In very simple terms, Nate Silver explains why he expects President Obama to be re-elected

In an interview with Politico the other day, Nate Silver (above), the popular polling analyst for The New York Times, tried to demystify the work he does:

“This is not wizardry or rocket science,” said Silver. “All you have to do is take an average, and count to 270. It’s a pretty simple set of facts.”

Silver concentrates on state polls, not national surveys. He averages the numbers in virtually all the polls in each state, makes a minor ajdustment or two, assigns each state to one candidate or the other, adds up the electoral votes and — voila! — projects an overall winner.

A few hours ago, Silver posted an ARGUMENT for why he thinks President Obama is likely — but not certain — to win the election:

Mr. Obama is leading in the polls of Ohio and other states that would suffice for him to win 270 electoral votes, and by a margin that has historically translated into victory a fairly high percentage of the time.

The argument that Mr. Obama isn’t the favorite is the one that requires more finesse. If you take the polls at face value, then the popular vote might be a tossup, but the Electoral College favors Mr. Obama.

So you have to make some case for why the polls shouldn’t be taken at face value.

Some argue that the polls are systematically biased against Republicans. This might qualify as a simple argument had it been true on a consistent basis historically, but it hasn’t been: instead, there have been some years when the polls overestimated how well the Democrat would do, and about as many where the same was true for the Republican. I’m sympathetic to the notion that the polls could be biased, statistically speaking, meaning that they will all miss in the same direction. The FiveThirtyEight forecast explicitly accounts for the possibility that the polls are biased toward Mr. Obama — but it also accounts for the chance that the polls could be systematically biased against him.

Silver goes on to deal with other challenges to the notion that Obama is likely to win. And, characteristically enough, he offers lots of charts and numbers to support his arguments.

I strongly recommend that you read the whole thing.



  1. In very simple terms Peggy Noonan explains why President Obama is fighting for his job and where he went wrong.


    But the fact that Barack Obama is fighting for his political life is still one of the great political stories of the modern era.

    Look at where he started, placing his hand on the Bible Abe Lincoln was sworn in on in 1861. It was Jan. 20, 2009. The new president was 47 and in the kind of position politicians can only dream of—a historic figure walking in, the first African-American president, broadly backed by the American people. He won by 9.5 million votes. Two days after his inauguration, Gallup had him at 68% approval, only 12% disapproval. He had a Democratic Senate, and for a time a cloture-proof 60 members. He had a Democratic House (256-178) with a colorful, energetic speaker. The mainstream media were excited about him, supportive of him.

    His political foes were demoralized, their party fractured.

    He faced big problems—an economic crash,two wars—but those crises gave him broad latitude. All of his stars were perfectly aligned. He could do anything.

    And then it all changed. At a certain point he lost the room.

    Books will be written about what happened, but early on the president made two terrible legislative decisions. The stimulus bill was a political disaster, and it wasn’t the cost, it was the content. We were in crisis, losing jobs. People would have accepted high spending if it looked promising. But the stimulus was the same old same old, pure pork aimed at reliable constituencies. It would course through the economy with little effect. And it would not receive a single Republican vote in the House (three in the Senate), which was bad for Washington, bad for our politics. It was a catastrophic victory. It did say there was a new boss in town. But it also said the new boss was out of his league.

    Then health care, a mistake beginning to end. The president’s 14-month-long preoccupation with ObamaCare signaled that he did not share the urgency of people’s most immediate concerns—jobs, the economy, all the coming fiscal cliffs. The famous 2,000-page bill added to their misery by adding to their fear.

    Voters would have had to trust the president a lot to believe his program wouldn’t raise their premiums, wouldn’t limit their autonomy, wouldn’t make a shaky system worse.


    But whenever he went over the the heads of the media and Congress and went to the people, in prime-time addresses, it didn’t really work. He did not have a magical ability to sway. And—oddly—he didn’t seem to notice.

    It is one thing to think you’re Lebron. Its another thing to keep missing the basket and losing games and still think you’re Lebron.

    And that really was the problem: He had the confidence without the full capability. And he gathered around him friends and associates who adored him, who were themselves talented but maybe not quite big enough for the game they were in. They understood the Democratic Party, its facts and assumptions. But they weren’t America-sized. They didn’t get the country so well.

    It is a mystery why the president didn’t second-guess himself more, doubt himself. Instead he kept going forward as if it were working.

    He doesn’t do chastened. He didn’t do what Bill Clinton learned to do, after he took a drubbing in 1994: change course and prosper.

    Mr. Obama may yet emerge victorious. There are, obviously, many factors in every race. Maybe, as one for instance, the seriousness of the storm has sharpened people’s anxieties—there are no local crises anymore, a local disaster is a national disaster—so that anxiety will leave some people leaning toward the status quo, toward the known.

    Or maybe, conversely, they’ll think he failed to slow the oceans’ rise.

    We’ll know soon.

    Whatever happens, Mr. Obama will not own the room again as once he did. If he wins, we will see a different presidency—even more stasis, and political struggle—but not a different president.

  2. Nate Silver’s sabermetrics will always be undone by Nash Equilibrium. Sabermetric models work once. The moment they are executed Nash Equilibrium kicks in and they wont work the second time.

  3. Of course Nate Silver is right. Out of all the pollster he is the most respected. For all the disillusioned out there. Listen to Romney tell the auto industry to die http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=a3ZqP2JQqLM#! . Oh, that is not enough. Listen to Romney tell the world FEMA should be funded at the state level http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HvvtgaMJr0&feature=share . Read about YOUR new taxes because Romney’s math makes no sense at all http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/10/31/interactive-make-mitt-romneys-tax-plan-add-up/ . Unless you are making well over $1M you better nail down everything you own or Romney and his buds will take it.

  4. mike: Nate Silver isn’t actually a pollster. He’s a polling analyst. He uses a certain formula in judging state polls and computing averages. He then assesses probabilities regarding the division of 538 electoral votes between the two candidates. In 2008, he got only one state wrong, Indiana, which he thought would go to McCain. It went to Obama by one percentage point.

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