Like, well, a fourth of the U.S. adult/adolescent population, I participated in a NCAA tournament pool in my office, and like a lot of people, my brackets were completely busted on the first two days. Actually, I participated in a second pool in which four of us “drafted” teams, on a seed times round basis, and I’ve completely bombed in that one as well.I’ll get over it within the next few hours, but for the record, my fate is a good example of how stupid the Conventional Wisdom is in any sport, including politics.The principles that guided my picks included:1) Don’t be a homer. My beloved Georgia Bulldogs were not in the tournament, so I had to be wary of the temptation to irrationally favor the teams from my work-place home of Washington, D.C. I picked the three “Georges”–Georgetown, George Washington, and George Mason–to lose in the first round. All three won, and the Hoyas and Patriots actually advanced to the Sweet 16. I wish this result could be noted by the various people who email me now and then to accuse me of being a Washington Insider.2) Go for the hot young teams. Everybody’s Hot Young Teams were Kansas and North Carolina. The former lost in the first round; the latter in the second.3) Don’t pay attention to irrelevant traditions. Alabama has a great basketball tradition, but had a lousy, underachieving season. All the cool kids had them losing in the first round, while all the ignorant pickers chose them to beat Marquette, whose own tradition was too remote to be of interest to those ignorant pickers. Alabama won, of course. Same thing happened with Indiana and San Diego State and N.C. State and Cal: “smart guys” picked SDSU and Cal; dumb guys rightly picked IU and N.C. State.4) Pick judicious upsets: Most pools give bonuses for picking first-round upsets. Three years ago I was briefly in the running in my office poll for picking lots of those upsets. The last two years, I bombed by picking just as many upsets. This year was supposed to be another Year of the Upset, and it was, but I generally picked them wrong, going with San Diego State, Northern Iowa, Marquette, Seton Hall, UNCW, UAB, instead of Bradley, George Mason, Northwestern State, Montana or N.C. State.5) Focus on coaches’ tournament records: Tom Izzo has an incredible tournament record at Michigan State; I picked them to go to the Elite Eight, and the Spartans lost in the first round. Same scene with Kansas and North Carolina: their coaches never underachieve, except when they do, as in this year.The bottom line at this point is that people who filled out their brackets intuitively, or even ignorantly, are doing a lot better than us pseudo-sophisticates. Next year I’m probably going with the system of “whose mascot would win in a fight,” which at least presents some interesting metaphysical issues of how a Blue Devil would fare against a Bruin.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
June 2: Rise of Religious “Nones” a Mixed Blessing for Democrats
Since I’m always standing at the intersection of politics and religion, I’m always interested in fresh data on the subject, and wrote some up at New York:
One of the big predictions in American politics lately, of infinite comfort to embattled progressives, is that the increasing number of religiously non-affiliated Americans, particularly among younger generations, will spur a steady leftward drift. Perhaps that will mean, we are told, that Democrats will be able to build their elusive permanent majority on the grounds of abandoned houses of worship. Or perhaps, some hope, the religious roots of today’s Republican extremism will begin to wither away, allowing American conservatives to resemble their less intemperate distant cousins in other advanced democracies, ending the culture wars.
Both propositions may be true. But it’s a mistake to treat so-called nones as an undifferentiated secularist mass, as Eastern Illinois University political scientist Ryan Burge explains with some fresh data. He notes that “in 2022, 6% of folks were atheists, 6% were agnostics, and another 23% were nothing in particular.” This large bloc of “nothing in particular” voters may lean left, all other things being equal, but they tend to be as uninterested in politics as in religion, making them a less than ideal party constituency. He explains:
“To put this in context, in 2020 there were nearly as many nothing in particulars who said that they voted for Trump as there were atheists who said that they voted for Biden.
“While atheists are the most politically active group in the United States in terms of things like donating money and working for a campaign, the nothing in particulars are on another planet entirely.
“They were half as likely to donate money to a candidate compared to atheists. They were half as likely to put up a political sign. They were less than half as likely to contact a public official.
“This all points to the same conclusion: they don’t vote in high numbers. So, while there may be a whole bunch of nothing in particulars, that may not translate to electoral victories.”
As Burge mentioned, however, there is a “none” constituency that leans much more strongly left and is very engaged politically — indeed, significantly more engaged than the white evangelicals we’re always hearing about. That would be atheists. In a separate piece, he gets into the numbers:
“The group that is most likely to contact a public official? Atheists.
“The group that puts up political signs at the highest rates? Atheists.
“HALF of atheists report giving to a candidate or campaign in the 2020 presidential election cycle.
“The average atheist is about 65% more politically engaged than the average American.”
And as Thomas Edsall points out in a broader New York Times column on demographic voting patterns, atheists really are a solid Democratic constituency, supporting Biden over Trump in 2020 by an incredible 87 to 9 percent margin. It’s worth noting that the less adamant siblings of the emphatically godless, agnostics, also went for Biden by an 80 to 17 percent margin and are more engaged than “nothing in particulars” as well.
So should Democrats target and identify with atheists? It’s risky. Despite the trends, there are still three times as many white evangelicals as atheists in the voting population. And there are a lot more religious folk of different varieties, some of whom have robust Democratic voting minorities or even majorities who probably wouldn’t be too happy with their party showing disdain for religion entirely. There’s also a hunt-where-the-ducks-fly factor: If atheists and agnostics already participate in politics and lean strongly toward Democrats, how much attention do they really need? There’s a reason that politicians, whatever their actual religious beliefs or practices, overwhelmingly report some religious identity. Congress lost its one professed atheist when California representative Pete Stark lost a Democratic primary in 2012; the only professed agnostic in Congress is Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, whose political future isn’t looking great.
It’s a complicated picture. Conservative columnist Ross Douthat argues that American liberalism’s increasing identification with secularism is keeping a lot of conservative Christians from politically expressing their reservations about Donald Trump. And religious people beyond the ranks of conservative faith communities may feel cross-pressured if Democratic politicians begin to reflect the liberal intelligentsia’s general assumption that religion is little more than a reactionary habit rooted in superstition and doomed to eventual extinction.
Perhaps it makes more sense for Democratic atheists and agnostics to spend time educating and mobilizing the “nothing in particular” Americans who already outnumber white evangelicals and ought to be concerned about how they’ll be treated if a Christian-nationalist Gilead arises. Only then can “nones” become the salvation for the Democratic Party.