Nate Silver weighs in on the government shutdown

The celebrated writer and statistician offers his take on the ongoing crisis

Topics: Nate Silver, Government shutdown, Debt ceiling, Grantland, ESPN, 2014 elections, Barack Obama, Republican Party,

Nate Silver weighs in on the government shutdownNate Silver (Credit: AP/Nam Y. Huh)

Ending a temporary break from writing, Nate Silver has taken to the digital pages of ESPN’s Grantland to offer his assessment of the “six big takeaways from the government shutdown.” As anyone familiar with Silver’s work might expect, his estimation of the crisis differs considerably from that of most pundits.

For one thing, Silver argues that the shutdown is likely not as big of a deal as many believe. While he grants that a debt-ceiling breach or a long-term shutdown would likely have significant effects on the 2014 election, Silver says a short-term shutdown “might turn out to have a relatively minor impact by November 2014.”

For another, Silver says the political consequences of the last government shutdown in 1995 are “overrated in Washington’s mythology.” While the conventional wisdoms states that that government shutdown greatly contributed to Bill Clinton’s reelection in 1996, the evidence for the claim, Silver says, is thin. “Clinton’s approval ratings were somewhat higher a few months after the shutdown than a few months beforehand,” Silver writes,  ”but this was part of a relatively steady, long-term trend toward improved approval ratings for Clinton, probably because of solid economic growth.”

Silver goes on to argue that the likelihood of Democrats retaking control of the House in the 2014 election remains very slim; that the polling data available thus far on the shutdown is “not yet all that useful”; that President Obama’s newly stiffened spine is more likely the consequence of his already being reelected, not a “change of heart”; and that the GOP’s radicalism is without recent precedent and makes predictions harder to make.

Ultimately, Silver concludes, “there’s a lot we don’t know.”

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a staff writer at Salon, focusing on politics. Follow him on Twitter at @eliasisquith, and email him at

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