Democrats slam Nate Silver. Why the pushback against polling whiz?

Nate Silver is now saying the GOP is a 'slight' favorite to win control of the Senate in the November elections. At least one Democratic official fired back Monday with his own arguments.

Democrats are slamming statistics whiz Nate Silver’s new prediction that Republicans are favored to win control of the Senate in the 2014 elections.

On Monday morning Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, issued a memo pointing out that Mr. Silver missed badly on some individual Senate races in 2012. Silver – then employed by The New York Times – said then that Jon Tester had only a 34 percent chance of winning in Montana. Which he did. Silver had Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota at only a 8 percent chance of victory. Today she’s a US senator.

Yes, Silver, now head of his own FiveThirtyEight media group, says the GOP is a “slight” favorite to win the six seats needed to wrest the Senate from Harry Reid’s hands. But this prediction is built upon state polling that’s spotty and sometimes skewed by partisan firms, the DSCC’s Mr. Cecil claims.

“Only three Democratic incumbent senators have lost reelection in the last ten years, and our incumbents are once again prepared and ready,” Cecil chest-thumps.

This reminds us of that classic Monty Python bit, the Black Knight. “ ’Tis but a scratch!” the knight scoffs as King Arthur hacks off his arm.

The fact is that Silver isn’t the only prognosticator saying Democrats best be prepared for a number of incumbent casualties, given the way things stand at the moment. At RealClearPolitics, Sean Trende is saying pretty much the same thing, primarily because President Obama’s job approval ratings remain mediocre.

Chris Cillizza at "The Fix" points to a strong Republican candidate recruitment effort as well as the general political environment in saying that the GOP now has an edge.

This is all contingent on what happens in coming months, of course. It’s possible things could swing back the Democrats’ way. But the tide is running for the GOP at the moment, and Democratic Party officials know this. So why are they picking on Silver in particular?

Well, he’s pretty well known, so maybe they feel they have to take him on. But as our colleague Mark Sappenfield wrote over the weekend, it’s possible they’re also using Silver’s prediction for fundraising efforts. Democrats have discovered that Silver’s name in an e-mail subject line gets a good response, in terms of opening the e-mail and subsequent donations. So in that context, the more the Democratic Party talks about him, the better its bottom line gets.

Our feeling is that the party’s also using Silver’s name to ramp up the commitment of its rank and file. It’s a way to personalize the assertion that things are in flux and it is time to open wallets and get ready for get-out-the-vote efforts.

The constant Democratic talk about the wealthy Koch brothers and their GOP donations fits right into this. The Kochs are useful bogeymen with which to scare Democratic voters. And Democrats need to be motivated, in a way: It’s turnout that wins elections, and Republicans traditionally have better turnout in midterms.

Thus the aforementioned DSCC memo on Silver also segues into a longer discussion about general challenges facing the party and then talks about the Bannock Street Project, a $60 million “data-driven field and voter contact program.”

“There’s no question that one of the greatest challenges facing Democrats in the midterm is turnout. We are dealing with this challenge head on by preparing an unprecedented investment in a national field and get-out-the-vote program,” says the DSCC chief.

Hmm, “data-driven.” Sounds like Silver’s new FiveThirtyEight site itself.

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