NS: I wouldn’t say it came naturally. I think I went from being about a C on TV to being a B+ by the end. It’s definitely something where you need practice—it’s not completely natural in terms of your body language and other stuff. You want to look straight ahead, but you also don’t want to be so stiff. I think sometimes you learn lessons that are good starter rules, but kind of un-learn them eventually. ‘Don’t play with your hands a lot, because the frame’s going to capture your neckline and a little below, and you don’t want hands popping into and out of the frame.’ But if you gesture and gesticulate a lot—or a little bit, I should say—that can add some life and body, I think, to the appearance. So there are little things like that. I sometimes wear glasses on these appearances because my eyes tend to dart around a little bit, and you wouldn’t notice in person, but you’d certainly notice on television. So there are little tricks you learn.
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?