This morning, data journalist/graph whisperer Nate Silver posted his latest forecast for the 2014 midterm elections, in which he predicts that the Republican Party will take back the Senate. The new prognostication was an update from last July when Silver deemed the race for control of the Senate to be a toss-up:
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."
A half-step further! And the accompanying explanation:
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.
So flabbergasted are we by Silver's oracular prowess that ABC'sThis Week devoted a totally sincere three-minute segment that featured Silver ambling through the new high-tech FiveThirtyEight offices only to end up messily writing the names of states in play on a whiteboard with the odds of GOP wins scribbled out next to them.
Here's a clip of the whiteboard pièce de résistance, which includes at least one "record scratch" sound effect:
Here was one pretty representative type of reaction to Silver's forecast:
So right now, Silver pegs the odds of the GOP taking control of both chambers at 60 percent. But political fortunes can shift overnight and seven months (plus change) is an eternity. In the thousands of words written about this new forecast, six very important ones are left out: November is still several months away.
There are probably many untold disasters and triumphs ahead. Silver's forecast incited some pushback. Shortly after Silver's piece went up, so did "Tarnished Silver," an ominously titled Paul Krugman post. In it, Krugman defended the experts that Silver derides and called the launch of Silver's new FiveThirtyEight "something between a disappointment and a disaster."
Unfortunately, Silver seems to have taken the wrong lesson from his election-forecasting success. In that case, he pitted his statistical approach against campaign-narrative pundits, who turned out to know approximately nothing. What he seems to have concluded is that there are no experts anywhere, that a smart data analyst can and should ignore all that.
Elsewhere, others chimed in to point out that people not named Nate Silver have been saying much of the same thing recently.
— Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) March 23, 2014
I suppose if everyone else is plugging his or her expertise, so should we. If you're looking for a more nuanced take on upcoming midterms, try this one.