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What We’re Watching In Today’s New York Primaries

FiveThirtyEight: Politics chat

For this week’s politics Slack chat, we set the stage for — and discuss the stakes of — today’s New York primary. (Polls are open until 9 p.m.!) The transcript below has been lightly edited.

Check out our live coverage of the New York primary elections.

micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): Happy New York Primary day! How many of you voted?

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): None of your business.

harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): I didn’t vote. Sue me.

micah: Clare, even simply whether you voted or not?

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): I voted in my capacity as a private citizen. I’ve gone back and forth on this question over the years, but ultimately I think it’s dumb to have a problem with journalists voting.

clare.malone: The vote is private and sacred, that’s what we were taught in the Malone household. A veil of secrecy is in order.

micah: Alright, let’s start with the Democrats … what’s going to happen? Rumor has it that America is feeling the Bern.

harry: That’s nationally; if the polls of New York are to be believed, then Hillary Clinton is going to have a very strong night. She’ll win and probably by double digits. In doing so, she’ll probably up her elected delegate lead by 25+ delegates.

clare.malone: And if the polls are wrong, all hell breaks loose. Sí?

micah: Yeah, let’s posit a couple cases …

clare.malone: Bernie Sanders loses, but by only a couple of percentage points. That’s the most likely “bad” scenario for Clinton.

micah: That’s the likely outcome according to the “the-most-annoying-and-ambiguous-outcome-possible-will-happen” theory of the 2016 primaries. And that theory has worked pretty well so far.

natesilver: Yeah, that would be an annoying outcome, in the sense that it would represent a setback for Sanders relative to the delegate targets he needs to hit to overtake Clinton, but he might get pretty favorable press coverage in that scenario.

clare.malone: Not quite Murphy’s law … Sullivan’s Law maybe? Many things will go kinda, sorta wrong, but not all of them.

micah: Malone’s Law.

clare.malone: Coin it.

natesilver: Are you guys just randomly naming faux-Irish bars in Kips Bay? O’Hurleys?

micah: OK, let’s say Bernie wins by 4 points. Shitstorm, yes?

clare.malone: Yes!

natesilver: A shit tornado. A shit hurricane.

harry: If Bernie wins by 4 percentage points, my @ mentions on Twitter are going to be something else.

clare.malone: I hope he wins just for that. #schadenfreude

micah: It would signal something might be fatally wrong with the Clinton campaign?

harry: In that scenario, I’d say there is something wrong. If you’re Clinton, how can you not win New York? It has a closed primary — only registered Democrats can vote — with a diverse electorate, and you were the state’s U.S. senator for nearly 10 years.

natesilver: Yeah, it would suggest that Sanders was starting to eat into her base. The closed primary thing is a big deal — especially given how strict New York is about changing parties. A Sanders win would imply he was winning over the sorts of voters that he wasn’t winning in other states.

clare.malone: Right. If that’s the scenario, and voters really are turning more and more towards Sanders, Clinton’s got a big ol’ problem, and I’m not quite sure what she would do at that point. “Campaign shake-up,” I believe, would be the phrase on everyone’s lips.

natesilver: But it’s also pretty darn unlikely. In some ways, a Sanders win in New York would be more shocking than Michigan was. Whereas Michigan’s demographics and open-primary status seemed more favorable to Sanders than the polls did, I’m not sure you can say that about New York in a closed primary.

micah: Last scenario: Clinton wins by 15 percentage points.

clare.malone: She drinks a couple boilermakers and goes to bed a happy lady. Because that would do a lot for putting to bed the narrative that Sanders is closing in on her. And while we care a lot about numbers here, perception also matters in the race to a certain extent, especially if voters on the fence for him in states that have yet to vote start to think he has a better and better chance of beating her.

harry: Yeah, I think Clinton will love that. Based on the polling, it looks possible.

natesilver: If Clinton wins by 15 percentage points, she’d gain 35-40 pledged delegates on Sanders.

micah: Would he drop out?

