Liberal analyst predicting Democratic Senate win tempers his forecast

Nate Silver is a Left-leaning statistical analyst who took the political world by storm in 2008 after his election forecasting system accurately predicted both the primary results and the presidential winner in 49 states. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of data analysis site FiveThirtyEight. Although Silver was blindsided by former President Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, he remains a highly respected, widely followed, and influential political voice.

Over the past month, Silver’s Senate forecast has changed dramatically. According to his model, the odds that Democrats will retain control of the upper chamber have decreased from 71-29 on Sep. 20 to 55-45 on Oct. 24, and much of this 16-point shift has come in the last two weeks.

On Friday, Silver told readers he considers the Senate to be a toss-up. He noted, “There is now clear movement back toward Republicans. … If a friend asked me to characterize the Senate race, I’d say ‘it’s pretty f***ing close,’ and emphasize that neither party has much of an advantage.”

He continued, “For one thing, as of Thursday afternoon, Republicans realized a slight lead (of 0.1 percentage points) in the FiveThirtyEight generic ballot average for the first time since Aug. 2.” It would appear that Silver is a bit late to the party. The RealClearPolitics average of generic polls shows Republicans leading by three points, and the GOP took the lead on Sep. 26, four weeks ago. 

Cognizant of the numerous generic polls that recognized the shift toward the GOP one month before he did, he tells readers that his model “takes an additional step and adjusts polls of registered voters and adults to make them more similar to polls of likely voters.” News flash: Of the 13 polls reflected in RCP’s average, ten surveyed likely voters. Stripping out the three polls of registered voters, the average would increase to 3.2%.

Next, he acknowledges there is a chance the polls could be overstating support for Democrats again. On the other hand, he tells readers, it’s possible “the polls could be biased against Democrats.” He adds, “But I’m not entirely confident, so my mental model is slightly more favorable to the GOP than the FiveThirtyEight forecast itself.“ (Might it be time to make some adjustments to his model?)

“But the main reason,” he wrote, “is because there’s been steady movement toward the GOP in our model over the past few weeks. In principle, past movement shouldn’t predict future movement in our forecast and it should instead resemble a random walk.”

What Silver is missing is that there is such a thing as momentum, and right now, GOP candidates have it. This isn’t a series of isolated coin tosses. Past movements in elections actually do provide an indication of future direction.

As a liberal, Silver clearly wants to see the Democrats prevail. Likewise, as a conservative, I hope to see Republicans win. That said, Silver’s article seemed to be an attempt to get ahead of what he knows is coming in two weeks. As an analyst, he has a reputation to protect and after his wrong call in 2016, he is acutely aware of this.

We can expect to see polls tighten even further as we get closer to Election Day and undecided voters break one way or the other choices. We can also expect to see more liberal pollsters temper their optimistic projections from the summer.

After two years of an unpopular president who better belongs in a nursing home than the White House, and an unrelenting stream of destructive initiatives, Democrats are bracing for the impact of the red wave that has already seen several long-shot candidates close the gap with their opponents.

We’re even seeing GOP strength in gubernatorial races that were once considered to be locks for the Democrats. Republican candidates currently lead in Nevada and in deep blue Oregon. And new polls show GOP candidates slightly ahead in New York and tied in Michigan, Wisconsin and – gasp – Minnesota.

I suppose Silver should be commended for recognizing the shift away from his party’s candidates. But given his guru status, one wonders what took him so long?


A previous version of this article appeared in The Washington Examiner.

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2 thoughts on “Liberal analyst predicting Democratic Senate win tempers his forecast”

  1. Great observation! Silver is finding out the difficulty of having to tell the truth of the situation (polls moving Red) while simultaneously groveling at the feet of the Dems.


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