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David Shor, a Data Guru for Democrats, Throws One Last Bash

At 7 p.m. on Saturday, the political consultant David Shor was setting up his fifth-floor apartment in Lower Manhattan for one last blowout party before the start of election season, when he expects to work between 65 and 70 hours a week crunching numbers on behalf of Democratic candidates across the country.

Mr. Shor, who started college at 13, built his reputation among political insiders through his innovative use of data. So it wasn’t a surprise that, as a party host, he was leaving nothing to chance.

A six-person planning committee, appointed by Mr. Shor, worked out the arrangement in Notion, a document-management system favored by tech companies. The invitation for the event, billed as a miniature version of the annual Burning Man festival, included guidance on “dress-code & vibe” through a link to a Pinterest page filled with photos of costumed revelers in the desert.

Although Mr. Shor has been credited with forecasting the behavior of voters with uncanny accuracy, he does not have a foolproof system for a successful party.

“But there are certainly best practices,” he said.

Chief among them: zones.

Working closely with his lieutenants, Mr. Shor divided his minimally furnished loft on the Bowery into distinct areas, each with its own atmosphere and purpose.

The mostly bare living room was now the main Burning Man zone, with plants hanging from the exposed pipes, a fuzzy rug covering much of the floor, and LEDs running along the baseboards. A large sheet was hanging across the low couches, creating a tentlike effect. Psychedelic imagery played on a loop on a large TV, and an audio system brought in for the evening guaranteed that the music would blare at festival-level volume.

The smallest of the zones was Mr. Shor’s bedroom, which had been transformed into a space called the Candy Dungeon. A whip, a chain, a feather duster and a riding crop hung from a wall. On the table was a shrine made up of candles, chocolates and biscotti. The bed was wrapped in thick black cords, like vines around a tree.

Mr. Shor, 31, is relatively new to the party scene. The son of a rabbi and a doctor, he said he didn’t go out much as a teenager in Miami. It was the same when he was working for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign as a key player on the data team that forecast the 2012 vote with remarkable precision. After Donald J. Trump won the 2016 election, Mr. Shor’s life changed.

“I thought, well, the world could end tomorrow,” he said. “I should generally focus on having more fun.”

In cavernous Chicago nightclubs, he discovered electronic dance music — and he liked it. He continued to expand his social life after moving to New York in 2019. He also gained a reputation in Democratic circles as a numbers-crunching truth teller. His most influential idea, called “popularism” (or sometimes “Shorism”), boils down to message discipline for candidates in competitive races: They should talk about what’s popular with voters and shut up about what’s not.

His loft has become a destination for an ecumenical social scene drawn from tech, politics, academia, media and New York City’s 4 a.m. dance floors — part salon, part Saturnalia. The popularist, it turns out, is popular.

“He’s cool enough to be among the beautiful people,” said Henry Williams, a Columbia student who does occasional work for Blue Rose Research, the political strategy firm started by Mr. Shor last year. “But he’s also the king of the nerds.”

The crowd at Mr. Shor’s parties, including a recent “Miami Vice”-themed bash, tends to be brainy and hedonistic. One reason behind his transformation into one of New York’s busiest hosts has to do with his beliefs on the use of urban space. Mr. Shor, who shares the views of a group of pro-housing-development activists known as YIMBYs, said that his place, at nearly 2,000 square feet, is simply too big for one person.

“No one should have an apartment like this,” he said. “But if you do, you have an obligation to open it up to others.”

The night before his Burning Man party, Mr. Shor was out at a dance club in the Maspeth neighborhood of Queens until 5 a.m. He likes the Democratic Party, but he also just likes to party.

“David has a high social stamina,” said Jordan Carmon, a senior adviser to the Brooklyn district attorney Eric Gonzalez. “Among other things.”

