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Political Longshots That Caught America by Surprise

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Millions of Americans rely on polls and the media to gauge the direction of political elections. Politics are sometimes unpredictable though, and on occasion, election outcomes can defy conventional wisdom.

These surprises, known as political longshots, are scattered throughout American political history. As time winds down to the 59th U.S. presidential election in November, today’s visual article from PredictIt goes back in time to showcase moments when polls, media outlets, and the American public were left stunned.

The Truman Show

PredictIt

What Happened?

As elections approached in 1948, incumbent Harry Truman led a struggling Democratic party.
Not only had they lost control of both chambers of Congress two years prior, they also faced internal divide over Truman’s civil rights initiatives. To make matters worse, Truman’s approval rating in June 1948 sat at just 39%.

Pollsters and the media were unanimous in declaring Republican Thomas Dewey the next president, but this didn’t discourage Truman from running a tactical campaign which featured:

  1. Clear demographic focus: Truman campaigned heavily in rural communities where working-class citizens felt neglected.
  2. Populist messaging: Truman often attacked Republicans, pinning them with the blame for a range of issues.

Despite being overlooked by many, Truman went on to claim a decisive victory. This caused one of the most famous media blunders in U.S. history—with high confidence in the polls, editors at the Chicago Daily Tribune prematurely reported Dewey as the winner of the election.

We stopped polling a few weeks too soon. We had been lulled into thinking that nothing much changes in the last few weeks of the campaign.

—George Gallup Jr.

Pollsters took a hit to their credibility, but used the opportunity to refine their methods. They extended the deadlines of polls and, over time, began using a methodology known as random sampling. This replaced quota sampling, a methodology prone to bias because it questioned a predetermined number of people from certain ethnic and age groups.

Murkowski’s Comeback

PredictIt

What Happened?

After losing the Republican primary to Joe Miller, incumbent senator Lisa Murkowski decided to run in 2010 as a write-in candidate. A somewhat unique aspect of American politics, a write-in candidate is one whose name does not appear on the ballot, and instead needs to be written in by the voter directly.

Miller, the Republican nominee, was supported by the Tea Party movement and former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin. All momentum seemed to be in his favor, according to polls conducted roughly a month ahead of election day:

PollDate AdministeredJoe Miller (R)Lisa Murkowski (R)Scott McAdams (D)
Raasmussen ReportsSept. 19, 201042%27%25%
Moore ResearchSept. 23-27, 201043%18%28%
CNN, Time, Opinion ResearchSept. 24-28, 201038%36%22%

Source: Rasmussen Reports, Moore Research, CNN/Time/Opinion Research

Despite Miller’s lead in the polls, Murkowski’s write-in campaign was able to capitalize on the state’s significant number of independent voters. On election day, Murkowski collected 101,091 write-in votes—a comfortable margin above Miller’s 90,839 votes.

[I]n our state, we have got over 54 percent of the electorate that chooses not to align themselves with any party at all, not Republican, not Democratic, not green, not anything.

—Lisa Murkowski

Miller challenged 8,000 write-in votes on the basis of name misspellings, but his claims were rejected by the Alaska Superior Court—perfect spelling on write-in ballots is not required if the voter’s intent is clear.

The Trump Train

PredictIt

What Happened?

Donald Trump’s 2016 victory will likely top the list as one of the most shocking political events of our time. As election day approached, many of America’s mainstream media outlets pointed to a decisive Clinton victory.

OutletClintonTrump
L.A. Times
by electoral count
352186
Fox News
by electoral count
274215
New York Times
by chance of winning
85%15%
CNN
by chance of winning
91%9%

Source: The Wrap, CNN

While Trump’s rhetoric was largely opposed in urban regions (which often lean Democrat), the media failed to recognize that his message was resonating in America’s industrial Midwest. One potential explanation for this is that the region’s manufacturing jobs had been drying up, causing workers to feel abandoned by the existing political establishment.

This led to a number of Democrat-controlled states flipping Republican, and was a critical force for propelling Trump to the White House.

PredictIt

In PredictIt’s market, Will Trump Win the 2016 Presidential Election, traders also underestimated Trump’s chances of winning. Throughout the entire campaign phase, Trump’s “yes” shares failed to break past the 50 cents marker.

Source: Predictit

Share prices climbed 64% after FBI Director James Comey released his letter regarding the Clinton email investigation, but these gains were erased in the days leading up to elections. It wasn’t until November 8th, election day, that the prediction market swung by an incredible 345% in favor of Trump.

The Rise of AOC

PredictIt

What Happened?

The biggest surprise from the 2018 midterm primaries was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (AOC) victory over incumbent Joseph Crowley in New York’s 14th Congressional District. That’s because the two candidates were nearly complete opposites of one another:

MetricAlexandria Ocasio-CortezJoseph Crowley
Age2856
Past Political ExperienceOrganizer for Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaignU.S. Representative from New York's 14th congressional district (1999-2019)
Fundraising$300,000$3,354,370

Source: abc news

AOC led a grassroots campaign appealing to the district’s ethnically diverse population, which many believed Crowley could not relate with. Her platform included:

PredictIt

Also lending to the surprise factor was AOC’s relatively sparse media coverage. Because her campaign was largely operated through social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, it flew under the radar of traditional political media coverage.

