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What Does the Zombie Apocalypse Mean for the Democratic Primary?

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FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast, September 30, 2019: Impeachment Is Becoming More Popular

Galen: … and Managing Editor, Micah Cohen.

Micah: Hello.

Galen: How are you?

Micah: Very nice.

Galen: Awesome. Happy Monday. Before we start the show today, I should say, our thoughts are with everyone affected by the public health crisis down in Atlanta.

Clare: Yeah, that whole thing is crazy.

Micah: What are they saying now? That it like, might've been something that actually came from the CDC?

Nate: Yeah, I think so. Genetically engineered, maybe?

Clare: Kind of defeats the whole purpose of the CDC, huh.

Micah: Yeah, did you guys see that story in Politico? Sounds like some heads are rolling over at HHS.

Galen: Yeah, uh, starting an epidemic is not really what you want from your Centers for Disease Control! Anyway, we hope that situation gets resolved soon. Now let's dive into the impeachment numbers. We're going to begin with one of our favorite questions, Good Use of Polling or Bad Use of Polling...


FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast, October 7, 2019: Chaos in the South

Micah: Clare, you're being careful, right?

Clare: (laughing) Micah, you're worse than my mother. I'm stuck in Ohio. It's still hundreds of miles away.

Micah: Yeah. For now. I mean… I know. Yeah, yeah, you're right, I know.

Clare: Don't worry, I carry garlic and a wooden stake everywhere I go.

Nate: That doesn't work on zombies!

(theme music)

Galen: Hello, and welcome to the FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast. I'm Galen Druke. Obviously the biggest story this week is the developing situation in the South, originating in Atlanta but now having spread throughout Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, parts of North Carolina and even as far as Virginia. The epidemic seems to cause the infected to become violent and attack everyone they come in contact with, which has led to a massive loss of life and panic throughout the country. The President called in the National Guard to contain and quarantine the affected area, but continuous breaks in the perimeter have kept it expanding and we don't know how much longer this will continue as there are no signs of the epidemic slowing any time soon.

Clare: I can't believe we didn't even do a segment on this last week. Things really escalated quickly.

Micah: Well, it didn't seem like anything that major last week!

Galen: It really didn't. Don't worry, we're making up for it this week. There's been a lot happening. Democrats have harshly criticized what they see as a flailing and incompetent reaction to the crisis by the administration. We'll discuss what the administration's been doing, as well as Trump's approval numbers in the wake of the crisis. In addition, travel restrictions and total grounding of flights have put a hold on most retail campaigning by the Democratic primary field, but candidates have still been all over the news, with Biden in particular taking advantage of the national emergency to argue for his own view of how the president should be responding.

Nate: No malarkey.

Galen: (laughs) No malarkey, right. So today we'll also discuss what this has meant for the Democratic primary, as well as for the president's re-election chances. And here with me to discuss it, that voice you just heard, Editor-in-Chief Nate Silver. Hi, Nate, how are you?

Nate: I'm good. Welcome to the first podcast of the zombie apocalypse.

Clare: Apocalypse is a little strong. We don't know if it's an apocalypse yet.

Nate: Oh, like, maybe it's just a little zombie interlude?

Micah: Okay, they're not zombies.

Nate: They are too!

Micah: They're not dead! You can't be a zombie if you're not dead.

Nate: Let's not get bogged down in semantics. Anyway, the only good thing about it has been the twitter jokes. If you stop calling them zombies it's not funny.

Galen: Let's get through the intros before you guys start fighting about whether they're zombies or not. Also here with me in the studio, Managing Editor Micah Cohen. How are you?

Micah: Oh, I'm great, Galen. I just took my second Xanax of the day and we're definitely not all going to die.

Clare: Micah...

Galen: And that voice you hear on the phone is Senior Politics Writer Clare Malone, on the road in Ohio. Hi, Clare.

Claire: Hi Galen. And I like that you're making it sound like I'm out here doing reporting and not just accidentally stuck in a Fairfield Inn for the foreseeable future.

