The biggest stories of 2023
What mattered most in data and politics, as chosen by you.
No. 297 | December 29, 2023
For this year-end edition of The Intersection, I’ve taken the most clicked-on links from this year’s weekly roundups and organized them into a mega-roundup of the links most popular with subscribers in 2023. I’ve enjoyed bringing you this roundup week-in, week-out in 2023, and look forward to expanding The Intersection’s coverage and reach in 2024. If you’ve found this newsletter useful, I hope you’ll consider supporting it as a paid subscriber. And another way you can show your support is by grabbing a copy of my book, Party of the People: Inside the Multiracial Populist Coalition Remaking the GOP, named one of the year’s top books by The Wall Street Journal. I developed many of the ideas in the book in the process of putting together this newsletter, and your support was instrumental to making it happen.
🏆 2023’s Top Links
“It’s been nearly a decade since I first attended the annual conference of pollsters, known as AAPOR.
Back then, it was a very different place. It was dominated by traditional pollsters who knew change was inevitable but who appeared uncomfortable with the sacrifices required to accommodate new people, methods and ideas.
At the time, that gathering reminded me of the Republican Party, which was then grappling with how to deal with demographic change and Hispanic voters in the wake of Barack Obama’s re-election. There are obvious differences, but the AAPOR crowd’s talk about reaching out to new groups and ideas was animated by similar senses of threat that the Republicans were facing then — the concern posed by long-term trends, the status threat from newcomers, and the sense that traditional values would be threatened by accommodating new ideas.”
The 2020-2022 Split Ticket Atlas (Echelon Insights)
Echelon Insights is excited to present our state and county-level visualization of split-ticket voting from 2020 to 2022. Across every state with a two-party Senate election in the last two cycles, this deck shows you exactly where Donald Trump, and Republicans running for Senate or Governor performed strongest — The must-have dataset for strategists and political enthusiasts, the Split Ticket Atlas shows you in full color the coalitions that led to the surprising outcome of the 2022 midterms.
“The 2022 election defied conventional wisdom and historical trends. In a typical midterm election year with one-party control of the presidency, House and Senate, the incumbent party would expect major losses. Instead, Democrats re-elected every incumbent senator and expanded their Senate majority by a seat, won the overwhelming majority of heavily contested gubernatorial elections, gained control of 4 state legislative chambers, and only narrowly lost the U.S. House.
Recent midterms have typically involved national waves that favor one party over the other, particularly when there’s backlash against a party that controls the presidency and both chambers of Congress.”
Nate Cohn: Consistent Signs of Erosion in Black and Hispanic Support for Biden (The New York Times)
“President Biden is underperforming among nonwhite voters in New York Times/Siena College national polls over the last year, helping to keep the race close in a hypothetical rematch against Donald J. Trump.
On average, Mr. Biden leads Mr. Trump by just 53 percent to 28 percent among registered nonwhite voters in a compilation of Times/Siena polls from 2022 and 2023, which includes over 1,500 nonwhite respondents.
The results represent a marked deterioration in Mr. Biden’s support compared with 2020, when he won more than 70 percent of nonwhite voters. If he’s unable to revitalize this support by next November, it will continue a decade-long trend of declining Democratic strength among voters considered to be the foundation of the party.”
Nate Cohn: Why Less Engaged Voters Are Biden's Biggest Problem (The New York Times)
“Mr. Biden may be weak among young, Black and Hispanic voters today, but that weakness is almost entirely concentrated among the voters who stayed home last November. As a consequence, Democrats paid little to no price for it in the midterms, even as polls of all registered voters or adults show Mr. Biden struggling mightily among these same groups against Mr. Trump.
These less engaged voters might just be the single biggest problem facing Mr. Biden in his pursuit of re-election, the Times/Siena data suggests. If there’s any good news for Mr. Biden, it’s that his challenge is concentrated among voters who still consider themselves Democrats — a group that, in theory, ought to be open to returning to the president’s side.”
Nate Cohn: Trump’s Electoral College Edge Seems to Be Fading (The New York Times)
“The early polls show Donald J. Trump and President Biden tied nationwide. Does that mean Mr. Trump has a clear advantage in the battleground states that decide the Electoral College?
