Your Vote Matters, Now and Forever

I closed Monday’s review of my House predictions with an observation that I amazingly haven’t seen anyone else make: the Republicans actually came very close to capturing control of the House of Representatives. How close?

The current seat count in the U.S. House of Representatives is Democratic 220, Republican 202 – likely to go up to Republican 205 once the final three seats are decided. That means that if eight elections had gone Republican instead, the count would be Republican 213 Democratic 212.

The table below shows the eight closest races in which the Democratic candidate won. Adding up all the margins gives the minimum number of extra Republican votes that would have been required to give control of the House to the Republicans – provided of course all the votes had come in exactly the right places.

DistrictDemocraticD votesRepublicanR votesMarginPct
WI-3Kind199,870Van Orden189,52410,3462.7%
TX-15V. Gonzalez115,594De La Cruz-Hernandez109,0056,5892.9%
The eight closest races with a Democratic winner

The final count: 66,674. That’s not very many voters.

Lesson: Your vote matters. VOTE!

Presidential election prediction 3: COVID-19 campaign edition

A microscope image of SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19
One year ago, this virus only infected bats and pangolins.
Today, the President of the United States.

Well that was unexpected.

We got our October Surprise (TM) early this time. Just 25 hours into the month of October, at 1 AM ET on Friday, October 2nd, President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

Later the same day, he was reported to have started showing symptoms, although it is unclear when his symptoms began. By that night, he had been moved to Walter Reed Medical Center and placed on supplemental oxygen.

Today at 6:30 PM ET, Trump left Walter Reed Medical Center. I don’t think he’ll be back – not because he won’t need to go back, but rather because his medical staff is busy installing whatever is required to turn the White House into a hospital. If Trump’s condition worsens, the hospital will come to him.

And unfortunately, the typical trajectory of COVID-19 is for patients to improve for a few days and then get worse again. The up-and-down cycle continues until either the patient is healthy enough that they no longer need acute care, or they die. Obviously I hope for a quick, steady, and painless recovery for him and for everyone he may have infected – but I fear that is unlikely at best.

How this will affect the presidential election depends on how quickly Trump recovers, and how effectively his doctors can hide any relapses. We are seeing data only from the very first polls since Trump announced his diagnosis, and they seem to be heavily critical of Trump. For example, in a new Ipsos poll, 67 percent of registered voters agree with the statement, “If President Trump had taken coronavirus/COVID-19 more seriously, he probably would not have been infected with the coronavirus/COVID-19.” Considering how incredibly difficult it is to get 67 percent of people to agree on anything in today’s partisan environment, that’s a strong signal.

Similarly, polling data is starting to turn more strongly in favor of Biden, and that is reflected in the updated prediction map below. I realized that linking directly to the 270towin geographic map means that I can’t link to a larger version of the prediction map. So below is the prediction map, and if you’d like to try it for yourself, see the link below it.

As always, I try to report the data as clearly as I can. I care more about the truth than I care about what I think.

My predicted election results as of today, October 5, 2020

Make your own predictions using mine as a template at!

The final score prediction is the same: Biden 320, Trump 218. But some of the predicted confidence levels have changed:

  • Probably most importantly for determining the outcome: with Biden opening up a six-point aggregate polling lead there, I have switched Pennsylvania from “tilt Biden” to “lean Biden”
  • And similarly, I have changed both New Hampshire and Nebraska’s second congressional district to lean Biden
  • Perhaps most surprisingly, polling in Georgia is now basically a dead heat, so I have moved Georgia from “lean Trump” to “tilt Trump.”

Don’t be surprised if some of these states tilt back toward Trump now that the President is out of the hospital. But still, time is running out for Trump’s re-election chances – many people have already voted.

Including me – I dropped my ballot in the city lockbox on Saturday afternoon, and I got confirmation today that it has been received and counted. My voice has counted, and I hope yours will too. Vote!