The traditional media pay attention to one metric—money—but there should be other considerations: number of volunteers, social-media engagement, small-dollar donations.

—Dave Weigel, Washington Post

AOC would go on to win New York’s 14th Congressional District in the 2018 midterm election, defeating Republican Anthony Pappas with 110,318 votes to 19,202, to become the youngest woman to ever serve in the U.S. Congress. More recently, she secured her re-election in the 2020 Democratic primaries. This time, however, it comes as less of a surprise.

What’s Next?

The very definition of a longshot means that they are difficult to quantify and predict.

However, one potential longshot in the making may be 21-time Grammy Award winner Kanye West, who announced his intention to run for president on July 4th. While he hasn’t taken any official steps towards running as an independent candidate, he has garnered the support of notable figures like Tesla CEO Elon Musk. West first declared his interest in the presidency during an acceptance speech at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards.

Looking further down the road, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has still not declared his running mate. Much is at stake for Democrats hoping to deny Trump a second term, and the VP nominee will likely play a significant role in how the party performs. Biden has a long list of candidates that, for the first time in history, predominantly features women of color.

Speculation is ramping up as the 2020 presidential elections approach. While it’s difficult to say when politics will surprise us again, more longshots are sure to be in store.

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Politics

Visualizing the State of Democracy, by Country

Has the world become more or less free? To find out, this graphic highlights the changing state of democracy in 167 countries since 2006.

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Visualizing the State of Democracy, by Country

View the full-sized interactive version of this infographic by clicking here

From Norway to North Korea, governing systems differ around the world. But has the world become more or less free in the past decade?

This visualization from Preethi Lodha demonstrates how democracy levels of 167 countries have changed since 2006. The original data comes from the Democracy Index, which is compiled annually by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Four Levels of Democracy

First, it’s important to understand the classifications made by the Democracy Index.

Based on answers to 60 questions across a nation’s electoral process, civil liberties, government functions, political participation and political culture, countries are assigned a range of scores in the Democracy Index.

Based on these scores, a nation automatically falls into one of the following four types of governance. Here’s which category fits the bill, depending on the range of scores:

Governance TypeDescriptionExampleDemocracy Index Score
Authoritarian RegimeNations which exhibit frequent
infringements of civil liberties,
unfair elections, and rampant censorship.
🇨🇳 China
🇰🇵 North Korea
🇦🇪 UAE
0.0-3.99
Hybrid RegimeNations with regular electoral
fraud, corruption, and low
political participation,
and suppressed opposition.
🇰🇪 Kenya
🇵🇰 Pakistan
🇹🇷 Turkey
4.0-5.99
Flawed DemocracyNations with fair elections,
underdeveloped political
participation and culture,
with minor issues in civil liberty
and government functions.
🇧🇷 Brazil
🇮🇳 India
🇺🇸 U.S.
6.0-7.99
Full DemocracyNations where political freedoms
are respected with limited
problems, governmental
checks and balances,
and diverse media exist.
🇦🇺 Australia
🇨🇦 Canada
🇳🇴 Norway
8.0-10.0

One thing that stands out is that many hybrid regimes and flawed democracies are also considered high potential emerging markets, but are held back by their political instability.

Notable Improvements

In recent times, public demonstrations have been a major cause behind increases in Democracy Index scores and changes in governance classifications.

Algeria moved from authoritarian to hybrid regime in 2019, the only country in the Arab region to do so in the index. This came after sustained protests against the previous president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika—who had served for 20 years.

Chile experienced similar turmoil, for the better. After a spike in the scale of middle class unrest over inequality and unfair policies in late 2019, the political participation moved it up from a flawed to full democracy.

Sliding Countries

The U.S. has one of the oldest democracies in the world. However, it was downgraded from a full to a flawed democracy as of the 2016 index, a status that had been “teetering” since before then, according to the report that year.

Venezuela dropped into an authoritarian regime in 2017, and it doesn’t seem to be improving anytime soon. The state was found to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to crack down on any dissent against the government.

Global Change in Democracy Levels

All in all, the average global democracy score worldwide emerged at 5.48 in 2019, although it’s clear that certain countries pull this value towards the opposite extremes.

North Korea, an authoritarian regime with a 1.08 score, has remained consistently one of the lowest ranked countries in the index. Meanwhile, its alphabetical successor Norway steadily keeps up its high score streak, with 9.87 being the best example of a full democracy in 2019.

Here’s how many countries made up each system of governance over the years, and the global Democracy Index score for that year.

