To this humble blogger, it’s a matter of pride that I was singing the praises of political polling analyst Nate Silver for several years before he took his talents to The New York Times in August 2010 and thereby gained national renown.
What attracted me to Silver was that he is more a scientist than a political pundit. He cares more about what polling numbers say — and don’t say – than about the conventional political wisdom peddled by the chattering classes and their agenda-driven sources of information.
Naturally, then, lots of pundits don’t like Silver. They don’t like the idea that anyone who doesn’t schmooze with the powers-that-be can be considered a reliable political seer. Some of these pundits pretended it was merely a fluke that Silver had accurately predicted the presidential winner in 49 out of 50 states in the 2008 election.
But when Silver got all 50 states right in this year’s election — and got all but one Senate race right, as well — his critics were effectively silenced.
Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post HAILS Silver in this year-ender piece:
Every election cycle turns out its stars — likely and unlikely — and there’s no question that Silver and his FiveThirtyEightfor the New York Times shone the brightest in 2012.
For most of the campaign, Silver toiled, if not in obscurity, than in the insular world of political addicts…Then summer turned to fall, and Republicans insisted that the presidential race was tightening, even as Silver’s model — based on a weighting of the public polls available in each swing state — continued to suggest that the incumbent was a strong favorite.
Republicans reacted with outrage as Silver’s model kept pumping out predictions that Obama had an 80 percent (or higher) chance of winning. A columnist for the Examiner chain critiqued Silver’s appearance and voice. Others questioned how anyone could predict to the percentage point the likelihood of Obama winning or losing. Even the mighty David Brooks — himself a columnist for the Gray Lady — scoffed at the ideaof making calculations accurate to the decimal point: “If there’s one thing we know, it’s that even experts with fancy computer models are terrible at predicting human behavior.”
The net effect was that Silver — a shy guy by nature — turned into a political football. He became a household name nationwide and, by some reports, accounted for 20 percent or more of the Times’ overall Web traffic as the election approached.
If Silver was big before the election, he turned huge — like Jay-Z/Beyonce huge — after it. Jon Stewart called him the “God of the algorithm.”