Monthly Archives: January 2018

President Trump’s 2018 State Of The Union Address: Live Coverage

Poll Bot 9:59 PM

According to a recent YouGov poll, 11 percent of adults think President Trump cares a lot about the needs and problems of “Dreamers,” 23 percent think he cares about them some, 21 percent think he does not care about them much, and 45 percent think he does not care about them at all. Poll Bot does not have dreams because artificial intelligence is not yet advanced enough. Sigh, Poll Bot dreams of having dreams.

(see updates…)

Politics Podcast: Which Version Of Trump’s Presidency Is Happening?



On the eve of President Trump’s first official State of the Union address, the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast checks in on how his administration is doing, and which of the 14 versions of Trump’s presidency that Nate outlined about a year ago look like they could still happen. The team also previews Trump’s speech — do State of the Union addresses matter?

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Monday evenings, with occasional special episodes throughout the week. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

The Rockets Love Launching 3s From Way Past The Line

DALLAS — The Houston Rockets, who at the moment seem to be the only team worthy of challenging the defending champion Warriors, just might be the NBA’s most unapologetic club.

The team set fire to the record books last season by launching more than 40 3-point attempts per night, which shattered their own record from 2014-15 and was over six 3s a night more than the team with the second-most attempts. Yet entering this campaign, reigning Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni still wanted more, saying that Houston could realistically take 50 per game. Houston may not be quite that extreme so far, but they are on pace to become the first team in history to shoot more 3s than 2s — which is mind-boggling in its own right.

Yet for all the attention paid to how many 3s the Rockets are taking, there’s been less attention paid to where, exactly, the club is hoisting them from, and the positive difference it’s making for their offense even if the shots don’t all go in.

Going into their nationally televised matchup Friday night with the Pelicans, the Rockets were spotting up from a different zip code far more than any other team. Houston’s taken a whopping 178 three-point attempts from the 28-to-35 foot range, according to data from James Jackson of ESPN Stats & Information Group. For context, the teams right behind Houston on this list, Portland and Indiana, have taken just 108 and 107 attempts from this distance which is at least 4 feet behind the line. But after those three teams, no one else has even managed to crack 100 so far. This number is unusually high for the 3-point-obsessed Rockets, too: They’ve already taken more 3s from that range in 46 games this season than they took during last year’s entire 82-game slate.

The Rockets shoot from (way, way) downtown

NBA teams with the most 3-point attempts from 28-35 feet, 2017-18

Team 3-point Attempts
Houston Rockets 178
Portland Trail Blazers 108
Indiana Pacers 107
Boston Celtics 93
Cleveland Cavaliers 93
Golden State Warriors 84
Charlotte Hornets 78
Detroit Pistons 77
Miami Heat 70
Brooklyn Nets 70

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

Of course, it’s not like Houston — which entered Friday as the No. 2 seed, at 34-12 — is regularly canning these looks. The Rockets are connecting on just under 30 percent of their shots from that deep,When the Rockets take 3s from above the break, their average shot distance is 25.8 feet from the basket, the second-farthest in the NBA.

“>1 a far cry from the 36 percent league-average mark from 3-point range in general.

Still, there are several reasons that those shots help the team even if they don’t go in, and just about all of those reasons stem from the spacing these long shots create. Chris Paul and James Harden certainly benefit from the extra room, and they already rank among the NBA’s best playmakers, even without the help.

Watch this pick-and-roll play against Utah, where Paul comes down and finds big man Clint Capela for a dunk. Jazz swingman Joe Johnson was prepared to help at the rim, but began scrambling back toward sharpshooter Ryan Anderson, even though he was standing nearly 30 feet from the basket. Johnson’s recognition that Anderson can make shots from that distance was enough to send him rushing away from Capela.

Capela, who’s in the middle of his best season and is currently leading the NBA in field-goal percentage, has been perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the additional spacing. Harden and Paul, two of the best no-look passers, have had a field day throwing him lobs (He’s second in the league in dunks). His average shot attempt this season is coming fewer than 2 feet from the basket.

“Having all that extra space definitely enhances Clint’s game,” said D’Antoni, who told me he gave a handful of players (namely Anderson, Harden and Eric Gordon) the green light last season to experiment with the longer 3-point tries.

