Nate Silver’s disdain for Politico is just another reason why I like him



A few weeks after the election of last November, I wrote THIS:

[S]ome political pundits don’t like polling analyst Nate Silver (above). They don’t appreciate how he uses mathematical analysis to read the political tea leaves while they depend on non-scientific analysis based largely on their schmoozing with supposedly knowledgeable sources.

Silver seems to think most pundits are full of crap. And, of course, he made a lot of them look bad when he correctly predicted the outcome of presidential balloting in each of the 50 states while they promoted the neck-and-neck meme to the very end.

Shortly before the election, Politico.com carried a piece that dismissed Silver as a flash in the plan and envisioned him looking like a fool if Mitt Romney won the contest.

That’s background enough for you to appreciate this:

New York Times polling guru Nate Silver took aim at Politico’s brand of reporting on Friday, saying the Washington-based news outlet covers politics like sports but “not in an intelligent way at all.”

Reflecting on Politico’s pre-election criticism of his FiveThirtyEight model, Silver told Grantland’s Bill Simmons on his “B.S. Report” podcast:

What was remarkable to me is that you had some, like, journalist for, um, Politico, or something … who, like, tweeted … ‘All Nate’s doing is averaging polls and counting electoral votes?’ … ‘That’s the secret sauce?’ It’s like, well, yeah, and the fact that you can’t comprehend that very basic thing … that says more about you than, than about me, right?”

The tweet Silver is referring to came from Politico’s Jonathan Martin, and actually reads: “Avert your gaze, liberals: Nate Silver admits he’s simply averaging public polls and there is no secret sauce.” Martin linked to a piece by his Politico colleague Dylan Byers, who wrote the definitive piece of Silver skepticism during the 2012 cycle. In the piece — headlined “Nate Silver: One-term celebrity?” — Byers considered the possibility of Silver’s star power dimming if Mitt Romney became president.

“Prediction is the name of Silver’s game, the basis for his celebrity,” Byers wrote in late October. “So should Mitt Romney win on Nov. 6, it’s difficult to see how people can continue to put faith in the predictions of someone who has never given that candidate anything higher than a 41 percent chance of winning (way back on June 2) and — one week from the election — gives him a one-in-four chance, even as the polls have him almost neck-and-neck with the incumbent.”


And now there’s THIS:

Nate Silver has some thoughts about Politico. Plenty of them.

In an email sent Tuesday to TPM (posted below), Silver — who nailed the 2012 presidential election by correctly forecasting the outcome in all 50 states — elaborated on some of his criticisms of Politico, a publication specializing in Washington’s insider culture that has frequently drawn his ire.

Silver was responding to an interview with Politico co-founders John Harris and Jim VandeHei in The New Republic. Both offered some praise of Silver’s work, but Harris said the New York Times’ resident polling guru “gets up on his high horse quite a lot on different topics.” VandeHei said that some of Silver’s “stuff goes on and on” and argued that he uses “numbers to prove stuff that I don’t think can be proved by numbers alone.”

Silver said he thought “it was a good interview” but that Harris and VandeHei often mischaracterize his central criticism of Politico.

It’s striking how preoccupied Harris and VandeHei are with the perception that Politico is too ‘insidery,'” Silver wrote. “My personal critique of their work cuts a little deeper than that, however. It’s not that they are too ‘insidery’ per se, but that the perceptions of Beltway insiders, which Politico echoes and embraces, are not always very insightful or accurate. In other words, the conventional wisdom is often wrong, especially in Washington.”

He added later in the email: “Furthermore, Harris and VandeHei seem to lack very much curiosity for the world outside of the bubble.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *