the accomplishments of the Romney family. We view this as an unacceptable exercise of power in an imbalanced relationship, and a form of sexual harassment, and we choose not to be a part of it.
S.B. in New Castle, DE, writes: Thanks for your wonderful coverage of the DNC and RNC conventions. I don't own a television, so I depend upon sites like yours for great summary coverage. As a transgender woman and LGBTQ+ activist, I want to add that the RNC Day 2 "red meat" frenzy included transgender lies and loathing stoked by Cissie Graham Lynch, Billy Graham's granddaughter.
In her speech to the RNC, she repeated the ongoing lie that transgender people, especially male-to-female, pose safety risks in restrooms. The opposite is true. Transgender people are far more likely to be harassed and harmed, regardless of which public restroom they are using. Many articles covered this story, but here are links to stories from The Advocate and Buzzfeed News.
I do agree with Ms. Lynch that President Trump has repeatedly supported this false, transphobic narrative.
N.A. in Cambridge, UK, writes: I spent most of last week trying to pluck up the courage to e-mail you with my own personal perspective on last week's letters and the item Trumpworld is Divided on Transphobia. I chickened out, but A.B.'s letter last week about her experiences in Texas has changed my mind.
I am trans-feminine and non-binary and I live in the United Kingdom, but I have worked in a traditionally conservative industry since I left university and my current and previous employer have their global headquarters in Texas. Both have been led by people I believe are staunchly Republican and when I came out two years ago, I was worried about the reaction that my U.S. coworkers and management might have.
I was, it turns out, wrong in that worry. I have been treated with respect, warmth, and understanding by both U.K. and U.S. coworkers and management. No one in the industry I've dealt with has been less than polite, and I've had no intrusive questions or comments.
Some of my U.S. coworkers, I expect, will vote Republican in the autumn; but based on my own experiences I'm sure that none of them will do so because of transphobia.
A.B. in Wendel, NC, writes: I may be the only person who picked up on this, and I swear you have could knocked me over with a feather! That two-minute Joe Biden ad, the one you posted Friday, talks about the ideal that is America, and he says that it is for everyone, no matter their gender identity, no matter their sexual orientation.
OMG! I am so not used to being thought of at all, much less, for once, put first ahead of LGB! I could literally weep with joy, to not only be remembered without having to ask to be remembered...but in fact, for once to be put first! I am in utter disbelief! I haven't felt this good since Obama became the first President to ever use the word "transgender" in a SOTU address, which happened in 2015. For the first time, I mattered! My community mattered!
Today, at least for a while, I feel that again. And it is good.
P.Z. in Great Falls, VA, writes: I had the privilege of working for Joe Biden for about 3 years in the early 2000s. I know Joe Biden. He was the easiest and most attentive person I ever briefed on complex issues; he could master the fundamentals of almost anything in just a few minutes, and he always read his briefing books. My friends on his staff today indicate that hasn't changed.
Nothing he said at the convention surprised me. VP Biden cares deeply about people, all people. He surely didn't get into politics to enrich himself, unlike his opponent.
I still remember his compassion for his shocked and frightened staff after 9/11. He told us he knew we didn't sign up for combat duty, and that if, in the wake of the 9/11 events and the subsequent anthrax attack, we were afraid to come to work, then we should stay home. But nobody did; if the boss could come in, so could we.
In one word, Joe is a Mensch.
J.D. in Massapequa, NY, writes: I thought I'd send you some of my own experiences on the results of the recent crippling of the USPS. I live in Long Island, NY and overall have been very happy with the Postal Service. I like my mail carriers, personally. My mail usually arrives before noon every day.
In the past few weeks, I've noticed some big changes. In some weeks, mail delivery is skipped one day. For the other weeks, it can come as late as 6 or 7 p.m.
I have been signed up with USPS for "Informed Delivery" for years, where I get an email every morning showing what the day's mail delivery will contain. With it, I can report missing mail. Very often in the past month or so, 50% or more of the mail has been a day or more late.
But here's the real interesting part. I recently placed a large number of orders on eBay while trying to put together a set of out-of-print cooking show DVD sets for my daughter. I ordered dozens of packages, all with tracking numbers. Most arrived within a few days. However, one package had a very interesting journey. It was scheduled to arrive to me on August 16. It was mailed at the post office in Claremore, OK on August 13 at 10:45 am. It arrived at USPS in Tulsa on August 13 at 11:45 pm and departed there on August 14 at 6:27 am. It arrived at the USPS in Dallas on August 14 at 2:15 pm. So far, so good. It now had 2 days to get to New York. But it didn't. The package showed up in my "Informed Delivery" email on August 18, but I didn't receive it. So I tracked it using the tracking number and it said it was delayed and arriving late, but it was in transit to its destination and would be delivered to me by 8 p.m. It wasn't. That tracking status remained the same for several days, except the "by 8pm" part disappeared after a day or so. Eventually, the tracking was updated when the package departed Dallas on August 21 at 3:47 pm. So it sat in the Dallas post office for more than a week.
Instead of sending it to the general distribution center in New York City (as would usually happen for packages coming here), the good folks in Dallas sent this package to the Regional Facility in Jersey City, NJ, where it finally arrived at 9:38 am on August 24 and departed at 10:50 pm that night. According to USPS's tracking website, it remained "in transit" until 8:01 am on August 28, when it arrived at my local Post Office in Massapequa, NY, (roughly 40 miles from Jersey City). It was then put out for delivery 11 minutes later and in my mailbox within 2 hours!
Considering that the mayors of Dallas and New York City (where Long Island mail usually goes before coming here) signed the letter to Congress yesterday to protect the Postal Service, I thought this might help illustrate that the problem is not at all imaginary. Nor is it imaginary that Dallas is a big blue dot in a potentially purple state.
M.D. in Monroe County, PA, writes: The narrative of R.H. in Macungie, PA, scares me. Not that they haven't received a ballot yet, since those won't be printed until the middle of September after any court challenges are completed and the State has certified the ballots. What scares me is that they say the only sorting machine in the Lehigh Valley was removed. All mail in my county goes to the Lehigh Valley to be sorted, even if it is to a local in-county zip code. That in itself has added 2-3 days to mail delivery within our county. Add in the COVID-19 situation, which will flare up in the Fall, and it will definitely add days if not weeks to processing our mail. Just in our one small county (111k registered voters) there could be thousands of ballots that arrive late and aren't counted. Further, our county Commissioners see no need for ballot dropoff boxes beyond the one they have in the County Election Office.
B.G.M. in Newton, MA, writes: I know your site has a fair number of readers in Massachusetts so I hope you'll help me publicize this.
In light of the recent changes to the USPS, I've created a survey for Massachusetts primary voters who are using mail-in ballots. The purpose of the survey is to get some data on how long it really takes ballots to get from elections offices to voters through the mail, and—if voters return their ballot by mail—how long it takes to travel from their mailbox to the elections office.
My hope is that gathering some real-world data from the primary on Sept. 1 might give more insight into what kinds of unofficial deadlines might need to be communicated to voters for the general election (Is three weeks really enough, or might it take longer? Maybe it's safe to send ballots less than three weeks out?). I know that the Massachusetts Secretary of State has just recommended that anyone voting by mail in the primary use drop boxes or hand deliver their ballots, so that option is accounted for in the survey. I think it's just as important to know how long it might take a ballot to reach you once the local elections office puts it in the mail. Personally, mine was mailed last Saturday (8/15) and hasn't reached me as of this writing (morning of 8/22).
This survey isn't guaranteed to be scientific, it's the best I can do as an individual. I'm not affiliated with the State and the survey collects no personal information. Data will be public and shared with state and local elections officials.
J.E.L. from Cincinnati, OH, writes: When you wrote about FiveThirtyEight that "in order to protect that brand, they have gotten a little weaselly over the years" and that the 2016 model gave Trump "about a 20% chance", being "sanguine...about the candidate's chances," and that "[founder Nate] Silver has retconned" the election of Donald Trump into a way to say they weren't really as bullish on his chances as they seemed, it sounded like, at best, you had only a cursory understanding of their model.
First, the final version of the forecast gave Trump a 28.6% chance of winning, which is significantly different from 20% and may be more accurately described as "about 30%" (that was with their polls-only forecast). The final Election Day update on the 2016 model explained the many ways in which the outcome, even without the region-specific polling errors that later came out, was far from certain.
If you look at any of the FiveThirtyEight Presidential models over time (even for 2012 and 2008, although the archived versions of those models are hard to find now), one key feature that shows up when you can be confident of who will win is that the chances of winning diverge sharply in the last few days, as the effect of each passing day on the "time left until the election" factor becomes proportionally greater: Obama went from somewhere in the 70% range to 98.1% in 2008 and from the low 70% range to 90.9% in 2012, and this even happened to Clinton in 2016, rising from almost 65% to a bit above 71%; the divergence wasn't nearly as great for Clinton, and despite not putting much stock in technical analysis generally, the fact that she didn't go at least into the 80% range on Election Day was enough for me to worry.
The language that the current model uses to describe a candidate's lead, whether in the overall race or in each state (or DC, or each congressional district in Maine or New Hampshire), does sound a bit too cautious; all figures are for the candidate the model considers most likely to win:
- ≤60%: "It's a toss-up"
- ≤70%: "slightly favored"
- ≤80%: "favored"
- ≤97%: "clearly favored"
- 97%: "very likely"
V & Z respond: Presuming to quantify the "unknown unknowns" is inherently squishy and unscientific, in our view.
J.W. in Newton, MA, writes: In your response to S.D. from Atlanta, you mention that a 69% probability of a win does not constitute being "slightly favored," as the situation is mis-described by FiveThirtyEight.com. True. It's also interesting to consider why a guy with a 9-point national lead is only favored 69-30. I believe there are two major factors. First, the Silver group tries to account for future drift in opinion, by which I guess they are trying to estimate the probability of events like a Comey-style October surprise. We all know this could happen, but I can't imagine they have the data to calculate these odds with any accuracy. Second, Silver's algorithm doesn't fully trust the polls. The day their prediction algorithm was unveiled, Silver wrote that the election odds would be 93/7 if the election were held that day, which I think could not have been true unless there was systematic error in the polls of that time. I agree with your analysis. Prof. Sam Wang and others trust the numbers, whereas Nate Silver has learned to leave the door open for an improbable upset, so that he can't possibly be shown to have been wrong.
I think the best way to see this race evolve is to track the second of your Electoral College graphs, which shows that Biden can win the election only with those states in which his lead is above the noise floor. If that graph moves toward Trump, we are in real trouble.
S.H. in Tigard, OR, writes: I enjoyed your comments about FiveThirtyEight's hedging their analysis so as to always have predicted a winner. I was reminded of the approach that weather forecasters have been using for the past several years: "There is a 20% chance of rain tomorrow." It does not matter if it rains tomorrow or not, they are always right!
J.K. in Short Hills, NJ, writes: As a market strategist on Wall Street, I find your efforts in aggregating the polling data invaluable ahead of elections, and more impartial than Nate Silver's. I have followed the site since 2004. In 2016, I perhaps took a more granular approach to the numbers you provided and publicly assessed the probability of a Republican sweep at 35%. I wanted to go to 40%, but that seemed a bridge too far (potential "shy Trump phenomenon" in making the prediction was part of my job function). Regardless, I would have not reached my seemingly outlying conclusions without the information you supplied. The site also alerted me to the importance of Virginia as a potential predictor for the rest of the country. While I admittedly projected Hillary Clinton as winning officially, I had much more productive conversations with clients the next morning than most other strategists, who were far more confident in the former Secretary of State's chances. Thanks again for all the work that you do even if I do not always agree with the political commentary!
V & Z respond: When we teach classes, we present students with information, give our assessment of that information, and then hope students use that to form their own conclusions. We are delighted when the students come up with something a little (or a lot) different from what we came up with, assuming they can back it up with sound reasoning and evidence. We have the same philosophy as regards this site.
A.B. in Charleston, WV, writes: Regarding your comments about FiveThirtyEight and Donald Trump's chances of pulling an upset, what I remember as a regular reader of both FiveThirtyEight and Electoral-vote.com was that FiveThirtyEight's mantra before the last election was "Trump is an average polling error away from winning". They started declaring Trump to be an average swing and average error away, making Clinton a big but not overwhelming favorite. Then the polls swung towards Trump, putting him an average polling error away. In the end, the national polls turned out all right, but modest polling errors in the Midwest were enough to throw the result off. This is what Henry Enten said on FiveThirtyEight on November 4, four days before the election:On average, the polls have been off by 2 percentage points, whether because the race moved in the final days or because the polls were simply wrong. In many elections, the race isn't so close, the leader in the polls goes on to win and few people notice the difference between the final polling and election margin. But when the election is close, a few percentage points can matter.
In 2000, George W. Bush led Al Gore in national polls by 3 percentage points, on average. Before the election, much of the talk was that Bush might win the national popular vote but lose the Electoral College. Of course, the opposite happened: Bush won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote. When races are so close, errors like that are possible. State polls can have errors as large as national polls can, and they can benefit different candidates.
All of this is to say that even if Clinton's lead over Trump doesn't shrink anymore, Trump might still win. He would need only a normal-sized polling error.
Claiming that this is something they started saying after the election is just not true.
Personally, I look at The Economist's forecast to get a feel for how big Joe Biden's lead is right now (i.e., if the election were held today, Biden has a 90% chance of winning the Electoral College and 98% chance of winning the popular vote). FiveThirtyEight's model more heavily emphasizes the volatility of our times right now, giving Biden a 70% chance to win. That does not make him an overwhelming favorite in my mind, and a good reminder that a lot can change from now to the election. Your map is good at quickly pointing out the favorite at the moment, so you all complement each other giving me a complete picture of the race.
V & Z respond: There is no question that FiveThirtyEight raised the possibility of a Trump victory before the election but it is also true that they've framed their predictions as unusually bullish for Trump, and so more accurate than anyone else's. This is not true; others gave Trump an equal (or better) chance of winning, most obviously the USC/Dornslife tracking poll. In any event, we agree entirely with your approach of looking at multiple sources to get a better overall picture. Nobody has a monopoly on the truth.
L.E. in Santa Barbara, CA, writes: I would like to second J.T. in Greensboro, NC's sentiment regarding your Q&A and Comments pages. "Entertaining, erudite, and civil..." sums it up so nicely.
Additionally, what J.T. wrote about Web 2.0 is also true. Like the FiveThirtyEight comment section, every Disqus discussion group I've ever read through becomes so aggressive and negative that I have never wanted to participate, much less have a Disqus account. Ugh. So please don't change—even if it means publishing fewer letters or taking a break to get a breather.
V & Z respond: The late, great, sports commentary blog FireJoeMorgan decided after much thought and reflection, at one point, to open up comments. That lasted about six hours.
C.K. in Albuquerque, NM, writes: First off, like many readers have written in to say before, I'd like to thank you for fostering such lovely and intelligent discussion in your weekend sections. Please keep up the great work!
I wanted to take a moment to respond to B.B. in Bangor, ME, regarding their objection to classifying the Libertarian Party as "conservative." I can sympathize, for I was aligned with them during the George W. Bush administration. I made my way in after reading Peter McWilliams' Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do, and the party at that time spoke to the social issues about which I cared deeply: ending the War on Drugs and sodomy laws and other moralizing statutes, things like that. One of my prouder moments was when I donated to them to help them defeat Bob Barr (R-GA), a then-Representative who had drawn their ire for the Defense of Marriage Act and various other bigoted stances on social issues of the day. Their efforts worked, and he was defeated. I felt at home in a party that had just done a good deed and made the country better. Had the story ended here, I would completely agree with B.B.'s objections.
However, in 2008, things changed. It was easy to agree with them as the opposition party when it was George W. Bush they were opposing—to criticize the Iraq war, all the aforementioned social issues. Under President Obama, though, they became the party that hardly ever said a word about those issues, and instead spent all their time opposing the stimulus and economic recovery efforts, the Affordable Care Act, and the overall size of the government in general. Their candidate for the 2008 Presidential election was...Bob Barr, whom they warmly welcomed after he realized how much he really, really hated taxes.
Rust, and Steel, and Snow, Oh My!
A.P. in Holland, MI, writes: In reference to the term "Rust Belt," you wrote: "We just can't find a better term. 'Great Lakes states' would include Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and New York. Philadelphia is not in the Midwest. MIWIPA maybe. We're open to a better term. Maybe 'the three former blue wall states,' but it is kind of long."
This response was very helpful, because it enabled me to understand that the term is not only demeaning but is also problematic when the context is political and the units to be considered are states. What immediately jumped out was your utterly implausible (to me) suggestion that Ohio did not belong to the "Rust Belt." What this made me realize is that the term "Rust Belt," insofar as it has a descriptive use, is in the first instance applicable not to states, but to a collection of urban areas that experienced industrial decline a couple of generations ago. Cities like Youngstown, Akron, and Cleveland, Ohio clearly belong to the "Rust Belt." Ditto for Gary, Indiana, and (at least in my view) Buffalo, New York. Thus, the term "Rust Belt" when used to refer to Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania exclusively is doubly inapt: it is a disparaging way to refer to a region (and one that happens to be electorally significant this cycle), and it is geographically inaccurate by leaving out many of the industrial centers that the expression is intended to include.