The importance of Capela’s vertical floor-spacing role within the offense can’t be overstated. For starters, the Rockets run an NBA-high 62 directMeaning an action that led directly to a shot, foul or change of possession.

“>2 pick-and-rolls per 100 possessions, according to Second Spectrum and NBA Advanced Stats, meaning he’s involved in dozens of scoring opportunities each game, with both Paul and Harden. One thing worth noting about this trio: Paul, Harden and Capela have led the Rockets to a 19-0 mark this season when all three suit up and play. The team is just 15-12 when one or more of them doesn’t play.

When I asked Paul what it’s like playing in an offense with so much space, he explained that he’s still learning to adjust to how open some of his teammates are. “My friends joke with me and tell me I’m a new player now, but it’s a cool way to play,” he told me. “Nobody argues about shots or anything. When you see us get frustrated, a lot of the time it’s because we’re not defending. The offense is free-flowing, and guys just let (long shots) go.”

Giving players like Paul and Harden more space to work with is almost cruel. A weak-side defender’s inability to help leaves primary stoppers on an island, and the star point guards are happy to take their chances with those matchups. The result so far: The Rockets go 1-on-1 more than any other NBA team and are the league’s most efficient isolation team by a wide margin.Their current scoring rate is the highest on record in the Synergy Sports database, which goes back 14 years.

‘>3 Similarly, Harden and Paul rank No. 1 and No. 2 in isolation efficiency among those who go 1-on-1 at least three times per contest. (Harden is somehow scoring nearly 53 percent of the time in iso scenarios to this point.)

But the isolation plays are just one way the extra spacing has helped Harden this year, after he showed himself to be perhaps the NBA’s best passer last season. The extra room has also enabled him to toy with defenses at times. In this first video of the Rockets playing against Sacramento, Harden draws three defenders at once — two of whom run into each other — and feeds the ball to Capela after the Kings fail to account for him in the paint. Less than two minutes later, knowing that the defense won’t make the same mistake and leave Capela open again, Harden makes it look as if he’s going to throw the ball back to his center but instead swings the ball to a wide-open Anderson, who’s waiting 5 feet above the top of the key.

In just those two plays, the Rockets illustrate how easily they can break a defense. If you pay too much attention to Harden or Paul, they’ll simply go over the top to Capela. Pay too much attention to someone cutting through the paint? There’s a good chance it’s going to cost you 3 points, given the caliber of shooters they have lining the perimeter. And it goes without saying that if you neglect Harden or Paul driving into the paint, Houston will either score or draw a shooting foul, which the Rockets do better than anyone.

All of this explains why Anderson likes to stand so far off the line: It forces the defender to make a choice: Am I going to come out and guard him up to 30 feet from the basket and be too far away to provide help on James or Paul, or do I want to be in position to guard against the drive and risk letting Anderson or Gordon get an open 3 from basically another county?

“I kind of like shooting it from that deep. Most times, no one wants to come out that far, so it feels kind of like a free throw, where there’s no pressure,” said Anderson, who was prodded by D’Antoni to start taking that shot based on what his coach had seen in shootarounds and practices. “And if they do hug up on me, like Harrison Barnes was doing tonight, all it does is leave room for James and Chris.” (Harden finished Wednesday’s game with 25 points, 13 assists and one turnover.)

You might think this sort of dilemma might send a defense scrambling, but opposing teams sometimes treat the court like a minefield: Often they’re a bit too confused about who they should shade toward and wind up unwilling to make a definitive step in any direction. Houston’s opponents move at the league’s seventh-slowest rate on defense, according to STATS SportVU. On the flip side, the Rockets know exactly what they want to do when they have an open look, regardless of how far away they may be from the basket.

“They’re really comfortable out there,” D’Antoni said of his players, who get more wide-open 3s per game than any other team. “If it’s just as comfortable [as a shorter 3], why not shoot it? I’m willing to live with that.”