I need a better way (very brief daily COVID-19 data update CLXXXII)

A hamster running on a wheel very very fast
My Mac’s processor trying to keep up with the calculations required by my COVID-19 spreadsheet

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has affected so many people in so many places that my spreadsheet has gotten too big to work with. Going from the raw data provided by the Corona Data Scraper citizen science project to my graphs now literally takes about 4 hours of constant attention to Excel. I’ll have to rethink my approach.

Most likely I’ll do the preprocessing in Python, a simple but powerful programming language used by scientists all over the Universe. I’ll try to provide step-by-step instructions on how to how to run Python, and to document my programs extensively, so you can try them yourself. Even though Python can make graphs, I plan to continue making the graphs in Excel, because it’s a simple tool that so many of you already know how to use.

It might be a few days until my next COVID-19 update. In the meantime, I’ll keep posting other things on my usual Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, including something coming later today.

Repeal and Replace or Circumvent?: Comparative Uses of the Presidential

Approximately a photo of Mac: dude with a mustache and bushy sideburns
Not actually Mac

Guest Post!
One of the joys of being alive is having smart, curious friends to talk with – or to write guest posts for your blog. I’d love to see more of these, especially from friends with perspectives and opinions different from my own – email me your ideas!

Today it’s awesome friend Mac writing with a cool little study on how the last four U.S. Presidents have used their power to write executive orders. Enjoy!

Trump is widely known for his criticisms of Obama’s use of executive orders to circumvent congress and the political process.

Why is @BarackObama currently issuing executive orders that are major power grabs at authority? This is the latest

However, since Trump became president he has frequently used executive orders as a way of getting things done. For an explanation of and historical primer on executive orders, check out this JSTOR daily article. True policy and history nerds, read on. In the first year of his presidency, he was on pace to use double the number of executive orders that President Obama had used. In fact, Obama used the executive order less than any president since Cleveland. So why has Trump, once a critic of the executive order, suddenly begun using it to pass legislation?

One explanation for this could be that he is simply using executive orders to erase the bad policy of his much maligned (on the political right) predecessor, “Mr. Trump…worked to deregulate industries and dismantle Obama-era programs through executive order.” And certainly, examples of this abound, highlighted by news media and Trump’s own promises of undoing Obama’s work. But how common is this? How often did past presidents use executive orders to revoke legislation of their predecessors? And taking this into account, if Trump is really only using executive orders to repeal his predecessors’ legislation, how often is he using it to circumvent the regular legislative process?

Luckily for us, there’s some data to dig into. Enter the Federal Register. An office of the National Archives and Records Administration, the Federal Register helps citizens and policy wonks alike understand current proposed and passed legislation covering everything from marine safety to administrative practice and procedure to government procurement and to our friend, the executive order.

Listing documents back to 1994, the Federal Register lets anyone download all executive orders from almost all of Bill Clinton’s presidency to the current administration. As part of the dataset, they include disposition notes that contain helpful information on whether the executive order revokes, amends, or supersedes any other executive orders with relevant dates. From here, we can further analyze which executive orders were rolling back previous legislation that was viewed as outdated or bad policy, and which were used to fully circumvent the legislative process. Below is that breakdown.

Presidential Use of Executive Orders and Revocations

President # of EOs Revocations of previous EOs Revocations as % of EOs Months in Office Average EOs – revocations per month
Trump 86 18 21% 21 3.24
Obama 276 60 22% 96 2.25
Bush 291 79 27% 96 2.21
Clinton* 274 66 24% 84 2.47
*Clinton’s executive orders are circa 1994, as far back as the Federal Register tracks them.

We can see here that not only does Trump have the highest number of executive orders per month of being president compared to his three predecessors, but he actually has the lowest number of revocations as a percent of total executive orders issued. So, not only is Trump issuing a lot of executive orders, but he, more than his three predecessors, is doing so mostly to circumvent the legislative process, not to revoke Obama’s, or any other presidents’, own executive orders.