Nate Silver was on ABC’s This Week where Jon Karl took Silver’s slight Republican advantage in the 2014 Senate races and turned into a cheerleading session for a gigantic Republican win.
KARL: The stat guru and his team have been crunching the numbers. Who will win the senate? Nate unveiled for us the projections Washington has been waiting for. The most important number to remember, six, that’s how many seats Republicans need to take back control of the senate.
We’re hear at the Fivethirtyeight white board, there’s 36 races overall, and most of these are not competitive.
We have a group of races we can kind of put aside. And even just with that, Republicans pick up three seats.
SILVER: West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana.
KARL: So a large group of states in the mid-term election to be basically up for grabs.
SILVER: Yeah, what we’ve done is kind of sort these in order of most likely to least likely pickups for the GOP. You know, Arkansas is one where they’ve been pretty consistently ahead in the polls. You know we give them probably a 70 percent chance of winning in Arkansas.
KARL: OK, and next up is Louisiana.
SILVER: Louisiana, about 55 percent.
North Carolina, it’s more of a purple state so that’s as close to 50-50 as it gets.
KARL: OK, so let’s stop right there. You have these three seats where Republicans have a very good chance of winning.
SILVER: Sure. And that’s the path of least resistance I would think.
KARL: But not the only one. Nate gives the GOP a good shot in Alaska, and even in blue states Michigan, Colorado and Iowa.
What about Scott Brown in New Hampshire?
SILVER: We think the Republican opportunity is a little overhyped. Scott Brown was extremely popular in a different state four years ago.
KARL: The GOP’s chance of a win there, just 25 percent.
This is the drum roll. Republicans need six seats. What’s the projection? How many are they going to pick up?
SILVER: I’d say exactly six, but it’s probably six plus or minus five. That means it could be…
KARL: They could pick up 11 seats.
SILVER: They could, yeah.
KARL: What you’re basically saying is a 60 percent chance that Republicans win the senate.
SILVER: Something like that. So you kind of imagine like a bell curve distribution, sort of where this is the most likely outcome. This is what Republicans would need to take over. This is 51 for them. So you see probably 60 percent of this pie is colored in here.
KARL: Translation for the math impaired, Nate’s projection is a 40 percent chance Democrats hold on, but a 60 percent chance the GOP wins with a 30 percent shot they win big.
Still a lot of time, but a pretty decent chance of a really big win.
SILVER: That’s right.
ABC’s biased interview didn’t quite match up with what Silver wrote about his own numbers:
Our new forecast goes a half-step further: We think the Republicans are now slight favorites to win at least six seats and capture the chamber.
As always, we encourage you to read this analysis with some caution. Republicans have great opportunities in a number of states, but only in West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana and Arkansas do we rate the races as clearly leaning their way. Republicans will also have to win at least two toss-up races, perhaps in Alaska, North Carolina or Michigan, or to convert states such as New Hampshire into that category. And they’ll have to avoid taking losses of their own in Georgia and Kentucky, where the fundamentals favor them but recent polls show extremely competitive races.
So our forecast might be thought of as a Republican gain of six seats — plus or minus five. The balance has shifted slightly toward the GOP. But it wouldn’t take much for it to revert to the Democrats, nor for this year to develop into a Republican rout along the lines of 2010.
Right now, Nate Silver is giving Mitch McConnell a 75% chance of retaining his Senate seat. These odds are much, much too high in McConnell’s favor. The problem with using a similar model as what is used to successful presidential races is that statewide races are more volatile. There is also less data available. Pollsters poll Senate races less. With less data, Silver’s modeling could become less reliable.
Silver seems to think that Obama’s low approval rating in Kentucky tilts the balance towards McConnell. The reality is that Obama’s approval rating is higher than McConnell’s in the state.
What Republican Jon Karl tried to sell as a slam dunk Republican takeover of the Senate is really much more of a 50/50 chance, and if Republicans lose in either or both Kentucky and Georgia, they will not be retaking the Senate. What Silver wrote was actually more accurate that the misleading interview that ABC edited and packaged.
It is fair to ask if Nate Silver is being set up by the same mainstream media that relies on the partisan analysis that Silver criticizes. If Republicans lose the Senate, pro-Republican journalists such as Karl will turn around and use their defeat to attack Silver’s credibility in 2016. As time goes on, and nation gets closer to Election Day, the picture will become clearer. I suspect that if Democrats continue to have success in Kentucky and Georgia, Silver’s odds will change.
Republicans like Jon Karl are warping Nate Silver’s initial projection to depress Democratic turnout. The pro-Republican bias was obvious in this interview, and it will be interesting to see if the media ignores Silver if his projection shifts more towards the Democrats.
Mr. Easley is the founder/managing editor and Senior White House and Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association