Nate Silver and that NY Times Election Prediction Liberals Love So Much

First of all, let me say that unlike almost every conservative on Earth right now, I don’t think Nate Silver is a hack.

I think he’s actually a really smart numbers geek.  He writes the blog FiveThirtyEight, which is now hosted by the New York Times (though I’ve been reading his stuff long before it was part of the Times.)  The reason he is controversial to conservatives right now and why liberals think he is a saint, is because he is predicting that Obama has a 78.4% chance of winning reelection.    To a lot of people, that sounds completely insane.

Two quick things before we delve into the accuracy of that claim:

1)     I would describe Nate Silver as an admitted liberal, with a soft spot for markets.  He is strangely libertarian on some things, which I like, even though I don’t usually agree with him on policy.

2)     He was one of the first people that I remember who predicted Republicans had a good chance at taking the House back after the ’08 election.  This is during the time when most liberals (and some conservatives) were saying the Republican Party was about to become a regional party with no hope of ever winning another election.  He also was recently yelled at by holier than thou ‘scientist’ Michael Mann about global warming.  So, he can’t be all bad.

So, what about Nate Silver’s model as it stands right now?  In my opinion, I think he is significantly overstating the chances of an Obama win, with a few caveats.

For example, his own model says that if he has predicted 0.8% of voters’ choices incorrectly, Romney would win the popular vote.  If that were to happen (again, by his own model) Romney would almost certainly win the electoral college as well.  (A Romney win in the popular vote and a loss in the electoral college has only a 5.1% chance of happening, according to Silver.)

Look, if you get 0.8% of voters wrong and your prediction falls apart—you probably aren’t 80% sure of it.

I don’t think Silver is intentionally making it look like Obama is a sure thing because he’s liberal.  I just think he’s a tad too cocky on this one.  That’s not the worst thing in the world.  Wall Street stat geeks were too sure of themselves with the algorithms that led to the financial collapse.

Global warming scientists are too sure of themselves with their models of the future.

Human beings do such things.

One of the features of Silver’s model is that when the race remains static, and the election gets closer, whoever is ahead becomes more of a sure thing.  That’s why his model seems to absurdly show Romney’s chances to be only slightly better than they were before the first debate.

Basically, to him, a 2 point lead that’s confirmed by numerous polls is incredibly convincing.  That’s about what’s happening in Ohio, and if Romney loses Ohio, it’s going to be pretty difficult for him to win.  I’d say Romney’s chances probably are about one in five if he loses Ohio, so it’s not completely ridiculous if you really trust the polls.

Many of the polls however, just look sketchy.  They show samples that are more optimistic for Democrats than the electorate was in 2008.  If more Democrats come out to vote than did in 2008, than yeah—Mitt Romney is losing.  But, does anyone actually believe that’s reality?   2008 was a historic election for Democrats.  Barack Obama is simply not going to repeat that enthusiasm again.  It is not happening.

On the other side, while a 78% win seems like a sure thing– let’s put it in football terms.  Essentially, Silver is saying the Boston Romney’s have the football, down by a field goal to the Chicago Obama’s with 2 minutes left in the game.  First and ten from their own 31.  Romney could get a field goal to send it to overtime, or score a TD and grab a win.  Or they could go three and out and lose.  I can’t say that sounds THAT far off from what is happening in the election, yet, an NFL team in that situation has only a 22% chance of winning.

To me, the data says Romney’s chances are about twice as good as Silver says.  That still puts him as a slight underdog.  Beyond that, I’m depending on divine providence, hanging chads, or the Koch Brothers hacking electronic voting machines with the help of Grover Norquist or something.

The bottom line is that if Obama wins, everyone is going to think Silver is a genius.  If Romney wins, his credibility will be destroyed.  Neither is fair, but both are painfully unavoidable.

  • Anonymous

    As with all statistical analysis, it is only as good as the data points it begins with…

  • Sam Fisher

    Don’t trust polls they been polling more Dems than any other group. Gee funny polling shocking.

    • Daniel Luna

      numbers are numbers fuckface… we’ll see who wins in the end.  Politicized polls or not.

      • Sam Fisher

        Someone got a bad batch of weed this morning. Why don’t you and your ego bug someone else.

        • Sandie

          Seems Daniel Lunatic is having a bit of a foul mouth problem – it happens when they can’t civilly debate because they have nothing intelligent to say.

          • Sam Fisher

            Paulbots they never quit.

          • Anonymous

            Luna wins, you fuckfaces lose.

          • Sam Fisher

            Keep proving how stupid Obama voters truly are. So what if we lost your guy won big freaken deal. He did not won by much by the way and there is a reason for that and if your messiah screws up the economy like I think he will there will never be a liberal in the white house never again. So I hope for you libs sake that he has a better plan than the same stupidity because it is not working. That is why unemployment went up moron.

      • Simon Ferg

        Looks like Silver was right after all!  Lesson learnt in that you can’t trust right-wing conspiracy theoriests too much.  Simply wishing doesn’t win elections either!  This seems to be the first real Presidential race where the power of WASPs (white, anglo-saxon, protestant men) no longer reigns. 

