Silver and FiveThirtyEight translate well in the UK

When the BBC’s flagship current affairs program “Panorama” decided they wanted to take a different approach to covering the upcoming general election in the UK, they reached out across The Pond to FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver.

Silver, along with presenter Richard Bacon, spent a week traveling more than 2,000 miles around England and Scotland in an airstream trailer, speaking to voters about the issues driving their party allegiances, for a show that airs tonight on BBCOne in the UK (a US airdate is TBD). Front Row chatted with producer Mark Alden from London to learn more about how it came together.

When/why did you come up with the idea to pursue Nate for Panorama?
Richard and I were discussing how to make politics more interesting on TV and nominating figures who break through the “boredom” factor. When he covered the 2012 U.S. Presidential election Richard said Nate’s column was the first thing he read each day. I had first starting reading Nate in 2008, so there was a mutual appreciation of his work and a fascination about his methods.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about Nate?
That he will never venture into a restaurant without reading a whole load of reviews about it first. It makes sense right? But he knew all the best places to go, even though he’d never set foot in towns like Skegness or Bury before.

What was your favorite anecdote from the trip?
Firstly, the word is favourite! What did our “u’s” do so wrong? This is hard – each place was so different. We did a pub quiz in Devon and that was a highlight for me. Nate came up with the best question of the night, and he was also able to illustrate one of the problems with opinion polls in a way which a broad and mainstream audience would totally get.

Biggest difference between British and American attitudes toward politics?
My own gut feeling is that the Brits are just so much more cynical about the whole political process. That’s why I wanted to make sure the road trip was fun as well as informative. Politics is important and it’s vital that we, as journalists, find creative and entertaining ways of covering it. My hope is that viewers think it’s an entertaining show and then realize that they did in fact, without realizing, learn quite a bit.

Do Brits follow the US elections? What should Americans know about the UK election?
I think us Brits are probably far more interested in your presidential elections than you Americans are in ours. I guess that’s partly because the outcome is of greater global significance. Having said that, two-year campaigns do get a bit much.

Two things that Americans should know is that a) there’s a quiet revolution taking place in Britain where the old two party politics of the 20th century looks like it is going to be replaced by a multi-party system (but we have a voting system designed for two parties). And b) don’t ever think you can forecast the outcome of a UK election.

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