It seems to me, on further reflection, that if one is forced to preserve states as the unit of discussion, "Great Lakes States" is not only a more neutral phrase, but more successful at including the cities that are naturally but negatively captured by the term "Rust Belt." Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania as a group are just going to need their own name. Anyway, thanks for your response, which helped me to think through this matter in a way that at least for me seemed to clarify things.
J.G. in Fredonia, NY, writes: I was born and raised and schooled in northeast Michigan, moved around the East Coast for college and grad school and some jobs, and have spent the last few decades in western New York near Lake Erie. I don't consider "rust belt" to be a derogatory term. I am a bit surprised that you have been bullied into changing to "Midwest" as the designation. Does "Midwest" include Pittsburgh? "Great Lakes" doesn't include Philadelphia, but is Philadelphia in the "Rust Belt"?
The manufacturing area developed from iron ore deposits near Lake Superior and the coal deposits in western Pennsylvania and West Virgina. Transport by shipping and rail brought the raw materials to Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo. The steel produced provided the basis for car frames, engines, fenders, railroad rails, among a myriad of other metal products. And then the boom busted.
I have done some hiking in the state and national forests in northwestern Pennsylvania. Off the standard trails with a little bushwhacking, it is easy to come across abandoned oil wells, rusty pipes and metal structures. Whether the wells have been properly capped, who knows, but the general area has certainly not been cleaned up. The remnants of the early booms are dwindling away but have not been dealt with well.
Locally, there are some new wind turbines on the escarpment. The transmission lines are carried on poles that are constructed of steel. The steel is CORTEN, which is a steel that forms a surface oxidation layer that is stable.
Moving from manufacturing products like steel to other endeavors is a little like moving from rusty old pipe to Corten. I believe that recognizing the boom to bust to recovery is covered well in "rust belt." The recovery can be a point of pride.
A.C. in Columbus, OH, writes: Your use of the moniker "Rust Belt" seems to have stirred up quite a few passionate feelings. Being born and raised in Ohio, I get it, but I also don't think "Rust Belt" is entirely inaccurate, especially if you spend time around the Akron-Canton-Youngstown area of the state. Even though I personally don't find the term offensive, I can see how some could. That said, an alternate term for the region that has long been in use and does not have the negative connotations is "Snow Belt." We Midwesterners like to think of ourselves as a hardy bunch, and in particular we pride ourselves on our ability to handle the harsh winters that sweep through the region as a result of the lake-effect snow. The "Snow Belt" is generally understood to include the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and northern New York, especially the city of Buffalo, which is culturally indistinguishable from Cleveland or Milwaukee.
Further, I find using the term "Rust Belt" can be somewhat confusing, as there are other major industrial cities that have experienced decline but are not considered part of the region, such as St. Louis, Missouri, or Baltimore, Maryland. With the name "Snow Belt" there is no confusion about which states you are talking about. So if you want to prevent your readers breaking out the torches and pitchforks in the future, take it from this Buckeye and consider using "Snow Belt" instead of "Rust Belt."
S.C. in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada , writes: I read the comment from A.M. in Los Angeles in amazement. It is really quite rich for Americans to decry human rights violations against the Uyghurs. I am reminded of a cartoon that I saw, but cannot find again. It goes like this:
- The U.S. went to war in Afghanistan to kill Muslims
- The U.S. went to war in Iraq to kill Muslims in 1991, 2003, and 2014
- The U.S. went to war in Pakistan to kill Muslims
- The U.S. bombed Libya to kill Muslims in 1986, 2011, and 2015
- The U.S. abandoned the Kurdish Muslims to be killed en masse
- The U.S. banned all travel from Muslim countries
- But, Uyghur Muslims in China are really special
Also, even ignoring the U.S. treatment of Muslims; it is really a bad time for the U.S. to criticize anyone for human rights violations, what with genocide of natives, Black Lives Matter, extreme economic inequality, etc.
M.H. in Beijing, China, writes: In the August 23rd mailbag, A.M. from Los Angeles used the "a million Uyghurs" rhetoric again in their mail about China, yet offered little new information or evidence. So I feel compelled to write and provide a different perspective.