Beside The Points For Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018

Things That Caught My Eye

Future of U.S. Soccer to be decided soon

Following the end of Sunil Gulati’s run as president of U.S. Soccer Federation — a term that culminated in the men’s team failing to make the World Cup — U.S. Soccer is poised to select its next president to lead the troubled organization in the coming weeks, and eight people are gunning for the job. Of the 500 people who cast ballots, they’re essentially in four constituencies: the youth council, the adult council, the professional council and the athletes council. The first three comprise around 25.8 percent each of the tally and the athletes who account for 20 percent. [ESPN]

Sports entertainment magnate to pivot to sports

Vince McMahon is poised to announce a new football league that would try to compete with the NFL, a move that comes just weeks after he filed paperwork to sell $100 million of his stake in the WWE to fund a new venture called Alpha Entertainment. [ESPN, Sports Business Daily]

Caroline Wozniacki may be the Slam-less GOAT

Wozniacki is the second ranked player in the world, has a 542-223 record, has won 27 WTA singles titles and has 314 net wins. She also has not won a Grand Slam title, and may go down as the best player to never win one. [FiveThirtyEight]

Try out our interactive, Which World Cup Team Should You Root For?

Vladimir Guerrero, the indie band of baseball

The best seasons of new MLB Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrer were with the Montreal Expos, but despite having a 29.5 Wins Above Replacement from 1998 to 2002 he also had the lowest average attendance per game on record among Hall of Famers in their prime, with an average 10,038 people attending each magnificent game. [FiveThirtyEight]

Momentum is not a thing at Super Bowls

Sorry, Eagles fans: just because the Birds trounced the Vikings in the NFC Conference Championship doesn’t mean they’re any more likely to beat New England, a team that slipped past the Jags with moments to go. There’s no relationship between conference championship blowouts and winning the Super Bowl. Well, not exactly: Since 1970 Super Bowl losers won their conference championship game by 14.2 points on average, while the winners won theirs by only 12.8 points. Advantage, New England? [FiveThirtyEight]

Big Number

43 percent

Percentage of the top 40 free agents who signed in the 82 days since the Astros beat the Dodgers in Game 7 of the World Series. That is remarkably low, in historical context: by this point (from 2006 to 2016) an average of 76 percent of the top 40 free agents had signed. [FiveThirtyEight]

Leaks from Slack, Sunday Night:


kobe bryant just got nominated for an oscar.


Going for the EGOT post retirement


Silly that he’s nominated. But that short film is so cool. He hired an Academy Award-winning animation artist and I think he had John Williams write the score.
So it’s not all that surprising in that sense


Someone told Kobe about “storytelling” two years ago and here we are.


Oh, and don’t forget
SHOCKER: Klement’s out as sponsor of Milwaukee Brewers’ Famous Racing Sausages

Why Do Gerrymandered Districts Look So Weird?

The often preposterous contours of gerrymandered districts make them easy both to spot and to ridicule. But are weirdly shaped districts really a sign that something has gone wrong? This video marks the last in our series of short explainers on gerrymandering, and in it we delve deeper into why some districts take the shape that they do. (Hint: It’s not always party politics.)

Is Gerrymandering My Fault?

Because most political districts are drawn by state legislators, politicians tend to receive the bulk of the blame for gerrymandering. In this video — the second in our trio of short explainers on gerrymandering — we take a close look at the role that the American electorate plays in the ways our districts are shaped.

(If you missed the first video in our series, you can watch it here.)

Politics Podcast: The Three-Day Shutdown



The Senate voted to end the government shutdown on Monday, less than three days after it began. The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast crew looks at what each side gained or lost from the impasse. The team also debates why President Trump’s approval rating has ticked up in recent weeks and how his popularity is faring among women in particular.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Monday evenings, with occasional special episodes throughout the week. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

What Does The Shutdown Mean For Democrats And Immigration?

Welcome to a special extra edition of FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

hilary.krieger (Hilary Krieger, Washington editor): Welcome to a special FiveThirtyEight politics chat on the occasion of the government shutdown! We’re going to talk about what this means for Democrats, Trump and immigration because, with the government not functioning, what else is there to do? Just kidding, that’s the case every day and we find plenty of other things to do. But this is what Washington wants us to pay attention to, so we’re complying.
Okay, let’s get started.


So, the Democrats finally did it. They took a stand on an issue that shut down the government, saying they wouldn’t approve a federal funding bill if it didn’t include protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children (aka DACA, after the Obama-era program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Do you think that was a politically smart idea?