Galen: Yeah, uh, bad weekend to have been traveling for a talk, huh.

Clare: You're telling me.

Galen: What's the mood like in the Midwest? You're closer to the quarantine zone than we are.

Clare: Well, people are definitely nervous. We've been asked to shelter in place but people I've talked to have said that a lot of their neighbors have already headed west or east, hoping it'll be safer. Nobody wants to get stuck on the highway in a last minute evacuation order.

Galen: Like in Charlotte, yeah.

Clare: Yeah. Not a lot of trust in government right now after some of that.

Nate: Yeah, the Trump administration has always been, uh, chaotic, to put it politely. But they have really spectacularly mishandled this, at least so far.

Micah: The screwing up of the evacuation order was really terrible. I mean, the whole thing's been terrible but those pictures were rough. And the last few days the president doesn't seem to be coping well just emotionally, at least judging from his twitter feed. Which is honestly getting kind of alarming.

Galen: Yeah, let's talk about the administration's response so far and the public's reaction to it. I've got Trump's approval tracker pulled up, and it's not looking great for the president…

Image shows a tweet from @natesilver538 on October 8, which says, "Conventional wisdom has everyone thinking the zombie apocalypse* can only end one way but there's a lot of uncertainty involved. (*not actually zombies or an apocalypse)". The tweet links to an article on titled "14 Versions Of A Post-Epidemic Future, From Not So Bad to Extinction"


FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast, October 14, 2019: America's Path Forward

Galen: … So with all that in mind, let's start by discussing the president's decision last week to carpet bomb what the press has now taken to calling the Dead Zone. Clare, do you want to walk us through the timeline there?

Clare: Sure. The epidemic spread really quickly, even with the quarantine measures the government was taking. Since the virus isn't airborne and is only spread through bodily fluids -- mostly through bites from the infected -- they called the National Guard out pretty quickly to try to contain it. But the infected kept breaking through the military line, and had spread through a really large area in the South, across eight states. By last Wednesday, the quarantine area was well into Kentucky and Virginia and down into the Florida panhandle, and Trump was getting pretty, uh… agitated as it was getting closer and closer to DC. There was a lot of reporting coming out about the mood in the White House, where Trump was apparently going into rages over the military not being able to contain the quarantine zone and no one coming up with any other solutions for what to do about the epidemic. At that point, early Thursday morning, the president seems to have decided that drastic measures were the only option, which was when Mark Esper stepped down as Secretary of Defense, along with some of the generals. Basically it looks like the president kept firing people until he found someone who would do what he wanted, which was carpet bomb the entire American South, or at least the parts of it that were infected.

Galen: And it worked.

Clare: Well, I guess that depends on your point of view. It certainly ended the epidemic, because everyone who was inside the quarantine zone is now dead.

Nate: I mean, at least he didn't nuke it. It's hard to know if it was a good decision or not, right, because we don't know what would've happened if he didn't. I know on Wednesday everyone was talking like we might all be dead or infected in a week or two at the rate the quarantined area was spreading. There really didn't seem to be any movement on finding some kind of treatment or cure, especially with the CDC out of commission. Of course it's awful that all those infected people and anyone else who had survived in the quarantine zone is dead, but let's be honest, it didn't seem like there was a high chance of them living through this as it was anyway.

Galen: Yeah.

Nate: I don't know. I'm not trying to make light of the situation. Obviously this is the worst disaster that we've ever seen in the United States -- what is it, maybe 28 million people dead and millions more displaced? Georgia and South Carolina basically don't exist anymore. It's going to take a long time to recover.

Micah: Yeah. Our colleague, Perry Bacon, Jr., is in Louisville, Kentucky, just 50 miles outside the Dead Zone. We were going to try to get him on the pod today, but it's still so hard to get a sustained phone connection out there at this point that we weren't able to. But we're really grateful he made it through, and I'm sure a lot of people who are happy with the president's decision are feeling that way about their friends and relatives who were close to the edges of the Dead Zone too.

Galen: For sure. How are we seeing public opinion move in reaction to this?