I find it sad and alarming that many U.S. people who have never been to Xinjiang in particular, and to China in general, and who can't read the Uyghur or Chinese languages, have chosen to firmly believe what they have heard from English-language media. Those accounts are basically based on two very biased reports, one from the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (that had only actually interviewed eight people), and the other from Adrian Zenz (who quoted data from Turkish media for exiled Uyghurs that did not clarify sources and were not corroborated).
On the other hand, the Chinese government and ordinary citizens have said multiple times that these numbers are grossly exaggerated, and these re-education centers, as Chinese called them, are necessary and good for the overwhelming majority of Uyghur people and people of other ethnicities in Xinjiang. There are also external reports, including one by the United Nations, that basically agree with the Chinese government on this issue. Some of these explanations, with video evidence, are in English and easily available to interested readers who want to know the whole picture.
The China-US relationship is definitely turning from mainly cooperation into mainly confrontation, and this is probably inevitable. There is even the undeniable possibility of warfare. However I would like to ask U.S. people to fully know what they are fighting for, and not to get fooled by interest groups who stand to benefit from a China-US conflict. Don't let "a million Uyghurs" become a phrase that stands next to "Saddam's weapons of mass destruction" in history books.
V & Z respond: Re-education centers are necessary and good? For whom? Surely not for the people moved there by force.
K.C. in West Islip, NY, writes: On Friday, (PD) wrote: "Remote education is going to transform higher education (and maybe high school as well). Many classes can be taught on a computer terminal rather than in a classroom."
I respectfully insist that the inclusion of remote learning in high school is decidedly not a positive. I've been a high school teacher for 15 years, the son of a high school teacher for 34 years and the sibling of two teachers—one elementary and one middle school. I don't write out of the fear that remote education at the pre-collegiate level will cause risk to my job, but out of concern that high school aged children, by and large, simply need to be in brick-and-mortar schools. Among the myriad reasons remote learning is a negative for teenagers is the frequent lack of personal drive to do what is necessary to learn effectively on one's own without the guiding hand of a teacher. Not to mention, of course, the real biggie—social development. I understand that kids these days (and just saying that makes me sound like a boomer, I get that) communicate differently. Social media is a big deal—your Instagrams, Snapchats and Tik Toks are a big part of the adolescent connectivity playbook. However, there's still no substitute for the social interaction kids get at school.
While doing remote learning since the end of March, I would occasionally ask my students what they liked and disliked about it and at one point asked very directly: "Would you rather be in school or learn from home? Please explain why." Over 90% of the students were adamant that they would rather be in school. The two most common reasons given were that: (1) in school they can get more useful help from their teachers and their peers and (2) they could be with their friends again. Kids aren't stupid. They know what they need to grow into successful adults. Whether they show that in the way they act on a day-to-day basis is irrelevant. Teenagers are often prone to acting foolishly because they're teenagers and they haven't made the mistakes yet that they'll eventually learn from. Nevertheless, despite what they may project in their behaviors, they do know that being in school is immensely better for them in the long haul.
Remote learning is fine at the college level, more so at the graduate level, where I myself have taken some courses online. However, even I've at times tended to "flake out" a bit when I could have taken those courses more seriously. I, a teacher who values education and who encourages kids every day to work hard, do their best and never give up even if they're struggling to understand difficult science concepts, have a hard time focusing on courses outside of the traditional classroom. Imagine the lasting damage that could ensue if these teens weren't able to get the proper education and develop the necessary social skills they can only get by being in school the way it was intended. There may be a lot of positives to come out of COVID-19, as PD outlined, but remote high school is definitely not one.
M.G.F. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: I'd like to challenge PD's assertion that online delivery of education provides cost savings.
In fact, high quality education in any setting is reliant on student access to expert instructors. That fact strictly limits class sizes, regardless of delivery medium (or instructors will be unable to provide students individual attention and feedback). Furthermore, typing responses to student questions can be substantially more time consuming (and involve much more back and forth to fully capture any confusion) than having a conversation in person; limiting further any labor reductions.
Because the majority of costs in any business are the human labor, any savings from online classes are negligible at best. And that's before considering that the schools' physical plant is a sunk cost, while new investments need to be made to build the online infrastructure.