YearAuthoritarianHybrid Flawed DemocracyFull DemocracyScore
2006553353265.52
2008523552285.55
2010573153265.46
2011543553255.49
2012523753255.52
2013514051255.53
2014523952245.55
2015523659205.55
2016514057195.52
2017523957195.48
2018533955205.48
2019543754225.48

Authoritarian regimes peaked in 2010 with 57 countries, whereas the full democracy category peaked in 2008 with 28 countries.

Since 2006, the average global score has slid from 5.52 to 5.48, and the total of countries categorized under full democracy decreased from 26 to 22.

Does this signal an increasingly divided world? And will the global pandemic—which is already delaying elections—have a further pronounced effect on backsliding these democracy scores?

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Every Presidential Candidate’s Running Mate Since WWII

Picking the right VP makes all the difference to a President’s success. We look at running mates of all Presidential hopefuls since 1940.

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Every Presidential Candidate’s Running Mate Since WWII

Since the U.S. Constitution was first instituted, there have been 48 vice presidents. They’ve supported presidents in seeing the country through wars, economic expansions and contractions, a global pandemic—and much more.

A president’s success depends on the strength of their team, so it’s only natural that as second-in-command, the pick for a VP carries significant weight. In some cases, they can even make or break the race to secure a spot in the White House.

In this graphic, we take a look at the hand-picked running mates of presidential hopefuls since 1940, including the upcoming November 2020 elections.

Running More Than Once

The graphic highlights 33 running mates, out of which nine have ran for VP more than once. Here’s how their number of terms compare, and who continued on to become an eventual presidential candidate:

Running MatePartyVP terms servedPresidential candidate?
Mike Pence🔴 RWon 1 term
Currently running for second term
No
Joe Biden🔵 DWon both termsCurrently running for president
Dick Cheney🔴 RWon both termsNo
Al Gore🔵 DWon both termsYes, but did not win first term
Dan Quayle🔴 RWon 1 out of 2 termsNo
George H. W. Bush🔴 RWon both termsYes, won one term
Spiro Agnew🔴 RWon both termsResigned during VP second term
Richard Nixon🔴 RWon both termsYes, won both terms
Walter Mondale🔵 DWon 1 out of 2 termsYes, but did not win first term

Of the running mates since WWII, Republicans Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush are the only two to have served as president after being vice presidents for two previous terms—unless Joe Biden wins in November 2020.

Prior Gigs

What career paths did aspiring VPs take before running on the big ticket?

Interestingly, 2 of 3 running mates profiled in today’s graphic had a prior background as a lawyer before choosing to enter politics.

A curious exception to the typical career path is that of former professional football player Jack Kemp, who was chosen as the running mate for Bob Dole’s unsuccessful presidential bid in 1996.

At the President’s Right Hand

The vice president is the first in line of succession for the Oval Office, in the event that the sitting president dies, resigns, or is removed from office. Throughout history, nine VPs have ascended to presidency this way, of which three occurred since 1940.

  • After Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death in 1945, Harry S. Truman ascended to the presidency.
  • Lyndon B. Johnson became the President upon John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.
  • Following evidence of political corruption, Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973. He was replaced by Gerald Ford, who then became President after Nixon’s post-Watergate resignation in 1974.

Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump are three Presidents who have been through the impeachment process, but were later acquitted by the Senate. Otherwise, the list of VPs ending up as the commander-in-chief might look much more different.

The Youngest and Oldest Running Mates

Based on the first time they ran on the ticket, the average running mate is 54 years old. In contrast, the average presidential candidate is 58 years old.

Comparing the age difference between presidential candidates and their running mates paints a unique picture. The biggest age gaps both occurred in 2008:

Running-Mates_supplemental_v2

There was a 28-year difference between older candidate John McCain (72) and younger VP pick Sarah Palin (44) on the Republican ticket. On the Democratic side, younger candidate Barack Obama (47) and older VP pick Joe Biden (66) saw a 19-year gap.

Harry S. Truman’s historic win in 1948 was considered a surprising political longshot. His running mate, Alben W. Barkley was the oldest running mate ever picked, 71 years at the time.

Meanwhile, Richard Nixon was one of the youngest running mates to be chosen, 39 years in 1956—second only to John C. Breckinridge (36 years old in 1856). Finally, at age 92 years in 2020, Walter Mondale is the oldest living former VP.

Cracking the Glass Ceiling

Last but not least, there have only been three women selected as VP running mates to date.

  • Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman VP nominee for the Democratic Party in 1984.
  • Although she had only two years of political experience as governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin was the first female Republican VP nominee in 2008.
  • Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor with almost four years of experience as a Senator, is the first woman of color to be nominated on any major party’s ticket in 2020.

Palin herself shared a few words of wisdom for Harris across the aisle:

Congrats to the democrat VP pick 🇺🇸 Climb upon Geraldine Ferraro’s and my shoulders, and from the most amazing view in your life consider lessons we learned…

—Sarah Palin (via Instagram)

Could Harris become the first ever right-hand woman? We’ll find out in a few months.

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