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.

Nate Silver Says Marco Rubio is as Unelectable as Mitt Romney Was (February 19, 2013)


The name of rock star statistician Nate Silver will be forever linked with the results of the 2012 Presidential election. You may recall that against the tide of Republican strategic hubris, and despite rampant voter suppression efforts taking place in communities representing large populations of poor and ethnic constituents, Silver warned the GOP talking heads that Obama was on his way to a sweeping victory. And he was right. In President Obama’s historic conquest over Mitt Romney, Silver correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Let’s take a moment to savor once more the epic meltdown of Karl Rove on Fox News as it finally sank in that there was zero chance of a Romney presidency.

It never gets old does it?

In 2010, Silver’s blog, FiveThirtyEight: Nate Silver’s Political Calculus, was presciently licensed for publication by the New York Times. The blog is making news this week with an intriguing post entitled, “Marco Rubio: The Electable Conservative?”

As we know, Rubio is being championed by the beleaguered, delusional and hopelessly out of step Republican Party as the key to returning to mainstream acceptability. Rubio, a Cuban American native of Miami, Florida who rose to prominence after the humblest of beginnings, is seen as the key to making inroads with the nation’s Latino voters. Once a dependable GOP demographic, Latinos have fled the party in droves given its hard-line stance against immigration reform.

Looking to shake the Etch-a-Sketch Romney-style, the GOP has recently attempted to reverse course, proposing to get behind the Dream Act, a plan that would provide a pathway to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. Though many of the partys’  recommended measures are tied to border security improvements, the changes mark a critical pivot for Republicans – and Rubio is offered by the right as the face of that change.

Tasked with delivering the rebuttal to the President’s well-received State of the Union address last week, we know that Rubio stumbled: awkward, sweaty and apparently very thirsty. Rubio’s performance stirred reminisces of the 1960 televised debate between Kennedy and Nixon that many have theorized cost Nixon the election. But really, it was one of Rubio’s first appearances on the national stage. Is it any surprise his rehashed talking points would fail to excite, set in relief against the President’s smooth and energized delivery? The question remains: given more time to develop, could Rubio pose an electable challenge to Democrats in 2016?

Though Nate Silver presents a wealth of data in his piece (naturally) that points to Rubio’s strengths in a Republican primary, he hedges when discussing the senator’s general appeal against more moderate candidates. Silver writes, “This is not to say that Mr. Rubio is extraordinarily popular. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has favorability ratings that are much stronger than Mr. Rubio’s, for example.”

Silver goes on to say, “What makes matters tricky for Mr. Rubio is that, at the same time he is hoping to persuade Republican party insiders that he deserves their support, he will also need to maintain a reasonably good image with the broader electorate lest his electability argument be undermined. This may lead to some strange positions, such as when Mr. Rubio recently critiqued President Obama’s immigration proposal despite its many similarities to his own.”

In other words, a Republican candidate of any color may still have to adopt the 2012 losing strategy of Mitt Romney. Go hard right fringe during primary season to secure the nomination, then try to fox trot your way back to the center so you can appeal to the mainstream.

A full three and a half years before the next Presidential election, Rubio is already being setup to fail as John McCain and Mitt Romney did before him. To return to President Obama’s “lipstick on a pig analogy,” the ethnic makeup of a candidate cannot possibly surmount a losing game plan. Americans wised up to Mitt Romney’s say-anything-to-win strategy and the result was a fantastic drubbing.

The silver lining of the continuing pain of the Great Recession is a more engaged voting public with a distaste for overt manipulation. Until the GOP initiates a grassroots revamp of the outdated platform upon which it stands, it is unlikely to place a candidate in the White House. As Silver concludes, “If Mr. Rubio holds a fairly ordinary (and conservative) set of Republican positions, chances are his popularity ratings will wind up being ordinary as well.”