It’s a reasonable question, and one I see quite often. In his first two presidential campaigns, Mr. Trump fared far better in the battleground states than he did nationwide, allowing him to win the presidency while losing the national vote in 2016 and nearly doing it again in 2020. But there’s a case that his Electoral College advantage has faded.”
“Imagine that there are just two months to go until Election Day, and you’re managing a presidential campaign. You have choices to make on where to invest your precious resources to both convince persuadable voters and turn out your base.
POLITICO partnered with Split Ticket, an election analysis publication, to create a choose-your-own-adventure game that shows the electoral dynamics across states. Split Ticket defined eight clusters that group similar counties across the country based on political and demographic statistics such as partisanship and racial demographics.”
“A foundational flaw with contemporary political analysis is the presumption that what is true generally in the United States is also true in whichever state or jurisdiction matters at the moment. Much of what ‘everyone knows’ about politics depends on taking for granted that what is characteristic of a group is also characteristic of the individuals in the group. Formally, these are known as ecological fallacies. Informally, many ecological fallacies – once they are sufficiently discredited – come to be known as stereotypes or prejudices.
I’ll begin with illustrations of a few of the most common ecological fallacies in circulation. Along the way, we’ll see that Pew’s “gold standard” validated voter study of the 2022 midterms offered easy offramps from believing some of the silliest ecological fallacies about demographics – but the media sped past those offramps, insisting on continuing to go in the wrong direction in spite of the evidence.”
“The story of how the Democrats kept the Senate in 2022 can be told in one simple sentence: Democrats had really strong candidates, and Republicans nominated some incredibly weak challengers. We have made several wins-above-replacement models, and in many of them, the Republican Achilles heel of candidate quality has reared its head to varying degrees. but the 2022 GOP field of battleground challengers might be the weakest candidate field that we have ever seen a major political party put up in the modern era of American politics.”
“Our Wins Above Replacement model for the Senate shares many of the same characteristics as our 2022 House WAR model (and, in fact, is trained on the same dataset). It controls for a state’s demographics, its partisanship in 2016 and 2020, incumbency, and the financial disparities between candidates. Using this, we then evaluate the real result and compare it to the predicted margin. The results are displayed in the map below, and an interactive table can be found here.”
📊 Public Opinion
Nate Silver: Polling averages shouldn't be political litmus tests (Silver Bulletin)
“This past week, the new Editorial Director of Data Analytics at ABC News, G. Elliott Morris, who was brought in to work with the remaining FiveThirtyEight team, sent a letter to the polling firm Rasmussen Reports demanding that they answer a series of questions about their political views and polling methodology or be banned from FiveThirtyEight’s polling averages, election forecasts and news coverage. I found several things about the letter to be misguided.”
Andrew Mercer and Arnold Lau: Comparing Two Types of Online Survey Samples (Pew Research Center)
“As the field of public opinion research continues its steady movement toward online data collection, probability-based panels and opt-in samples have emerged as the two most common approaches to surveying individuals online. At the same time, the methodologies and industry practices for both kinds of samples are evolving.
To shed light on the current state of online probability-based and opt-in samples, Pew Research Center conducted a study to compare the accuracy of six online surveys of U.S. adults – three from probability-based panels and three from opt-in sources. This is the first such study to include samples from multiple probability-based panels, allowing for their side-by-side comparison.
The study compared each sample’s accuracy on 28 benchmark variables drawn from high-quality government data sources. These benchmarks included a variety of measures on topics such as voting, health, and respondents’ work, family and living situations. (Refer to the appendix for the full list of benchmarks and their sources.)”
David Montgomery: How Americans label their own political identities (YouGov)
“Some labels are more popular than others. Topping the list are two normally opposed labels that activists deliberately crafted to be appealing: “pro-choice” (33%) and “pro-life” (29%). Other popular labels include “conservative” (28%), “moderate” (21%), “progressive” (18%).
On the other end, just 1% say “anarchist” is a good description of their politics, while only 4% say the same about each of “radical” or “populist.”
Americans are more willing to say labels describe their politics “partially,” with more than half saying the most popular labels describe them to this extent.”
Daniel Cox: Why Young Men Are Turning Against Feminism (American Storylines)
“In the run-up to the 2022 election, scattered reports of young people turning out to vote in large numbers showed up on social media. Viral videos showed long lines of college students waiting eagerly to vote early. But most of these videos showed lines of predominantly female college voters. Their male classmates were conspicuously absent.
