Nate Silver Says Republicans Will Be Okay

by Patrick Brennan

Polling and political-science maven Nate Silver doesn’t buy claims that the Republican party is being seriously hurt by its intransigence over the shutdown. The first four of his six “takeaways” from the government-shutdown fight: 

1. The media is probably overstating the magnitude of the shutdown’s political impact.

2. The impact of the 1995-96 shutdowns is overrated in Washington’s mythology.

3. Democrats face extremely unfavorable conditions in trying to regain the House.

4. The polling data on the shutdown is not yet all that useful, and we lack data on most important measures of voter preferences.

In other words, those predicting doom for the GOP based on its stubborn behavior really don’t have much to stand on, yet. They’ve certainly done their best — repeatedly citing a Gallup poll that found approval for the Republican party at its lowest point since the question started being asked. Silver’s problem with this is partly about uncertainty: We just don’t have the data yet to prove that Republicans are going to come out of this looking pretty bad. But further, Silver explains, the effects of an event like this tend to be pretty transitory and look unlikely to have an effect on the 2014 elections. In fact, he argues that winning the House in 2014 “will require not just a pretty good year for Democrats, but a wave election,” which almost never happen for parties that already control the Oval Office.

In his assessment, the shutdown is almost definitely far from a big-enough story to trigger such an election. In fact, he points out that the “most important measures of voter preferences” aren’t the approval ratings of Republicans and Democrats (both of which have dropped, but the former a good bit more than the latter) but head-to-head comparisons. Since everyone looks bad, in other words, it’s unlikely that one group looking marginally even worse will really translate into a big shift. 

His final point is that politics has reached an unprecedented level of partisanship, so we really don’t have the data to make predictions about the possible outcomes with any degree of certainty. I wouldn’t expect this reasonable assessment to stop most people from doing just that, though.