New York Times Blogger Nate Silver Gives Markey Substantial Edge

New York Times election forecaster Nate Silver, who correctly called all 50 states in last year's presidential race, gives U.S. Rep. Edward Markey a substantial edge in his U.S. Senate race against Gabriel Gomez.

Rep. Edward Markey (Steven Senne/AP)
Rep. Edward Markey (Steven Senne/AP)

In a post on his FiveThirtyEight blog, Silver projects a 15-point victory for Markey — a significantly larger margin than the four-point spread in the first independent poll in the race, a Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey that gave Democrat Markey a 44-40 lead over Republican Gomez.

Silver's model for forecasting Senate races weighs a series of "fundamentals" alongside polling results. As the campaign marches on and the polls pile up, he writes, the model gives more weight to surveys — even if they fly in the face of the fundamentals. But early in the campaign, the polls can be less than reliable.

Silver considers up to seven fundamentals in evaluating any Senate race. But four don't apply to the Markey-Gomez race -- one, for instance, involves the coattail effects of presidential elections.

That leaves three factors to evaluate: the candidates’ ideology relative to the voters in their state, their fundraising and their history of being elected to public office. Markey has the advantage in all three categories.

Silver attributes eight points of Markey's 15-point edge to his fundraising advantage: he pulled in $4.2 million before April 10, compared to the $600,000 Gomez raised.

Silver gives Markey five points for his experience in elective office (Gomez has never won public office before). And the Democrat gets two points for landing closer to the median voter in Massachusetts when it comes to ideology.

Here's Silver's calculation of the candidates' ideology — based on public statements and other factors — with a score of negative one representing an extremely liberal candidate and positive one an extremely conservative candidate.

(FiveThirtyEight Blog, The New York Times)
(FiveThirtyEight Blog, The New York Times)

The good news for Gomez, Silver argues, is that he can shift two of the three metrics: ideological positioning and fundraising.

Fundraising, which represents the bulk of Markey's edge in Silver's model, looks like Gomez's biggest opportunity for growth.

Money helps with staffing and advertising, of course. But as Silver writes, it can also serve as a barometer of grassroots support for a campaign.

Look no further than the last U.S. Senate special election in Massachusetts. In that 2010 contest, Republican Scott Brown raised $15 million after securing the GOP nomination — a good indication that something unusual was in the works. He went on to upset Democrat Martha Coakley.

A close look at how much Gomez raises from Massachusetts voters, going forward, could be instructive. He's unlikely to approach Brown's $15 million, Silver writes, but if he can get half or one-third of that total, it would be a good sign.

The Mood

One of the fundamentals in Silver's Senate prediction model is a measure of national political mood — the average of several polls asking Americans, in generic fashion, if they'd vote for a Democrat or a Republican for Congress.

Silver did not include that measure in his Markey-Gomez analysis since the current polling gives no significant advantage to either party.

But that neutrality is probably a good thing for Markey: it indicates nothing like the national, anti-Democratic tide that helped catapult Brown to his upset victory in 2010.

The recent PPP poll, which had Massachusetts voters giving President Obama relatively high marks, is a further indication that the political mood is nothing out of the ordinary at the moment.

But the news is not all good for Markey.

Given all the Democrat's advantages, Gomez's strong showing in the PPP poll is all the more striking. And if the surveys keep showing a close contest, the fundamentals will lose some of their predictive power.

This program aired on May 7, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.


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