Nate: Well, since it just happened Thursday, we've only gotten a few polls at this point, and it'll take a week or two before we really see it priced into our average. Before the carpet bombing, we had seen a significant drop in Trump's approval, which had been extremely steady for basically his whole presidency. I mean, before this I don't think it had ever gone below, what, 37 percent? But at the height of the crisis, we saw him all the way down at 28 or 29 percent.

Micah: Yeah, that really just goes to show how widely his response was seen as being pretty ineffective at that point.

Nate: Yeah. But even though there haven't been many polls yet, they do seem to be showing a rebound back to his pre-epidemic levels, which isn't that surprising since responses to it seem to be largely along partisan lines.

Clare: You can really see that in the press and on twitter. Conservatives and Fox News are talking about how decisive and effective the bombing was, and liberals are freaking out about how many people are dead and arguing that the president should've looked for other options before just, you know, bombing the [bleep] out of everything.

Nate: We'll see where it ends up once more numbers come in. It's helpful that a lot of polls are asking what people think of the president's decision directly, since there's going to be a lot more than just that filtering into the approval rating as the weeks go by. This close to the whole thing we're still mostly just shell-shocked and glad the zombies aren't headed for us anymore, but there are going to be pretty large economic effects from this whole thing. Atlanta's a major American city with a lot of industry, and we also lost Charlotte, Nashville, Birmingham, Charleston.... You think about the airline industry alone and Delta's been basically wiped out, plus Charlotte was a hub for American.

Clare: Yeah, the travel restrictions have been lifted but it's not like I can just get a flight back home. It's going to be months if not years before we see air travel getting back to normal. And I mean… no more Coke, basically. That's weird.

Galen: I loved a Diet Coke.

Micah: I think I saw that the corner bodega had a couple left this morning, you want me to get one for you after the podcast?

Galen: Oh, that's okay, I've said my goodbyes. Micah, how do you think all this is going to affect the president's re-election chances?

Micah: Well, it's really too early to tell. We'll have a better idea once some of the approval numbers even out in the next couple of weeks. But I think we can say for sure that whoever his Democratic opponent is, they'll definitely be using some of this in their ads.

Clare: For sure. In Ohio, Tom Steyer had ads out even before the firebombing talking about how Trump didn't know what he was doing and people were dying because of it.

Nate: And Warren's been talking a lot about how, you know, she has a plan for that, both for the economic recovery ahead and in terms of saying that you need a president who won't just fly off the handle and bomb whatever they want whether the generals think it's a good idea or not. Though I think she might be overestimating the unpopularity of the carpet bombing generally. Liberals certainly don't like it, but I think Warren -- well, and all the candidates, not just Warren, I don't mean to single her out -- I think they might be betting on the general electorate thinking it was a bad decision when I think a lot of people are actually in favor, especially people living closer to the Dead Zone in, say, the Upper Midwest. I think we can't overstate how relieved people are just to have this whole thing over.

Galen: Yeah, let's talk about the Democratic primary. Just logistically, things are going to be pretty different now, right?

Nate: Logistically, it's crazy. It sounds like the DNC is going to try to have some kind of emergency vote to reapportion delegates? It's not clear yet what they'll do. But this is a huge curveball -- I mean, South Carolina is the fourth state to vote, in just a few months. The population there used to be over five million but now it's basically zero.

Micah: Maybe a couple thousand people left, yeah. At most.

Nate: Yeah. And how are you even going to administer the election when there's no infrastructure anymore? The whole place has been razed to the ground. It's literally a biohazard. Same for Georgia in March, same for Tennessee and Alabama on Super Tuesday. Obviously Georgia and South Carolina were the worst hit, but we have six states whose populations are less than half of what they were, and even Florida, which was hit the least hard of the eight states affected, had over a million people killed in the Panhandle. Just logistically, having primaries at all in those states is… I mean, it's hard to know how they'll pull it off.

