2014 Campaign

Here's Why Democrats Fear Nate Silver


Nate Silver in Edinburgh on Aug. 13, 2013

Photograph by Writer Pictures via AP Photo

Nate Silver in Edinburgh on Aug. 13, 2013

Over the weekend, FiveThirtyEight.com founder and polling prognosticator Nate Silver issued his latest forecast of the midterm elections, and his conclusion made Democrats wince: Silver now favors Republicans to win control of the Senate.

“We think the Republicans are now slight favorites to win at least six seats and capture the chamber. The Democrats’ position has deteriorated somewhat since last summer, with President Obama’s approval ratings down to 42 or 43 percent from an average of about 45 percent before. Furthermore, as compared with 2010 or 2012, the GOP has done a better job of recruiting credible candidates, with some exceptions.”

Almost immediately, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fired off a rebuttal, questioning the validity of the polls on which Silver based some of his calculations. A statement from DSCC head Guy Cecil read:

“Nate Silver and the staff at FiveThirtyEight are doing groundbreaking work, but, as they have noted, they have to base their forecasts on a scarce supply of public polls. In some cases more than half of these polls come from GOP polling outfits, This was one reason why FiveThirtyEight forecasts in North Dakota and Montana were so far off in 2012. In fact, in August of 2012 Silver forecasted a 61% likelihood that Republicans would pick up enough seats to claim the majority. Three months later Democrats went on to win 55 seats.”

Why are Democrats so quick to issue a desperate-sounding press release about a prediction from a political handicapper—one of many—for a bunch of races still more than six months away? Who really cares this early on? The answer: Democratic donors. As any political fundraiser will attest, rich donors are among the most fickle and paranoid people on the planet. If liberal donors sense that momentum is moving away from them, they may stop writing checks, thereby increasing the likelihood of the very outcome they fear.

As Ken Spain, a former Republican operative, tweeted this morning: “Handicappers can be fundraising killers. That’s why DSCC is pushing back on Nate Silver. Cook/Rothenberg predictions will be death knells.”

Green_190
Green is senior national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaGreen.

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