Nate Silver: Republicans Favored To Win Senate, But Only Slightly

According to forecasting guru Nate Silver, Republicans are slight favorits to win control of the Senate in the midterm elections later this year. Silver, statistician with a stellar track record at predicting elections, said Sunday that there’s around a 60 percent chance that the GOP will capture the Senate in the elections nine months from now. But even with 60 percent odds, Republicans are only expected to win by a single seat, underscoring how fluid both parties’ prospects are.

Silver, a former baseball forecaster who’s been predicting elections since 2008, chalks up the GOP’s advantage to a couple of factors. A couple of Democrats who’ve long represented red states are retiring, and Republicans have recruited strong candidates in those states. Senators who rode into office on Barack Obama’s coattails in 2008 now have to run for reelection in a harsher political environment: Midterm elections generally attract an older, whiter electorate, which naturally favors Republicans, and midterms during the sixth year of a president’s term generally aren’t favorable to that president’s party.

“[O]ur forecast might be thought of as a Republican gain of six seats — plus or minus five,” Silver wrote at his newly-relaunched FiveThirtyEight website. “The balance has shifted slightly toward the GOP.”

However, Silver added that “it wouldn’t take much for it to revert to the Democrats, nor for this year to develop into a Republican rout along the lines of 2010.”

Silver catapulted into the national spotlight toward the end of the 2012 election when he insisted, contrary to conventional wisdom at the time, that President Obama was probably going to win reelection in a blowout. While the narrative at that time was very much that Obama and Mitt Romney were neck-and-neck, Silver’s exhaustive statistical analysis of polling data suggested that no, they weren’t neck-and-neck at all. Obviously, he was ultimately proven right.

But the reaction to Silver’s correct predictions was a lesson in its own right. A lot establishment pundits viciously attacked Silver for suggesting that it wasn’t a 50-50 race, even though Silver’s forecasting was based on empirical, non-idealogical foundations. Joe Scarborough famously embarrassed himself by calling silver “a joke,” while Peggy Noonan, having observed some pro-Romney yard signs in her hometown, predicted a Romney victory on the eve of the election (“Something old is roaring back,” she explained whimsically.)

Obviously, Silver was vindicated, and as such, the whole episode exposed two significant and undermentioned biases in political reporting: The tendency to value things like “gut feeling” and personal anecdotes over data, and the tendency of the media to portray every election as a tight race, even if polling suggests that it isn’t.

Right now, though, polling does suggest a tight race. But, as is always the case nine months before an election, it’s also a fluid one.