As the first of the roughly 250 guests arrived, Mr. Shor climbed the metal ladder to the rooftop — another zone. This one featured a giant Jenga game and an inflatable pool filled with plastic balls and synthetic fuzz. As the sun went down, several artificial intelligence researchers were lounging there.

Nearby stood a consultant, Nik Palomba, who has known Mr. Shor for more than a decade through a Facebook group for fans of the political writer Matthew Yglesias. Mr. Palomba is very tall. “When the Knicks aren’t in town,” Mr. Shor said, coming up to him, “there’s something like a 70 percent chance that he’s the tallest person in Manhattan. It’s actually very rare to be over seven feet.”

Mr. Palomba wasn’t the only guest with ties to a niche online political community. A data scientist known on Twitter as “Xenocrypt” (who asked not to be identified by name) had met Mr. Shor in the comments section of the liberal internet forum Daily Kos.

Other partygoers described similarly obscure or chance meetings with Mr. Shor. Matthew Silver, the D.J. (and a former software sales representative), said he had met Mr. Shor while waiting in line for a techno concert in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Courtney Pozzi, a software designer who designed the Candy Dungeon, said she had met Mr. Shor at a board game night in the West Village. Jelena Luketina, a computer scientist at Oxford University who served as the head of the party planning committee, said she had met Mr. Shor a few weeks earlier at a book party for Will MacAskill, a central figure in effective altruism, a rising philosophical movement.

Effective altruists, who frequently come from the tech industry, prize rationality over gut feeling. A few of them are a new source of funding in Democratic politics. The guests at Mr. Shor’s parties are often “E.A. adjacent,” which is how he describes himself.

Because of the full-fledged effective altruists on the guest list, Mr. Shor had included packs of Spindrift in the part of the refrigerator not filled with Kirkland Hard Seltzer. A number of effective altruists consider alcohol an empirically undesirable drug; others don’t. It seems that the only overriding characteristic of an E.A. party is that the guests won’t stop talking about E.A.

Some political candidates affiliated with the movement have paid to use Blue Rose’s message testing apparatus. And many people more directly involved with effective altruism have taken a shine to Mr. Shor.

“We are drawn to people who are entrepreneurial and ambitious and very smart and prone to using evidence and research in a way that promotes good,” said Rockwell Schwartz, the director of Effective Altruism NYC. “Plus,” she added with a laugh, “David is a beautiful man.”

Mr. Shor was dressed for the evening in head-to-toe white linen. He often dresses flashily, frequently wearing gold lamé pants for his nights on the town. As a wiz-kid working for the Obama re-election campaign more than a decade ago, he wore a red silk shirt to a fund-raiser. To complete the look, he plastered down his curls with gel.

“My boss came up to me,” Mr. Shor recalled, “and he just said, ‘David, this is Chicago.’”

After Mr. Obama left the White House, the energy in youthful New York political circles went to the Bernie Sanders-supporting left. Bearded podcasters, crusading journalists, socialists and progressive activists gathered at happy hours hosted by Sean McElwee, a political data analyst, at the Blue & Gold Tavern in the East Village to discuss the Democratic Party’s future. It was at one such event, in 2017, that Mr. Shor met Mr. McElwee, now his good friend.

In 2020, amid the nationwide protests after the murder of George Floyd, Mr. Shor tweeted excerpts from a political science paper suggesting that the violent protests after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had pushed voters toward Richard Nixon in the 1968 election. The implication was that any violence taking place at the Floyd demonstrations would lead to an electoral backlash against Democratic candidates.

After the tweet, Mr. Shor was pushed out of his job at Civis Analytics, a consultancy started by Dan Wagner, the former chief data analyst for Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign. As Mr. Shor was vilified by progressives, he became a cause célèbre among the anti-woke set who saw him as a data geek who had been fired for drawing attention to the paper’s data.

