Why Nate Silver’s Numbers Are Good News For Democrats (March 30, 2014)

Nate Silver, New York Times blogger and statistician

Statistical wunderkind Nate Silver may be on the cautious side of predicting a Republican takeover of the Senate come November (and there’s been a lot of overreacting on both sides of the aisle to the March 23 FiveThirtyEight blog post), but it’s helpful these days to be a longterm strategist. That may not always be an asset within today’s 24/7, reactionary, attention deficient political and media paradigms. However if one is able, even for a moment, to see 2014’s bizarrely stagnant, bipolar and toxic sociopolitical atmosphere for what it really is, it’s a lot easier to relax into a zen-like embrace of the old adage, “this too shall pass.”

The electorate is morphing, growing more socially liberal in particular, at a magnificent clip. Both parties are keenly aware of that fact. And nowhere is the transition more evident than among the youth demographic.

Gallup released poll results last week, interpreted in an article entitled, Young Americans’ Affinity for Democratic Party Has Grown. The piece opens by observing, “Young adults — those between the ages of 18 and 29 — have typically aligned themselves with the Democratic Party, but they have become substantially more likely to do so since 2006…Since 2006, the average gap in favor of the Democratic Party among young adults has been 18 percentage points, 54% to 36%.”

Meanwhile, over in Baby Boomer county, New York Timescolumnist Charles M. Blow observes in his March 28 writing, The Split of the Ages: “Until the age of Obama, Democrats had an ideological leg up among Americans 65 and older. Then those voters shifted to give the Republicans an advantage. That advantage has held, although it’s shrinking.”

Blow’s comments reflect good reason for Senate Democrats to be concerned this year. As the Daily Kos writers remarked last fall, Democrats’ biggest challenge is getting their base voters to vote in a midterm election. And if a strong enough contingent of the older, white, conservative voters who comprise the Republican base are mobilized to hit the ballot box, then there’s a decent chance we could end up with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Yes, I just vomited a little in my mouth). However there’s a lot of “ifs” in play here and there’s still plenty of time for left wing voters to realize what’s at stake.

And now let’s return to my proposal at the beginning of this column. Let’s try to see the 2014 midterms for what they really are, accept the possibility of a short-term hit (while doing everything we can to avert it) and smile as we consider 2016 and beyond. The soundtrack of this political year is the gasping death march of the old Mad Men world order. As Blow notes, “Part of the reason for the Democratic swing among young people is the incredible diversity of the group. Gallup estimates that 45 percent of Americans 18-29 are nonwhite.” As Americans evolve into a more ethnically and racially disparate population, the “white man is grand” policies of the GOP become progressively alienating.

But here. HERE is where the blood of the Koch Brothers and others of their election purchasing ilk must run especially cold. Toward the middle of the Gallup piece, writer Jeffrey M. Jones concludes:

“But young adults are not more Democratic solely because they are more racially diverse. In recent years, young white adults, who previously aligned more with the Republican Party, have shifted Democratic. From 1995 to 2005, young whites consistently identified as or leaned Republican rather than Democratic, by an average of eight points. Since 2006, whites aged 18 to 29 have shown at least a slight Democratic preference in all but one year, with an average advantage of three points.”

Cold, hard statistics. Not opinion, although we know the Republican party struggles to embrace science and facts in the modern era. But not all right wing pundits will afford themselves the luxury of denial. In his own weekend column, The Christian Penumbra, New York Times conservative Ross Douthat takes a look at the unholy relationship between Deep Southern traditional religious values and poverty. He notes, “some of the most religious areas of the country — the Bible Belt, the deepest South — struggle mightily with poverty, poor health, political corruption and social disarray.”

While the piece goes on to argue that full engagement in a religious institution rather than nominal belief is the cure for this disparity, Douthat can’t be encouraged by recent studies concluding that Americans are less religious than ever before. And as voters drift away from dogmatic Christianity, away from consigned racism and homophobia and toward recognition that the oligarchs are running the show, rejection of socially stunted, corporate protectionist policies is a natural outcome.

I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated by the President’s low approval ratings. I’m frustrated that Democrats seem to be on the defensive nationally against a party with no platform. But we have time and Silver’s projected 10 percentage point likelihood is hardly insurmountable. But it’s the long run where Republicans are at the disadvantage. It’s all in the numbers.


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