Micah: Yeah, not to spoil it, but Nathaniel Rakich has a piece coming out on the site in a few days looking at what the DNC seems to be thinking and how those delegates might be reapportioned. I mean, there are supposed to be 120 pledged delegates from Georgia, but there might only be 120 people in the whole state for all we know.

Clare: Yeah, and then depending on what decisions they make, changes to the number of delegates might really affect some candidates' strategies. Biden's always been really strong in South Carolina because of how well he's doing with black voters, but if South Carolina suddenly isn't even having a primary, or has one delegate, he may have to change where he's putting his emphasis. It's going to really affect press narratives too, just in terms of...

Image shows a tweet thread. The first tweet is from @claremalone on October 24, which says, "I got stuck in Columbus during the epidemic and did some reporting as I made my way back across the US. I also snuck into the Dead Zone. My editor almost had a heart attack...". The tweet links to an article on titled "On The Road Through An Altered America." The second tweet is a response from @micahcohen which says, "Almost??? I'm still mad, by the way." The third tweet is a response to Micah from @claremalone saying, "I know, buddy".


FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast, December 9, 2019: The Debate Over The Census And The Electoral College

Galen: … And the biggest topic of discussion in Washington the last few weeks has been the 2020 census and the upcoming reapportionment of electoral votes. As you probably know, census data is what determines how many congressional representatives and how many electoral votes each state gets. The census is constitutionally mandated to take place every ten years, and so was originally scheduled to take place over the course of 2020, with the Census Bureau delivering final apportionment counts to the president in December. That's obviously after the November 2020 election, which means the electoral college won't reflect the massive population change caused by the epidemic until the presidential election of 2024. Micah, do you want to sum up the political debate around census timing that's happening right now?

Micah: Yeah, so basically you have Democrats arguing that the epidemic has altered the American population so drastically that the electoral college should be updated before the 2020 election. They're saying it's crazy that Georgia still has 16 electoral votes when its population is only… what are they saying these days? 4000 people or thereabouts?

Clare: I think so, yeah.

Micah: Yeah, so 4000 people have the electoral votes that should go to ten and a half million people. So Democrats say that we should move the census timelines up and reapportion the electoral college before the election. Whereas Republicans are saying that we can't. They say, first of all, that it's basically logistically impossible. The census work and timelines are already underway and it's a huge mechanism you can't just speed up by six months at the last minute. Plus the total destruction in the Dead Zone means it's going to be hard enough to get an accurate census of those areas even if you leave the timelines alone, much less if you try to do it in half the time when you don't even have a strategy yet for locating people there. And second of all, they're saying it's destabilizing to change the electoral college when you're in the middle of an election, since even optimistically you couldn't get the census done before… well, August, really. And at that point you'd be post-conventions and deep into the general election campaign, and it could really change campaign strategy if suddenly the South lost most of its electoral votes.

Clare: God, I know it's politics so it's not really surprising, but the whole debate is so nakedly partisan. The states that were hardest hit are all red states, and Republicans don't want to lose those electoral college votes. And proportionally, most of the reapportioned votes will go to the highest population states like California and New York instead, so of course the Democrats are for it. When they're making their actual arguments they both have valid points, but Jesus.

Nate: Yeah, but I think they're both wrong to assume they know how this is all going to shake out. If those four thousand people in Georgia control 16 electoral votes, that's a really big chunk of votes that are basically up for grabs. Maybe 3000 of those people are Democrats and so Georgia goes blue almost for free. Whoever the Democratic nominee is could go down and meet everyone in Georgia individually. They should be looking at it as an opportunity.

Micah: This election's going to be so weird.

Galen: Yeah, let's talk about how this could shift electoral strategy. The --

Clare: Oh my God. This is so dumb. I'm sorry, but it's so dumb! You know, I always thought that if there were a zombie apocalypse, I'd at least get to stop talking about electoral strategy.

Nate: Well, I guess that was pretty stupid of you, wasn't it?

Galen: Okay… maybe we should take a break. We'll talk about electoral strategy in a minute, but first I have to tell you that today's episode is brought to you by ZipRecruiter...