clare.malone: No, I don’t think so. I think he’s going to stay in until June. He’s got the money, so why not? He’s got a message to spread. That’s why he got into the race in the first place.

natesilver: I doubt he’d drop out but it would eliminate some of the pretense of it being a competitive race. Especially because if Clinton does well here in New York, she’s probably also going to win states like Pennsylvania that vote on April 26.

micah: Would he stop going negative maybe?

clare.malone: That’s an interesting question … hard to tell, I think. That would be the thing that a more middle-of-the-road Democrat would certainly do in this situation, but to me, what he might do feels like a bit of a wildcard, since he’s not exactly a dutiful foot soldier of the Democratic Party.

harry: I’d be interested in seeing how the White House would react, if Sanders keeps going negative after a Clinton blowout. The Obama administration has already made some pro-Clinton noise.

natesilver: I dunno, but the race might begin to get less media coverage. Recently, there’s been a resurgence of interest in the Democratic race, and if you’re watching CNN or something, you’d (falsely) get the impression that Sanders and Clinton are very close in elected delegates. That would end — I think — with a big Clinton win in New York. It really does become almost impossible for Sanders to catch up if he loses a net 35 delegates in New York.

micah: And if she wins by a bunch, and Sanders keeps attacking her harshly, I think you would see more explicit pro-Clinton signals from the party, including from people who have so far remained neutral.

clare.malone: This, by the way, from back in March, was about Obama being frustrated with Sanders remaining in the race: Obama Privately Tells Donors That Time Is Coming to Unite Behind Hillary Clinton.

harry: I think you would see a real rally to Clinton, if Sanders keeps attacking. You’ve already seen a bit of a rally, but I think you’ll see it more openly.

micah: The REPUBLICANS! What’s up with them?

natesilver: Donald Trump probably gets a majority of the vote for the first time in any state tonight.

clare.malone: And, in notable news, Trump hasn’t said anything inflammatory in days. Campaign rebrand! (sorta)

harry: Yes, there is an increasing number of news stories about how Trump is going in a new direction.

micah: And the media will play right along.

natesilver: Well, for just this once, let’s not be quite so cynical. He seems to have put Corey Lewandowski in the doghouse, which is a good move.

harry: He seems to have hired some legitimate staffers.

micah: See, I think it’s cynical to play along with the rebrand.

natesilver: But Trump keeps a very small team, and switching up a couple of advisors is a big deal. Obviously, he’s still getting killed in delegate selection in states like Virginia and Georgia, to the point where it’s sort of past the point of no return. I’m not saying he’s had an amazing couple of weeks. But at least he’s steering in the right direction in terms of managing his personnel.

harry: Winning on the first ballot at the GOP convention may be a lost hope for Trump. I would argue, however, that these types of personnel moves help his chances, even if minimally, of winning on a first ballot.

micah: I guess my point is that some stains shouldn’t come clean, i.e. Trump’s racist and sexist comments, and a rebranding shouldn’t be able to wipe those away.

harry: The way I’d put it, Micah: The carpet still has the mark, but at least it doesn’t smell nearly as bad.

clare.malone: This has gotten gross.

micah: Haha. So give me a best case/average case/bad case for Trump’s delegate haul from New York.

harry: Let’s talk about delegate leakage!

clare.malone: Favorite topic. Democratic-heavy districts in New York City are coming after Trump (leakage-wise)!

clare.malone: But a good night for Trump would be that he gets well over 50 percent statewide, right?

harry: I think that is Bar No. 1 for Trump. The 50 percent bar. If he gets below that, he’ll still win, but I’d call it disappointing. If Trump can get like 55+ percent, then I’d consider that to be a strong night for him.

natesilver: I think we should be more precise when we talk about a good night or a bad night, etc. When we set our delegate targets a month or so ago, we had Trump winning 71 delegates in New York. He’ll almost certainly beat that unless he finishes way off his polls (and below 50 percent). If you asked me right now, though, I’d have Trump getting oh let’s say 83-85 delegates, which would probably require him to get 54-55 percent of the vote. To me, it’s almost certainly going to be a good night for Trump, but the question is just how good.

