Thin-Skinned Democrats Push Back Against Nate Silver

Democrats have become the party that is scared of their own shadow. They are scared of President Obama stepping foot in their district, they are frightened about Obamacare’s impact on their election chances, they are terrified of the Koch-brothers-bogeyman, and now they are fearful of…statistician Nate Silver?

Although Silver has long been known among fantasy baseball geeks, who counted on his Baseball Prospectus to win their drafts, his spot-on predictions in the last two presidential races have made him a household name. His star power has risen to the level that just mentioning his name in an email chain is the best way the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has found to raise money.

His predictions carry so much weight that when it leaked out that Silver was forecasting that the 2014 Senate race was effectively a toss-up it put Democrat donors into a self-induced, pocket-emptying panic. As Scott Bland reported earlier this month for the National Journal:

For the last few months, FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver has been largely absent from the political forecasting scene he owned in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

But that hasn’t stopped the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from sending at least 11 fundraising emails featuring Silver in the subject line over the past four months, even as Silver was building the foundation for his new website that’s launching Monday and was not writing regularly.

One of most widely used tools is fear. Many of the emails seek to convince supporters that the political situation is dire enough that it requires action, and that’s where Silver comes in.

That was less than two weeks ago. Since then Nate Silver has finally launched his new FiveThirtyEight (the number of electors in the U.S. Electoral College) website and has reentered the world of public predictions. And today he came out with a doozy:

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. The Democrats’ position has deteriorated somewhat since last summer, with President Obama’s approval ratings down to 42 or 43 percent from an average of about 45 percent before. Furthermore, as compared with 2010 or 2012, the GOP has done a better job of recruiting credible candidates, with some exceptions.

That prediction didn’t have the same effect as the others. Rather than trump it up as a troublesome sign to scare Democrat voters and gin up some much-needed campaign cash, Democrats pushed back. Alex Roarty reports for National Journal:

Democrats aren’t taking Nate Silver’s latest Senate prediction lying down.

In an unusual step, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on Monday issued a rebuttal the famed statistician’s prediction—made a day earlier—that Republicans were a “slight favorite” to retake the Senate. Silver was wrong in 2012, the political committee’s Guy Cecil wrote in a memo, and he’ll be wrong again in 2014. . . .

But the comprehensive pushback from Cecil, the powerful committee’s key staffer, is a testament both to the influence Silver wields and the sensitivity of Senate Democrats to the perception they’re losing their grip on the upper chamber. Other outlets have suggested similar odds on the Senate, but none have earned this kind of rebuttal.

Talk about some thin skin! Rarely, if ever, does a party push back so petulantly against the work of a statistician. So what gives? Why were they happy to advertise Silver’s earlier predictions in order to fundraise, but are now doing their best to discredit the man and his forecasting model? The answer appears to be that they have stopped feigning fear—an effective tactic for urging voters to get excited about a midterm election—and have begun to become legitimately terrified.

They’re worry is that the polling tide turns sharply from showing a close race to indications of a landslide and that as a result voters may be discouraged and stay home. It’s a legitimate fear, but so is its analog – that conservative voters become so assured of success that they also don’t turn out with the same enthusiasm. And that’s something—no matter how rosy things look—that Republicans must take pains to guard against.