P.S. in Atlanta, GA, writes: America, and those countries currently doing virtual learning around the world, are currently engaged in the largest educational experiment that has ever taken place. Except no one is in charge, there are no controls, and no one knows how this will end. And the results could well shape these students, and this country, for the next couple of decades:
- Teachers were not adequately prepared. Many districts here in Georgia spent the summer hoping that the virus would go away, and doing nothing to actually prepare for the realities of virtual teaching, including preparing the internal physical infrastructure, ensuring adequate saturation of technology in the community, and preparing teachers.
- Because of this, for the majority of teachers, this is going to be like their first year all over again. Most teachers don't become truly effective until around their third year of teaching, if they make it that far. Add to this the complications of inadequate software, apathetic students, and a nation divided about their worth as professionals and it is a dark time to be in any classroom.
- There has been an unprecedented and uncounted brain drain from around the country of older experienced educators who have left the profession for greener pastures or retirement and younger teachers who didn't choose to risk their health in in-person classes. The impact of this is still unknown.
- The impact of virtual learning on this cohort's education will take years to manifest itself. At a micro level, educational research can see changes quickly, but at a macro level it is almost impossible to see confirmation that quickly. We won't know if virtual learning works, and for what classes, for a couple of years after this pandemic.
So, in short, it is presumptive and premature to assume that virtual learning is working. Personally speaking, it has destroyed everything I hold dear about education.
The Historical Profession
C.R. in Pelham, AL, writes: Two additional debates for historians, both related, are the objectivity and public engagement questions. Old line historians saw a need to remain above the political fray and provide unbiased analysis (while acknowledging that everyone has their own bias) intended to inform decision-makers. They tended to focus on political, economic, and military history. Younger historians, many of whom work in gender, social, and environmental history, see an obligation to use their research to fuel and accelerate social change, which often leads to a backlash against the discipline by both students and administrators, in the form of declining enrollments and reduced budgets.
V & Z respond: Yes, it turns out that the old-school stuff tends to be much more popular with students, albeit totally unpalatable to many of today's academics.
T.W. in Murfreesboro, TN, writes: I read with interest your answer to the question about controversial issues among U.S. historians. I've noticed a divide you didn't mention between those who still organize their writing around great figures or major socioeconomic currents (your 1920s divide) and those who see history as also made of ordinary people whose collective life stories can be assembled to portray the history of a particular time or place.
I often read manuscripts for proposed books and articles for academic editors, some written by historians, and I've been impressed with recent efforts of the latter sort that place considerable emphasis on the lives of ordinary people. This is most evident among feminist historians, but I am also encountering it elsewhere (case in point, John Nevin, The Grim Years, University of South Carolina Press, 2020).
V & Z respond: Yep, "history from the bottom up" (as opposed to "history from the top down") got its start in the 1960s (for obvious reasons, namely the influence of the Civil Rights Movement and other grassroots activism) and became a dominant mode in the 1970s and 1980s. There were also sub-schools; when (Z) started grad school, just about everyone seemed to be doing community studies where they closely examined a small or smallish town over a very short period of time (i.e. "Change and Continuity in El Segundo, 1946-51").
D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: You wrote that the only way Joe Biden could lose Massachusetts is: "Maybe declare that the only "real" clam chowder is Manhattan-style clam chowder."
Truly grateful that you didn't bring up the Pats or the Yankees, and that you are focusing on the really substantive difference between New York and Massachusetts. What you don't realize is that Joe would lose a lot of cred in New York with a declaration like that. Each summer, tens of thousands of New Yorkers migrate to Cape Cod to eat the only true real clam chowdah. Trust me, nobody comes to NYC for its phony excuse of clam chowder. Evvvaahhh.
V & Z respond: Based on the responses we got, it would seem the one thing that everyone can agree on is that Manhattan clam chowder is a mistake of nature.
F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: On August 21, you wrote wrote "If Biden is busy with other stuff, a split could develop in the administration on foreign policy. On one side are neoliberals, who want to return to the status quo ante Trumpum." So apparently you think that the term "neoliberal" is not meaningless. But on August 13, you wrote "As expected, some progressives were not happy with the pick, with some of them slamming Harris as yet another neoliberal (a word that, like 'socialist,' has been deployed so many times as a weapon that it has become almost meaningless)." In my opinion, this is inconsistent. Either you think that the term "neoliberal" is meaningless or not meaningless.