  • greywolfrs

    Well, I can fudge the numbers from here to tomorrow and make them say anything I want. As you pointed out, 0.8% changes the entire dynamic. I would be more inclined to listen to those guys from the college in Colorado who have successfully predicted every president since 1980. (I believe)

  • snowleopard (cat folk gallery)

    Liberalism – definition of insanity made manifest, prime examples: Obama, Pelosi, Reid.

    • Daniel Luna

      What are you talking about… Obama is more conservative than Reagan, but this Country has shifted super far to the right.

      • Laura

        2+2 is not 5.

        Yours is the most absurd comment I have ever read.

    • Anonymous

      Obama is a horrible liberal who wants to give people a fair shot and have decent healthcare, just like FDR was a horrible person who insitituted the New Deal and Social Security, and LBJ was a horrible liberal who wanted Civil Rights legislation and Medicare and Medicaid.  Too bad you weren’t born long ago so you could rail against those other horrible liberals.  Good thing we have fine upstanding conservatives like Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell.

  • Robert Lee Harrington

    Silver, responding to a Rose question that he had a political bias in favor of the President, added: “I’d say I am somewhere in-between being a libertarian and a liberal. So if I were to vote it would be kind of a Gary Johnson versus Mitt Romney decision, I suppose.”

  • Robert Lee Harrington

    OBAMA 303.4

    ROMNEY 234.6

    Updated 11:40 PM ET on Nov. 1

    “Nate Silver”

  • Draxx

    I have a friend who told me that the other day pollsters called his house and he declined and hung up…

    When we had a small discussion about it, I told him that too many people are hanging up on the Republican Side. I asked him if he was going to vote (and out of curiousity who), he said that he already received and sent his ballot it (and he voted for Romney).  So we discussed how the Polls could be wrong with how people are voting.  But, I also reminded him that Modelling Reports and Polls requires as much Legitimate Data as Possible to be even close to Accurate, and that two minutes of his time could have helped show Dems/Liberals we are out there and We Are Voting… for Romney!

    • Daniel Luna

      So because you friend hung up, you are going to make the broad claim that “too many people are hanging up on the Republican side”?  Where is your proof son?

      • A-MTN-DUDE

        Daniel, do you just hand out here to troll away your day? What are you gaining from this?

  • Anonymous

    course if silver was predicting a romney win, then everything would be ok right?

  • Anonymous
  • Robert J Keegan

    New haven Ct. it took 5 to 10 minutes to vote today in 2008 over 3 hours and lhe lines did not change when we left. Looks good for Linda McMahon..
    Over 100 years of Democrat rule.

  • Robert J Keegan

    New haven Ct. it took 5 to 10 minutes to vote today in 2008 over 3 hours and lhe lines did not change when we left. Looks good for Linda McMahon..Over 100 years of Democrat rule.

    • Thomas Wayne

      How’d that work out?

  • Anonymous

    Well, I guess Glenn Beck is eating a crow buffet this morning.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks so much, Glenn. This article and your own predictions over the past few months (remember that “Obama will only win one state” guess from this summer Or yesterday’s  prediction?) clearly demonstrate how much you know about American politics or about empirical analysis.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks so much, Glenn. This article and your own predictions over the past few months (remember that “Obama will only win one state” guess from this summer Or yesterday’s  prediction?) clearly demonstrate how much you know about American politics or about empirical analysis.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks so much, Glenn. This article and your own predictions over the past few months (remember that “Obama will only win one state” guess from this summer Or yesterday’s  prediction?) clearly demonstrate how much you know about American politics or about empirical analysis.

  • csmith777

    Math wins. Stupidity loses. If more people spent more time actually looking at numbers instead of listening to what these talking heads want them to think.

  • jo mail


  • Simon Ferg

    Indeed.  Who won in the end – Obama.  Who was right – Silver and other polsters who actually used math.  Who was wrong – Karl Rove and others who thought there was some liberal-media conspiracy re the polling – there wasn’t.  

  • Simon Ferg

    Indeed this prediction by Glenn Beck and other right-wing pundits shows how much they know about politics and empirical analysis – not much!  Obama won – four more years. 

  • Simon Ferg

    Indeed – it shows Glenn Beck, Karl Rove (loved his meltdown on Fox) and all the other right-wing pundits really have no idea what they are talking about.  Their credibility is completely shot. 

  • Antonio

    blah blah blah he was right you idiots.

  • Anonymous

    Sour grapes when they are correct

  • Lillian Satler

    How is life now that the bubble of stupidity conservatives have insulated themselves in has been once and for all popped by the pin of reason? The look of “shock and awe” on your faces is a priceless Kodak Moment I will savor as long as I am blessed with the mental ability to do so!   Obama! Obama! Obama! Obama!

  • Anonymous

    So Obama won. Looking back at Nate Silvers predictions do his assumptions now make sense. 

    You should do a follow up blog analyzing his predictions against what really turned out.

  • Quang Tran

    Sam Fisher
    snowleopard (cat folk gallery)
    Glenn Beck

    These are a list of people who were wrong and should change re-examine their world view in an effort not to be wrong again.

  • Anonymous

    Turns out Silver predicted correctly every single state.  Pretty smart guy.  He was vilified by a lot of conservatives for giving news they didn’t want to hear.  But the conservatives don’t want to hear other facts as well, like global warming, like raising taxes on the super wealthy will help grow the economy whereas continuing the tax cuts on the weathy will not create jobs, etc.

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