Election Scenarios; The Spotlight on Silver

Interactive electoral graphic (Screen grab from the NYT; click to visit NYT)

With Election Day 2012 finally in sight, national attention is riveted on the possible electoral outcomes of the presidential vote.  A useful interactive on the New York Times website makes it easier to envision the implications of losses and victories in various swing states.  Click on the image to go to the site, then use the “next” button to take advantage of its interactive features.

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Voters pinning their hopes on Mitt Romney’s purported momentum may find that a visit to Nate Silver‘s blog, FiveThirtyEight, puts them in a sour mood.  Silver, a youngish statistician whose 2008 predictions were highly accurate, has consistently assigned President Obama favorable odds of victory.  Even as isolated polls show his challenger pulling even with Obama in several key states, the margin by which Silver’s quantitative model favors Obama has been increasing.  (Silver assigned Obama a 77% chance of winning with 299 electoral votes, as of my site visit earlier in the day.)

Not surprisingly, Silver has come under attack from the right and finds himself the center of eleventh-hour controversy.  The key charges, defenses, and countercharges are contained in the various links below.  The weirdest charge is that of Dean Chambers, who insinuates that Silver is too effeminate to be a competent predictor of the presidential odds.  Also discernible is an anti-intellectual discomfort with hard numbers.

Dylan Byers, Nate Silver: One-Term Celebrity?, Politico.
Brett LoGlurato, People are flipping out over Politico’s attack on Nate Silver, Business Insider.
Ezra Klein, The Nate Silver Backlash, The Washington Post.
Robert Schlesinger, Mitt Romney’s Electoral Problem and the War on Nate SilverUS News and World Report.
Charles P Pierce, The Enemies of Nate Silver, Esquire.

6 responses

  1. Wow, I do find it very odd that so many folks are attacking Silver. I can not recollect when a pollster has every been so harshly criticized like this. When Gallop showed Romney ahead by six points—vastly different than any other poll—the organization was attacked by the Dems, but not with such mean vehemence. Thank you for posting this.

  2. In a way, Nate Silver takes the classic route of statisticians’ overkill.

    Historically, it has proven very difficult to unseat (depose?) a sitting president; witness the conditions under which Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, or Bush (I) left office — ongoing wars with annual casualty rates approaching auto fatalities, severe economic disruption, violent civil disturbances, riots, burning cities, and/or a major insurgency within the incumbent’s party.

    Looked at in this way, it will be quite interesting if Romney should manage to pull off an upset….

    • Cary–Thanks for the comment. I wonder, to what do you attribute Obama’s relative weakness? Even when economic conditions are taken into account, the question is why this sitting president is having so much trouble moving toward a win–a question that, given the evident disorder among Republicans, could be extended to Democrats more generally. I think that the Dems are badly in need of new ideas and a new way of relating to the electorate. . . . No matter what, we are in for quite a drama next week.
      All the best,
      Susan

  3. Susan,

    I’m not sure, actually, that Obama’s that weak (especially given the headwinds he faces — bad economy, racial ‘drag,’ hard-core Republican opposition).

    Perhaps it’s that the Democratic Party is ‘mushier’ by nature: nb. Clinton only won 49% of the vote in ’96.

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