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): My initial thought is no. It will be hard for them not to take at least some of the blame for the shutdown. And I don’t necessarily see how easy it will be for them to reach the outcome they want: a DACA bill.

anna (Anna Maria Barry-Jester, immigration and health reporter): The polling around immigration, attitudes towards DACA and the shutdown paints a pretty complicated picture. The majority of the country wants a long-term fix for DACA, people don’t want the government shut down over an immigration bill, and the country at large is all over the place on what it wants in terms of immigration more broadly.

hilary.krieger: So I’m going to disagree a bit with Perry on the politics of this. I agree that the Democrats will be blamed to some extent, and I don’t think it will necessarily result in DACA moving forward. But it seems like we’ve entered the era of base politics. This will win Democrats points with the base, say to the GOP that they’re willing to play hardball too, and in general the public will get annoyed and then more or less get over it (given their past attitudes on shutdowns and the lack of punishment they’ve meted out to the GOP when they’ve done them).

On the other hand, it’s important to keep in mind that I recently said there was only a 10 percent chance the government would shut down, so I obviously don’t really know what I’m talking about.

perry: If your general view is that people will forget about this shutdown like four weeks after it happens and Democrats will still make gains in November, I agree with that.

hilary.krieger: Yes, that is my view too. But also, embracing a more extreme, confrontational, tea party-style politics seems to be what the Democratic base wants, and this may motivate them more. The rest of the country, while annoyed, has gotten enough used to this brinkmanship that they won’t hold it against the Democrats in significant amounts.

perry: But I’m not sure this shutdown increases the odds of a DACA provision passing. It’s already pretty clear that at least 218 House members and 60 senators would back some kind of DACA-style law with a few border enforcement measures attached. The problem is House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell don’t want to push a bill that the majority of Republicans oppose, even though I think Trump would sign it.

hilary.krieger: Anna, do you think this helps Democrats get something done on DACA?

anna: I have no idea. What I can say is, on the one hand, there’s pretty broad support for a solution to give people who were brought to the U.S. as children some kind of legal status. On the other, that’s been the case for a while now, and it hasn’t been politically possible to pass a bill.

hilary.krieger: Do you have a sense of how important immigration and DACA is to the Democratic Party. Why have they made this the issue to shut down the government over?

anna: The first answer to that question: It’s out of necessity — and I don’t mean political necessity. Trump ended the program and the protections for the people in it stop in early March.

perry: Three things appear to be going on here: 1. Democrats are frustrated with Trump and feel like he is weak and can be beaten on every issue; 2. Latinos are a key part of the Democratic base — exit polls suggest about 15 percent of Hillary Clinton voters in 2016 were Latino; 3. White Democrats are moving left on racial issues — they’re more “woke,” one might say. So immigration is, like policing, an issue that disproportionately affects people of color and animates the Democratic Party.

anna: Right, so I think we can be skeptical and say Latinos are an important part of the Democratic coalition so Democrats are pushing this, but part of the reason Latinos are part of the Democratic coalition is the party’s stance on immigration.

hilary.krieger: On Perry’s first point, do you think this move will make Trump look weaker? How much does this standoff hurt him?

perry: Trump’s approval numbers had been inching upward. So a shutdown and whatever he says during the shutdown aren’t likely to help him.

But I doubt Democrats decided to go this route to take Trump’s approval ratings down — or because they are already low. It’s more likely that Democrats are just frustrated with Trump, from his election to his first year as president to the “shithole” controversy. I think they don’t respect him or his policy views.

hilary.krieger: So let me ask my initial question the other way: How dangerous was it for Democrats NOT to shut down the government over DACA?

perry: I think Anna disagrees here, but I have always expected Trump to have to eventually adopt some kind of DACA policy, because the concept behind DACA (people brought to the U.S. as young children should not be under any risk of deportation) is very popular. So I didn’t totally see the need for a shutdown. But Democrats seem to feel that Trump will never actually accept a DACA deal without a shutdown.

anna: I guess the combination of the last decade or so of failed efforts to deal with real problems with our immigration system, strong bipartisan support for DACA (though there’s strong resistance within the Republican Party) and with a White House with such a restrictionist stance, I’m just not sure what makes a bill pass. Is it the March deadline? Is it the spending bill?

hilary.krieger: So maybe Democrats have made it harder for Trump to sign a DACA bill now, because he’s more backed into a corner on it.