After Mr. Sanders lost to Joe Biden in the 2020 Democratic primary, demoralizing many on the left, and Democrats in general lost ground with Black and Hispanic voters, Mr. Shor made use of his new prominence to make the case for his brand of political messaging in a series of interviews. At its core, his theory holds that Democrats in competitive races should drop progressive slogans like “defund the police” from their stump speeches and refrain from highlighting immigration and other divisive issues.

These views alienated many on the left. As did his hosting, with Mr. McElwee, a fund-raiser for Ritchie Torres, a pro-Israel Democratic congressional representative of the Bronx.

Mr. Shor’s party on Saturday night included a smattering of progressive journalists. One of them was Daniel Boguslaw, an investigative reporter, who had come with a friend. “I don’t know him,” Mr. Boguslaw said of the host. “I don’t like him.”

But Mr. Shor’s stance made him a star among mainstream Democrats, who gave his new firm business. In March 2021, Mr. Obama tweeted a link to an interview with Mr. Shor. And Shorism seems on the way toward becoming conventional wisdom in liberal circles, boosted by the fact that its namesake has the kind of national reputation unusual for a data scientist.

“When your childhood rabbi is like, ‘I’m going to support Tim Ryan because I read David Shor’ — that’s a different level,” said Jonathan Robinson, an executive at Catalist, a Democratic data firm, referring to the Ohio Congressional representative.

The scene that now surrounds Mr. Shor looks much different from the crowd at the old Blue & Gold Tavern happy hours, which Mr. McElwee now helps host at Mr. Shor’s loft. Heavier on statisticians and rationalist bloggers than progressive firebrands, the scene is united by a conviction that the numbers cannot be ignored, though perhaps not much more.

“Shorism is like Maoism,” said David Oks, a writer and political activist. “It’s whatever David Shor does.”

The same arithmetic disposition figured in Mr. Shor’s choice of music for his end-of-summer party. EDM, he said, was the coolest party music because it was the most mathematical. “You just create much more complex stuff,” he said. “Electronic music is just like nerds in their basement, messing around.”

Mr. Shor’s bookshelves included “Rules for Radicals,” by Saul Alinsky, alongside “Any Given Tuesday: A Love Story,” a memoir by Lis Smith, a liberal pragmatist who has also been a guest at his parties. “You never know what you’ll see when you show up to Shor’s apartment,” Ms. Smith said in a text message. “Some days it’s a strait-laced congressional candidate in a tossup race, others, a shirtless dude in a polar bear mask.”

Soviet propaganda posters hung from a wall, as did a neon sign in millennial pink reading, “No Politics.” That injunction seemed less ironic as the hour grew late and the real party people began to outnumber the operatives and engineers.

Up on the roof, as dark synthwave wafted up from the Candy Dungeon, a woman in lighted cat ears pushed past a man with a stuffed parrot on his shoulder. Nearby, a couple was kissing. Surveying the scene was Justin Butler, who runs a streetwear label, Milfdad. He said he didn’t know Mr. Shor but had attended other parties at the loft, including one where he was photographed with the historian Adam Tooze. “I bought crypto in 2017,” Mr. Butler said. “That’s how I stay working in fashion.” He made a sweeping gesture with his hand, indicating that the party was good.

A traffic jam of bodies formed at both ends of the ladder. “I’m surprised there haven’t been more casualties,” said Nick Gillespie, editor at large of the libertarian magazine Reason. Down below, the loft was packed and hot. Mr. Shor, his arms around two friends, jumped around to acid house, his curls flying. A guest likened him to the Great Gatsby.

Around 2 a.m., the line leading to the one bathroom was spilling onto the crowded dance floor. Warren Lefevre, a Swiss actor, waited with his hands jammed into his front pockets. He said that two weeks earlier, after having moved to New York from Paris, he had met someone on the subway who knew someone who ended up bringing him to the loft. He added that he had been partying with Mr. Shor almost nonstop ever since.

“It’s weird,” Mr. Lefevre said. “I thought David was just being nice because he’s an American. But he keeps inviting me to parties.”

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