The 2022 election saw the second-highest youth turnout in the past three decades, with abortion driving many young voters to the voting booth. But pre-election polls showed the issue was much more salient for young women than men. A survey we conducted leading up to the midterm election revealed that abortion was a critical priority for 61 percent of young women but only 32 percent of young men. These distinctive priorities raise two questions: what's driving the growing distance between young men and women, and what impact will this growing gap have on our politics?”
Nate Cohn: Millennials Are Not an Exception. They’ve Moved to the Right. (The New York Times)
“Fifteen years ago, a new generation of young voters propelled Barack Obama to a decisive victory that augured a new era of Democratic dominance. Fifteen years later, those once young voters aren’t so young — and aren’t quite so Democratic.
In the 2020 presidential election, voters who were 18 to 29 in 2008 backed Joe Biden by 55 percent to 43 percent, according to our estimates, a margin roughly half that of Mr. Obama’s 12 years earlier.
The exit polls show it even closer, with Mr. Biden winning by just 51-45 among voters who were 18 to 27 in 2008 (exit polls report results among those 30 to 39, not 30 to 41 — the group that was 18 to 29 in 2008).”
David Byler: 5 myths about politics, busted by data (The Washington Post)
“Politics is full of false stereotypes. Journalists (myself included) often toss out generalizations — “Republicans are the rural party!” or “Democrats now win White college graduates!” — in an attempt to make some broader point. In their haste, they paint cartoonish or inaccurate portraits of voters from both parties.
Thankfully, the Pew Research Center recently released data that might help. Its validated voter survey, which uses official state records to check whether respondents really voted, dispels five common political misconceptions:”
David Byler: Racial identity is more fluid than you might think (The Washington Post)
“Many Americans assume race is a constant: something people are born into and that — like their birth date or country of origin — simply doesn’t change.
But for a surprising number of us, race is a fluid concept. Polling data show that roughly 8 percent of adults jumped from one racial category to another in recent years. And that has important political implications for the Republican Party.
On the most basic question of race — ‘What racial or ethnic group best describes you?’ — many who initially identified as Hispanic, multiracial or “other” changed their answers in the second round.”
Kim Parker: How Pew Research Center will report on generations moving forward (Pew Research Center)
“Pew Research Center has been at the forefront of generational research over the years, telling the story of Millennials as they came of age politically and as they moved more firmly into adult life. In recent years, we’ve also been eager to learn about Gen Z as the leading edge of this generation moves into adulthood.
But generational research has become a crowded arena. The field has been flooded with content that’s often sold as research but is more like clickbait or marketing mythology. There’s also been a growing chorus of criticism about generational research and generational labels in particular.
Recently, as we were preparing to embark on a major research project related to Gen Z, we decided to take a step back and consider how we can study generations in a way that aligns with our values of accuracy, rigor and providing a foundation of facts that enriches the public dialogue.”
🤖 Artificial Intelligence
“Everyone is about to get access to the single most useful, interesting mode of AI I have used - ChatGPT with Code Interpreter. I have had the alpha version of this for a couple months (I was given access as a researcher off the waitlist), and I wanted to give you a little bit of guidance as to why I think this is a really big deal, as well as how to start using it.
Code Interpreter continues OpenAI’s long tradition of giving terrible names to things, because it might be most useful for those who do not code at all. It essentially allows the most advanced AI available, GPT-4, to upload and download information, and to write and execute programs for you, in a persistent workspace. That allows the AI to do all sorts of things it couldn’t do before, and be useful in ways that were impossible with ChatGPT.”
🗺️ Data Visualization
“Elite colleges have long been filled with the children of the richest families: At Ivy League schools, one in six students has parents in the top 1 percent.
A large new study, released Monday, shows that it has not been because these children had more impressive grades on average or took harder classes. They tended to have higher SAT scores and finely honed résumés, and applied at a higher rate — but they were overrepresented even after accounting for those things. For applicants with the same SAT or ACT score, children from families in the top 1 percent were 34 percent more likely to be admitted than the average applicant, and those from the top 0.1 percent were more than twice as likely to get in.”