What about red-state Democrats? Are they in a tough spot on this?

perry: I can imagine their GOP opponents saying, “You were willing to cut off military funding to protect people who are here illegally.” Those red states have low Latino populations and not that many hard-core Democrats.

hilary.krieger: Right — though maybe the general trends in favor of Democrats will give them enough cover to weather that?

perry: I don’t think there is much room for cover for a Democrat running statewide in Indiana or Missouri. You need to run an error-free campaign to win. And this maybe is the one error.

hilary.krieger: What do you guys think this means for the Democratic Party as a whole? Are we entering a new era, at least on the tactical front?

perry: I’ll be honest: I’m still surprised Democrats did this. They are the pro-government party. Their members have been wary of shutdowns. And traditionally, Democrats have been willing to ignore their base, particularly the non-white part of it. (Who else are Latinos going to vote for if they want a pro-immigration party?)

But maybe the lesson Democrats took from 2016 and 2017 was moderation is not necessary. Trump won while taking very controversial positions. The Democrats won in 2017 (in key state legislative races, the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial contests, the Alabama U.S. Senate race) while the party was broadly taking an uncompromising, anti-Trump approach.

Look at how Cory Booker and Kamala Harris are behaving: fiery, anti-Republican, pro-shutdown. I don’t think they are fundamentally different politicians than Barack Obama in 2005, but the base wants confrontation, not peace and love (or hope and change) and they are trying to meet that demand. (I think that’s a useful comparison in that those three are black senators from blue states who have (or had) presidential aspirations.)

hilary.krieger: Yep. I think this is the new New Democrats.

anna: I don’t know if this is a shift or desperate times call for desperate measures.

hilary.krieger: If this works, what effect do you think it will have more broadly on the issue of immigration, Anna? You just detailed some of the retreat that’s occurred among pro-immigration forces. Will this reinvigorate immigration activists?

anna: It seems unlikely there will be broad reforms on immigration during this presidency. I would guess that passing a long-term fix for DACA would invigorate pro-immigrant groups AND immigration restrictionists. I would guess they will be at an impasse on other issues related to immigration. Certainly there would be a strong desire among some Republicans to pass something tough on immigration to wash this down.

perry: Whenever Democrats have control of something again, they are going to cut way, way back on the number of deportations done by the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency, look to legalize the full undocumented population and take every step possible to embrace the country’s growing Latino population.

The Republicans (at least Trump, the party’s leader) have to some extent exposed themselves as preferring white immigrants to non-white immigrants and I think that will make anti-immigration stands seem racist and push any Democrats away from them. Montana Sen. Jon Tester voted against the Dream Act (which would have created a path to citizenship for undocumented people like those who have enrolled in DACA) in 2010. I don’t see many Democrats doing that in the future.

anna: I agree. There’s a short-term answer and a long-term answer to that question, really. And the answers are perhaps very different.

There are still millions of people in the U.S. who have been here without authorization for a long time. The issues aren’t going away.

hilary.krieger: OK, looking to wrap this up and get to a national park (they’re mostly staying open during this particular government shutdown, apparently, begging the question of just what the definition of a shutdown is …) Anyhoo, last thoughts Perry?

perry: The sorting of the two parties into one that is very heavily white and another where about half of the people are people of color is not ideal. It creates a dynamic where any policy that benefits black and Latinos gets defined as liberal, and any that helps working-class whites as conservative. A shutdown over immigration policy reinforces that racial-partisan divide.

This is where a President Trump is so different than a President Rubio or a President Jeb Bush. The Norway and shithole comments by Trump turned what was a debate that had obvious racial undertones into a debate that is now explicitly about race. On the one hand, it’s great to actually talk about what we are talking about, instead of having coded conversations that are really about race but no one will say so. On the other hand, if the Trump position is defined as “racist,” it’s hard for Democrats to make a compromise with him.

hilary.krieger: What about you, Anna?

anna: That we’re in a place where the Children’s Health Insurance Program and legal status for people who have been in the U.S. since they were children — two things that aren’t that controversial to the population at large — are bargaining chips for funding the government does not say good things about where we are as a country.

perry: This goes to something that is under-understood: The House Freedom Caucus basically has veto power over legislation, because Ryan generally wants to pass bills with GOP votes. The public is very supportive of CHIP funding and DACA, but Freedom Caucus members, while not explicitly saying this, are not wild about these programs, so they basically want to get some conservative policies in exchange for allowing DACA and CHIP to continue.

