Nate Silver (1978- ), an American statistician and writer, is the top polling expert and political forecaster at the New York Times.
- In 2008 he got 49 of 50 states right in the presidential election and got all 35 Senate races right.
- In 2010 he got 34 of 37 Senate races right and 36 of 37 governor races. He said Republicans would gain 55 seats in the House. They gained 63.
- In 2012 he got 50 out of 50 states right and 33 of 35 Senate races.
He made his name in May 2008 when he said Obama would win the North Carolina primary by 13 or 14 points. Professional pollsters said it would be close. Silver was right.
Some of his tricks:
- Margin of error: The margin of error makes polls useless in close races. But if you take several polls and put them together the right way you can lower the margin of error.
- Historical data: He has poll numbers going all the way back to 1952. That lets him measure how good different polls are at picking winners. He weights them accordingly. (CNN and Reuters are currently good, Rasmussen and Gallup are bad.)
- Knowing what to throw out: He throws out polls done for politicians, those that seem to be faked (some are) and those that are way off from what you would expect demographically.
As a boy he loved baseball and numbers. And so even though he got an economics degree at the Univeristy of Chicago and worked for KPMG, a big accounting firm, his true love was forecasting how baseball players would do in the coming season based on their numbers.
To do this he worked on a computer program called PECOTA. He left KPMG, supported himself for a while playing poker, and then sold PECOTA to Baseball Prospectus in 2003, which hired him as a writer.
In 2007, while stuck at an airport in New Orleans, he noticed that news reporting on political polls was terrible. He got the idea of applying statistical models to politicians, not just to baseball players.
In October 2012 when Obama lost the first debate to Romney, Silver kept his eyes on the numbers and said that Obama would still most likely win. Republicans hated that. Some were predicting a Romney landslide. They tried to discredit Silver:
- Dean Chambers of UnskewedPolls.com doubted Silver because – he is short and seems kind of gay.
- Joe Scarborough of MSNBC called Silver an “ideologue” and a “joke”.
- Mendy Finkel of The Daily Caller said Silver was purposely cooking the numbers against Republicans.
- Michael Knox Beran of the National Review and the Manhattan Institute said:
I have sometimes caught myself taking seriously even the artfully contrived hogwash of Nate Silver, who solemnly asserted the other day that President Obama has a “70.4% chance of winning” on November 6. The precision of the decimal point is a nice touch.