The stakes aren’t actually that high, because the difference between an extremely disappointing night and a pitch-perfect night might amount to only 20 delegates or so.

By contrast, one can easily imagine a 50-delegate swing in Indiana from Trump’s best- to worst-case outcomes there.

harry: Nate just loves Indiana.

natesilver: Casinos, fireworks, cheap booze and a Steak & Shake. We went there all the time in college.

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micah: And is the story in New York basically exclusively a Trump story? Does it matter where Ted Cruz and John Kasich end up relative to each other?

natesilver: In terms of Trump’s delegate haul, the Kasich/Cruz order doesn’t matter much, because Trump is unlikely to lose more than a district or two and it’s all about whether he stays under 50 percent. A vote for either candidate — or even Ben Carson, who’s also on the N.Y. ballot — is a vote against Trump getting 50 percent. Maybe it has some implications for the states to vote next week, however.

harry: How can you forget Jim Gilmore?

clare.malone: I think it matters for Kasich and Cruz in the “sub-primary” sense of things — Kasich, in particular, desperately needs to log some delegates to appear at least a bit viable, right?

harry: The question you have to ask yourself is whether Kasich would ever get out of the race. If the answer is no, I’m not sure how much it matters.

micah: But if Kasich finishes ahead of Cruz statewide, that hurts Cruz’s case as the chief/only Trump alternative, right?

clare.malone: Mitt Romney dropped another public hint to Kasich.

natesilver: If Kasich winds up with 190 delegates vs. 170 at the end of all this I’m not sure how that matters. (I should clarify that I think Kasich’s path to the nomination is far-fetched no matter what.) The questions are (i) how many delegates Kasich and Cruz combined deny Trump and (ii) whether Kasich might consider dropping out at some point.

Does it really hurt Cruz, Micah? Cruz insulted New York, his main opponent is from here, and this is about as bad a fit as you’ll find for him demographically. In other words, what happens in New York doesn’t necessarily translate to other contests.

micah: Unless New York says something about the Northeast generally — let’s say Kasich outperforms Cruz in New York, and then again a week later in PA, MD, CT, etc… won’t that have some effect heading into Indiana, where Cruz really, really needs to beat Trump?

clare.malone: That’s the Kasich team plan right there ^^^

micah: Oh god. OK, I’m wrong.

natesilver: So, let’s say Kasich finishes second in a bunch of places on April 26 but wins almost nowhere. Let’s say he wins six proportional delegates in Rhode Island and two congressional districts in Maryland, for 12 delegates total. Does he really emerge out of that with momentum? If anything, it seems like Cruz can say “you had your chance, bud, and you blew it.” Sort of like how Rubio had a couple of putatively good results on Super Tuesday but was way short of where he needed to be to make himself more of a factor.

harry: https: //

clare.malone: I mean, fair enough point. I think Kasich has ulterior motives about being a power player during the convention. However that might manifest itself.

micah: VEEP!

clare.malone: Right. If his personality allows it.

micah: OK, final question: Doesn’t Trump tend to underperform his polls? Why are we so sure he’ll clear 50 percent tonight?

harry: More times than not he has underperformed his polls, but the average result is pretty much finishing right at his polling percentage. So, I think that’s why we’re still interested.

natesilver: We’re not sure. Our models put his chances at about 95 percent, and we’ve seen enough cases in this election of 5-percent chances coming through that we should be careful about that. And if you account for Trump’s tendency to underperform his polls, maybe the real chances are more like 10 percent. But still, some of the factors that have led him to underperform his polls in other states don’t really apply in New York. For one thing, Trump has the highest favorability ratings of the three candidates in almost every poll of New York. Usually, the opposite is true. For another, he actually has a fair amount of support from state and local party leaders here — again, way different than usual. Trump is a local-boy-made-good story in New York.

clare.malone: That favorability thing … really says a lot about New York.

natesilver: It says a lot about New York Republicans, who are a weird, Trumpian lot.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.

Clare Malone is a former senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.