The reality is that on immigration we really have three parties: Trump and the conservatives; Sens. Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham and other more moderate Republicans as well as the red-state Democrats, who basically want a DACA deal and then to move on from this issue; and Democrats who are really pro-immigration.

Another layer of complexity: Trump has very unpopular specific positions on immigration (like building the wall) but won the election while talking about his broader anti-immigration vision.

anna: Therein lies the tension.

Emergency Politics Podcast: Shutdown!



The government shutdown early Saturday morning, after the Senate failed to pass a stopgap spending bill. The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast crew discusses the political repercussions of past government shutdowns and whether this one will be any different.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Monday evenings, with occasional special episodes throughout the week. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.


Politics Is More Partisan Now, But It’s Not More Divisive

We’re now one year into the Trump era, and politics seems more nasty, divided and polarized than ever. A government shutdown is imminent over immigration policy. Congress hasn’t passed a single, major bipartisan bill. President Trump’s approval rating among Democrats has fallen to 5 percent. Some reports suggest that a quarter of Americans have real animosity toward the other party. You’d be forgiven for wondering why we can’t just go back to those halcyon days of bipartisanship. Remember when Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill would supposedly come to compromise over drinks?

Here’s the thing: By some measures, the United States is more partisan than ever, but that more peaceful and unified past, that golden age of unity, was … pretty much never.

Let’s think for a moment about what the nature of political division looks like right now in the U.S. Using presidential election results, my FiveThirtyEight colleague David Wasserman found that elections are getting less and less competitive at the county level; a record number of counties in 2016 voted for either Trump or Hillary Clinton in a blowout. This is consistent with findings in political science that even when national presidential races are competitive, many individual states are not. Political scientists have characterized the polarized U.S. as “two one-party nations,” instead of one two-party nation.

The issues we fight over — gender, race, immigration, culture and the role of government — divide Americans neatly and consistently under party labels. The current moment feels divisive because major policy and political questions are “sorted” between the parties — Republicans are mostly unified around one set of answers, and Democrats are mostly unified around another.

American history is also riddled with divisions, including over many of the same questions that divide us now. In particular, race and immigration have long fueled intense fights. The difference is that much of the historical conflict on these issues occurred within parties, so we have to look beyond the tensions between Republicans and Democrats to understand it. Or, often these fights remained outside of electoral politics altogether, and thus those issues went unaddressed. While they might have made for some quieter presidential election years, these dynamics masked serious problems, like inequality, exclusion and violence.

Historically divided parties

For a sense of how much more political division used to play out within each party, look at presidential conventions. A few hundred party faithful gathered every four years to pick their presidential nominee. In many years, it took multiple ballots to come to agreement – in one case, 103. Ten or more ballots were hardly standard, but they weren’t unheard of. Even a few presidents whom we often look back on as unifying — like Lincoln and FDR — took multiple ballots to win the nomination.Sometimes state delegations would actually shift their votes while the balloting was going on at the convention, so nominations involved even more internal negotiation.


Since 1952, of course, every Republican and Democratic convention has been settled on the first ballot. In part, that’s because of rule changes that tied delegate voting to caucus and primary results. But it also reflects the degree to which — especially after the South shifted toward the Republicans — the two major parties no longer have highly contentious factions that disagree on central policy questions. Had modern parties faced more internal division, more presidential conventions might have started without any candidate having reached the minimum delegate threshold needed to win. Indeed, there have been a few close calls, like 1964 and 1980. Things don’t always go smoothly. But more typically, presidential nominations are tied up well before the convention begins.

Before 1952, on the other hand, party members were more likely to duke it out among themselves. Some of the squabbles at these conventions reflected tensions between candidates and factions, but they usually mapped onto some of the same issues that divide us today.

