Appearing yesterday on Bill Simmons’ weekly podcast, The BS Report, stats guru and famed election forecaster Nate Silver predicted that the 2014 election cycle will be a snoozer, but 2016 might be one for the ages.
The statistical model Silver developed correctly predicted 49 out of 50 states in the 2008 presidential election. He then nailed every single state in the 2012 presidential election, making his polling analysis one of the biggest story lines of the year. But things have slowed down considerably since the culmination of the 2012 election cycle last November.
Here’s Silver’s take on the current lack of compelling political stories compared to years gone by:
…this is not a super interesting year in politics right now. You go back to Monica, and then the 2000 election, and 9/11 and 2004 was a close election and 2008 was historic, right? 2012 was another close election — a really good run of political events that, again, we look at things and assume it’s kind of the new normal when it’s really an outlier, right? Politics were pretty boring during the mid-90s and so forth when Clinton blew out Dole and [there was] not much to write about, really…
You look at where the news cycle is going and I’m kind of aware that 2016, I think, will be fascinating. But I’ll be frank, I think 2014 midterm will be dull as compared to most other recent elections. There’s not much at stake where we know that GOP’s gonna control one branch of Congress — almost for sure — and we know Obama’s in the White House through 2016, so you don’t have really control of all of D.C. at stake and that makes it less compelling.
So what does a political prognosticator do when he thinks politics is going to be boring for the next couple of years?
Sports, of course.
Silver licensed his blog, FiveThirtyEight, to The New York Times in 2010. At one point he was responsible for an incredible 27% of the Times’ web traffic. That’s no small feet considering the Times’ site is one of the most visited in the United States. The month before the 2012 election nytimes.com garnered 573 million page views.
But Silver reportedly butted heads with some of the big wigs at the Times, so he made a bold move last month and announced he would be taking his talents — and his blog — to ESPN.
He will continue producing political content (ESPN says he will forecast elections in 2014 and 2016), but he will broaden his site to include sports and other categories. “I’ll probably be writing a little less about politics now — not so much the kind of daily grind or the play-by-play,” he said.
ESPN may seem like a strange move for a political commentator, but Silver has deep roots in the sports world. He was a baseball analyst for Baseball Prospectus from 2003-2008. During that time he developed a rating system for Major League Baseball players that accurately forecasted their production.
This also isn’t ESPN’s first foray into new media experimentation. ESPN actually has a history of signing one-man digital brands. They took a chance on Bill Simmons, whose BostonSportsGuy.com website caught their attention in 2001.
Simmons has since served as executive producer for ESPN’s wildly successful 30 for 30 documentary series, written two books and produced countless podcasts, and his new website, Grantland.com, has grown into one of the premier sports and pop culture destinations on the web.
ESPN allowed Grantland to have its on freestanding URL outside of ESPN.com, its own distinct design, and they’ve given Simmons wide latitude to create a distinct brand.
It has paid off in a major way.
Simmons has become one of the defining figures of this era of media.
Conversely, Silver seems to have been frustrated by The New York Times’ rigid old-media model. He even alluded to it briefly on Simmons’ podcast yesterday. He no doubt sees the upside in taking his brand to a place where he will be given the kind of freedom ESPN has given Simmons.
After an in-depth discussion about the future of the media, Simmons pivoted back to politics and commented to Silver that 2016 looks like it could be fascinating year.
“That’ll be epic,” Silver quipped.
And he says he’ll be paying especially close attention to Republicans.
“It used to be the Democrats had all these fights… I don’t know how you bridge the gap between the libertarians and the moderates and the religious right and the Tea Party and kind of the country club Mitt Romney establishment vote… It’s going to be incredibly interesting to see that play out.”
It’ll be interesting to see how Silver’s new venture plays out as well.
Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims