Who Scares Democrats More Than the Koch Brothers? Nate Silver.

Fear is a tool when it comes to fundraising, and Silver’s analysis seems to work.

National Journal
Scott Bland
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Scott Bland
March 11, 2014, 5:29 p.m.

For the last few months, Fiv­eThirtyEight ed­it­or-in-chief Nate Sil­ver has been largely ab­sent from the polit­ic­al fore­cast­ing scene he owned in the 2008 and 2012 pres­id­en­tial elec­tions.

But that hasn’t stopped the Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee from send­ing at least 11 fun­drais­ing emails fea­tur­ing Sil­ver in the sub­ject line over the past four months, even as Sil­ver was build­ing the found­a­tion for his new web­site that’s launch­ing Monday and was not writ­ing reg­u­larly.

It’s all part of a di­git­al fun­drais­ing game that will in­crease in in­tens­ity as the elec­tion draws near­er, as can­did­ates, polit­ic­al parties, and oth­er groups bom­bard their email lists with mes­sages de­signed to draw con­tri­bu­tions.

One of most widely used tools is fear. Many of the emails seek to con­vince sup­port­ers that the polit­ic­al situ­ation is dire enough that it re­quires ac­tion, and that’s where Sil­ver comes in.

The last time he wrote about the Sen­ate land­scape, all the way back in Ju­ly 2013, Sil­ver said Re­pub­lic­ans “might now be close to even-money to win con­trol of the cham­ber” in 2014. He also cited North Car­o­lina as “the closest thing to the tip­ping-point state in the Sen­ate battle,” and called Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s seat in Louisi­ana “a true toss-up.”

Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee emails fea­tur­ing Nate Sil­ver.

That’s scary stuff if you’re a Demo­crat­ic sup­port­er, es­pe­cially com­ing from an ana­lyst whose ac­cur­acy made him a house­hold name in the past few years. And the re­peated name-drop­ping has prob­ably opened some wal­lets for Sen­ate Demo­crats.

“There’s a lot of test­ing, par­tic­u­larly for sub­ject lines, to see what has the best open rates,” said Taryn Rosen­kranz, a Demo­crat­ic di­git­al fun­drais­ing con­sult­ant un­af­fili­ated with the DSCC. “Us­ing that name over and over sug­gests it’s suc­cess­ful, and people are open­ing and giv­ing.”

The DSCC de­clined a re­quest for com­ment.

In­deed, email fun­drais­ing is akin to a sci­ence in polit­ics, in which cam­paigns and party com­mit­tees test sub­ject lines, mes­saging, lay­outs, the time that email is sent, the num­ber of links, how many mes­sages are sent — any­thing to in­crease the amount of money col­lec­ted. Just a small per­cent­age in­crease can lead to big money when so­li­cit­ing a large list.

There are plenty of oth­er themes in the past few months of DSCC emails, in­clud­ing alarm­ing one-word sub­ject lines such as “cata­stroph­ic,” “dis­astrous,” and “doomed.” A few oth­er in­di­vidu­als (be­sides Sen­ate can­did­ates) have been fea­tured fre­quently, too. For ex­ample, one of the non­profits af­fil­i­ated with the con­ser­vat­ive bil­lion­aire Koch broth­ers, Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity, has already spent about $30 mil­lion on ad­vert­ising against Sen­ate Demo­crats, and the Kochs ap­pear prom­in­ently in email so­li­cit­a­tions.

The DSCC has ref­er­enced the Kochs to shake money out of donors in no few­er than 77 fun­drais­ing emails in the past four months. But Sil­ver has the con­ser­vat­ive money­men beat in one im­port­ant met­ric. Only one DSCC email in that time fea­tures the Kochs in the sub­ject line — per­haps the most crit­ic­al part of the mes­sage be­cause it must in­duce sup­port­ers to open the email be­fore they can ac­tu­ally give money. Sil­ver was cited far more of­ten.

Sil­ver rose to prom­in­ence by pro­ject­ing the 2008 elec­tion res­ults, and he then joined The New York Times, where he gained a big­ger plat­form and en­joyed an­oth­er suc­cess­ful year of polit­ic­al fore­cast­ing in 2012, cor­rectly pre­dict­ing the win­ner in all 50 states in the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion. He has since moved to ES­PN, where he is re­launch­ing Fiv­eThirtyEight as a quant­it­at­ive news site cov­er­ing not only polit­ics but also sports, eco­nom­ics, and oth­er sub­jects.

Rosen­kranz said she wasn’t aware of any oth­er Demo­crat­ic cam­paigns or com­mit­tees lever­aging Sil­ver’s renown in the same way as the DSCC. But with Sil­ver’s new site launch­ing on Monday, a new Sen­ate fore­cast may be in the near fu­ture — and per­haps more emails, too.

“He’s a trus­ted source of in­form­a­tion,” Rosen­kranz said. “People don’t have a lot of time to read email … so you’ve got to cap­ture their at­ten­tion in some way.”

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