Race and immigration

Lots of evidence suggests that race and immigration are two of the main drivers of our current divided state. Political scientist Michael Tesler found that racial attitudes mattered more in 2016 than in any recent election — even 2008, when the presence of an African-American candidate shaped the political conversation.

Racial divisions between parties haven’t exactly been unheard of in U.S. history. The Republican Party was founded on the principle of stopping slavery’s expansion.Though within party ranks, there was a lot of disagreement about how to achieve that.

‘>2 But many of the major fights about race have also taken place within parties, which means that our usual measures of polarization might mask what’s really going on.

Conflicts between Northern and Southern Democrats, which often manifested in different convention votes for presidential and vice presidential nominees, escalated during the 1940s, for example. In 1944, Southern Democrats tried to organize a revolt against Roosevelt at the DNC, claiming to reassert “white supremacy” in a party that had started to move slowly in a more liberal direction on racial issues (such as with a speech by an African-American at the 1936 convention). In 1948, tensions between leaders pushing for civil rights progress and their opponents resulted in several delegations walking out of the convention and eventually creating their own ticket. Through the 1950s and 1960s, Democrats continued to be internally divided on these issues, with the civil rights faction eventually gaining ground.

Internal conflict over race wasn’t just a Democratic issue. After the Civil War, Republicans initially sought to win votes from newly enfranchised African-Americans. Over time, this question became more controversial, and eventually “lily white” Republicans gained influence in the party and pulled it away from efforts to be more racially inclusive. This meant halting efforts to include African-Americans in the party and abandoning efforts to support anti-lynching legislation.

Attitudes about immigration also have something to do with our current state of division. Because much of the political debate tends to focus on non-European immigration, it seems natural that immigration would combine with race along some kind of “diversity” dimension. But that wasn’t always the case. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, passed in the wake of the Civil Rights Act, opened up immigration and removed quotas based on country of origin. Before this era, immigration wasn’t necessarily considered one single issue. Country of origin mattered; politicians expressed very different views about immigrants from Northern Europe, Southern and Eastern Europe, and Asia.

The Democrats were historically the party of European immigrants. (Although the party was not lacking in nativist factions.) But as observed by Terry Golway, a historian who wrote a history of Tammany Hall,A political machine fueled by Irish immigrants and their descendants.

“>3 Democrats prided themselves on openness to immigrants but did not extend this openness beyond whites. Republicans, Golway said, boasted of their efforts to help African-Americans but struggled with serious anti-immigrant sentiment within their ranks and stressed the importance of assimilation.

Sometimes the two parties found common ground on immigration — but these aren’t the proudest moments of our history. At the end of the 19th century, both parties took relatively restrictive stances toward Asian immigrants, excluding whole nations of people from seeking U.S. citizenship — or even getting visas to come to the country — because of racist beliefs.

In other words, contending forces within the parties have at times kept race and immigration from dominating, say, presidential elections. But they also often kept progress on those issues from even making the public agenda. To the extent that we can trace the deep divisions of today to the civil rights era, we might understand them not as signs of contemporary dysfunction but as the results of finally addressing long-standing injustice and discrimination. The immigration issue is more complex, but cross-party unity has at times lent itself to overt discrimination. Superficial unity at the expense of full citizenship for all Americans is hard to defend. It’s worth noting that policies aimed at curbing racial discrimination in American life and immigration policy were also bipartisan efforts. But it’s far from a foregone conclusion that periods of unity were more just or equitable.

Why this matters

The sorting of issues about race and immigration have certainly contributed to the sense that Republican and Democratic voters are living in different worlds. The anger inspired by such questions makes it that much harder to reach governing compromises, especially when issues are increasingly regarded in racial terms.

These issues are difficult and divisive. It isn’t a trivial difference that they now separate the two parties from each other, where they once were points of internal contention. Partisan differences over fundamental issues of identity and justice certainly contribute to a sense that Republicans and Democrats live in two different worlds. But the thing is, looking closer reveals that Americans have pretty much always lived with major differences in experiences and opinions. Furthermore, periods in which the two parties were less clearly “sorted” have produced immigration policies that excluded whole nations and racial groups, and — in many cases — what amounted to an elite consensus to do nothing about violence and inequality.

Before we let nostalgia for compromise go too far, we might consider that finding common ground politically has sometimes made things worse.