In maybe the juiciest free agent signing since LeBron James bolted for Miami three years ago, it looks like Nate Silver, the political forecaster behind the FiveThirtyEight blog, is departing the New York Times after serving out his initial, three-year contract, and going to ESPN. According to (who else?) the Times, Silver will, presumably among other things, appear frequently on Keith Olbermann’s forthcoming, New York-based late-night show on ESPN2, and also do some politics work for ESPN’s corporate sibling ABC News. He had reportedly been in negotiations with the Times to sign a new contract.
Silver, who a decade ago was working at Baseball Prospectus analyzing the sport with advanced statistics, started blogging about politics at Daily Kos and then his own blog during the 2008 primaries and election. He became popular for forecasting elections, most prominently the presidential election as it plays out in the electoral college (hence “FiveThirtyEight,” for the 538 electoral votes), by averaging polls and weighting them to adjust for the ways in which they had been inaccurate in the past—a method not dissimilar from the one he used to devise a well-regarded algorithm for forecasting the future performances of baseball players. He moved his franchise to the Times in the summer of 2010. Particularly last November, he became a lightning rod for this more empirical way of following elections, as contrasted with the “narrative”-heavy approach of many pundits. He did not reply to a request for comment Saturday.
Now all of this makes a huge amount of sense: At ESPN, Nate can rattle off sports figures and stay focused between election cycles. It's basically the perfect job for him and his team, and frankly I don't know why ESPN didn't pay him more to begin with.
Which leads me to conclude the X factor here that made Nate take the plunge is Olbermann, also back at ESPN. The two of them together again (Nate got his political TV punditry start as a regular guest on 2007-2008 Countdown with Olbermann) are a formidable combo.
Olbermann's reportedly not allowed to talk politics on his show. But...with Nate Silver as a regular guest, I would have to think that he might bring up politics for Keith. Either way, it's a compelling reason to at least tape Olbermann's show once in a while.