V & Z respond: This seems like a little bit of a "gotcha" comment. In any event, there is no inconsistency at all. The first passage was written and signed by (V), the latter by (Z); it's entirely possible we feel differently on this particular point. Beyond that, (Z)'s formulation leaves open the possibility that the term can be meaningful, but only when used properly (which it was in V's sentence). It's the difference between "Bernie Sanders identifies as a socialist" (which is true and correct) and "If the Democrats are elected, they will turn America into a socialist country" (which is empty rhetoric).
S.T. in Glen Rock, NJ, writes: "The T & A News Channel (Trump & America News Channel)." Ha! I see what you did there.
I know you run a family-friendly website but I'm sure "Saturday Night Live's" "Network Battle of the T's and A's" would fit in on the "T&A Network."
V & Z respond: Who's been spreading the vicious slander that we're a family-friendly site?
J.C. in Tysons, VA writes: I smiled broadly at your reference to Humphrey's Peak with respect to Kanye West collecting enough signatures to appear on Arizona's ballot. For those readers that may not know, Humphrey's Peak represents the highest point of elevation in the Grand Canyon State. As a native of Flagstaff, which sits at the mountain's base, I can tell you that the climb and trail are deceptively tough. Kanye likely couldn't handle the elevation gain or lower oxygen levels, let alone the lightning that plagues the ascent this time of year. A fitting metaphor for his nascent campaign!
J.K. in Silverdale, WA, writes: I find it puzzling that followers of QAnon think that Q is anonymous. Q is a well known antagonist of humanity:
V & Z respond: Blasphemy! You're lucky we don't cast you out, or smite you, or something.
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug29 Today's Presidential Polls
Aug28 And That's a Wrap
Aug28 In Kenosha, Trump Sees Opportunity
Aug28 Team Biden Finally Does Some Counter-programming
Aug28 This White House May Not Be Transparent, but Its Motives Are
Aug28 U.S. Chamber of Commerce Breaks Left
Aug28 Japanese PM Is Out
Aug28 COVID-19 Diaries: Stasis
Aug28 Today's Presidential Polls
Aug27 Conventional, Night Three
Aug27 No Convention Bounce for Biden
Aug27 Trump Goes Dark
Aug27 What Do Trump Supporters Care About?
Aug27 "Suburban Housewives" Aren't Buying What Trump Is Selling
Aug27 LeBron James Is Launching a Multimillion-Dollar Campaign to Recruit Poll Workers
Aug27 Hundreds of Thousands of Seniors in Nursing Homes May Not Be Able to Vote
Aug27 Michigan May Mail Absentee Ballot Application to All Registered Voters
Aug27 Kanye West Failed to Qualify for the November Ballot in Missouri
Aug27 Green Party Will Not Be on the Montana Ballot
Aug27 Stephanie Bice Will Face Kendra Horn in OK-05
Aug27 Elections Were Not Always Close
Aug27 Today's Presidential Polls
Aug27 Today's Senate Polls
Aug26 The Trumpman Show, Night Two
Aug26 RNC Lagging DNC in Ratings
Aug26 Melania Trump's Kumbayah Moment May Soon Fade
Aug26 Today's Republican Endorsements for Biden
Aug26 Trump Taps Chad Wolf for Permanent DHS Post
Aug26 Today's Presidential Polls
Aug26 Today's Senate Polls
Aug25 Jacob Blake Shooting, Response Provide Backdrop for RNC
Aug25 FDA Grossly Misrepresented the Value of the Blood Plasma Treatment
Aug25 Many Republicans Endorse Biden
Aug25 No Convention Bounce for Biden
Aug25 Falwell Saga Grows More Sordid...Maybe a Lot More
Aug25 Trump Effectively Loses Pennsylvania Case
Aug25 Letitia James Is Not Happy with the Trump Organization
Aug25 Today's Presidential Polls
Aug25 Today's Senate Polls
Aug24 The Republican National Convention Begins Today
Aug24 Trump Enters His Convention in a Historically Weak Position
Aug24 Conways to Exit, Stage Left
Aug24 YouGov Poll: Biden 52%, Trump 42%
Aug24 Biden's Favorability Goes Up
Aug24 Trump Announces an Untested COVID-19 Treatment over Scientists' Objections
Aug24 House Approves $25 Billion for the Postal Service
Aug24 Trump's Sister Says Her Brother Has No Principles
Aug24 Republicans May Use Voter Intimidation