By the end it was kind of fun. But there are also times when you’ve slept for all of three hours, and you have to do a TV hit, and you definitely hope they have a makeup person there, and whatever else. And other times you’re like, “This is fun,” and you’re in the right mood, and everything goes great. It’s definitely not something I anticipated doing when I started the Web site back in March.
MG: And what are your plans for later on? Are you going to stay in politics?
NS: Yeah, I think I’ll be trying to split my time in some reasonably intelligent way. But I’m looking to probably write a book next year (one good thing about the media appearances is you have publishers who are interested in your stuff). And, on the site, we’ll talk about the Congress. I think that, as compared with this point four years ago, there’ll be a lot more real news. Obama seems very ambitious about what he wants to accomplish. He has Democrats in both chambers of Congress, so he doesn’t have very many excuses not to get some stuff accomplished, so I think people will be interested in what he’s doing.
And there’s all this fascination over his chief of staff and stuff like that…and some of that stuff, I think, is kind of boring, but what I’m more interested in is the politics of it—Who are the key swing votes in the Senate? Who does Obama have to maintain good relationships with, and who can he afford to piss off?—and to kind of narrate that play-by-play, and everything else. Now, for example, which senators are up for re-election next year? There are a group of four or five moderate Republicans in tough races in 2010 in the Senate, and if Obama is popular, they’re going to have a difficult time if they look like they’re obstructing what he’s trying to do. Likewise, there are red-state Democratic senators who, if Obama is unpopular, might want to position themselves against him. So you’re going to go from a de-facto filibuster-proof majority of sixty-four or so senators if he’s popular to barely getting fifty on some votes if he’s not. There’s a group of about a dozen swing votes in the Senate between moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats of various stripes.
MG: While it focuses on Congress, will FiveThirtyEight keep its current numbers-and-narrative formula?
NS: Yeah. And we’re going to try and provide more data to people on the Congress, so you can look up someone’s voting record, for example, in a way that we think is more interesting and intelligible than you might be able to find elsewhere right now. Maybe it’d be something where, if you have a vote in the House, you can try to map out and model, ‘Why did people vote for this bill? Are there any people that look like they should have voted for this bill, and didn’t? And, if so, why didn’t they?’ And then maybe you tie that in with, say, lobbying money. So there’s a lot of creative ideas we have. It’ll never be horse race stuff, I don’t think. But we have a midterm in 2010—I think it’s going to be really interesting—and we have some gubernatorial elections next year, and there’ll be special elections, and stuff like that. The news tends to make itself. During the Clinton administration, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, for example: We would have our ! own FiveThirtyEight way to cover that. Probably not talking about the gossip, but looking at his approval ratings and stuff like that. It’s a busy time in the world, and I think there’ll be no lack of things that we can lend our expertise to. Obviously, our bread and butter will probably be election years.
And, hey, there’s going to be a big fight going on in the GOP, as well. Just like you had a year-long Democratic primary this year, I think you’re really going to see a fight for the heart and soul of the Republican party, beginning early in 2011 and people positioning themselves in different ways. It’ll be fun, because, as we say on the Web site…I mean, I hope we have a reputation for being fair and balanced—maybe I shouldn’t use that particular phrase, but—I think it’ll be interesting, really, as a disinterested observer—and not really disinterested, I think it’s really interesting—to be able to cover that primary and say, ‘Who do I really think will win?’ I hope people can really trust my take if I say, ‘You know what? I think Mitt Romney’s really got it this year.’ I hope people can take that as authoritative and interesting when we get to 2011 or so.