Democrats upset with Nate Silver over 2014 Senate projections

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) is pushing back against Nate Silver’s projections in key races this fall that could decide control of the chamber. The party’s campaign arm issued a memo yesterday in which it highlighted where the election guru has come up short in the past:

“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,” DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil wrote in a memo Monday. “In some cases, more than half of these polls come from GOP polling outfits.”

In 2012, Cecil noted, Silver incorrectly predicted Republican candidates would win in Montana and North Dakota, where Democrats ultimately triumphed.

“In fact, in August of 2012, Silver forecasted a 61 percent likelihood that Republicans would pick up enough seats to claim the majority,” Cecil added. “Three months later, Democrats went on to win 55 seats.”

The DSCC, of course, ignores Silver’s October 2012 projection, in which he wrote, “[t]he FiveThirtyEight forecast model now gives Republicans just about a 16 percent chance of winning control of the Senate.”

Basically, they’re shooting the messenger. Most political analysts have noted that Republicans are gaining momentum, openly saying that Democrats will lose seats, though perhaps not enough to gain control. The Cook Political Report, for example, called the fight for control of the Senate “a jump ball.” Statistically, it looks good for Republicans, but no one, including Silver, is saying with any certainty that control of the Senate will change hands.

Chris Cillizza notes that the DSCC probably had another motive for the memo, which was to motivate Democratic donors to send money:

Know who REALLY listens to what Nate says? Major Democratic donors. They follow his projections extremely closely and, if he says the Senate majority won’t be held, they take it as the gospel truth. That, of course, is a major problem for the DSCC and other Democrats focused on keeping control of the Senate — particularly given that major outside conservative groups led by Americans for Prosperity are already spending heavily on ads bashing vulnerable Democratic incumbents. If the major donor community concludes that spending on the Senate isn’t a worthy investment, Cecil and his Democratic colleagues know that their chances of holding the majority get very, very slim. Nate’s predictions move money in Democratic circles. Cecil knows that. Hence the memo.

Is it too early to make a projection for an election that is more than seven months away? Probably. As we’ve written in this space before, a lot can change in the course of a few weeks, let alone several months.

But as it stands right now, the mood in the country is much more favorable to Republicans than it has been since 2010, thanks mostly to an unpopular healthcare law that Democrats continue to defend and a still weak economy.


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