Nate Silver calls it for Obama: is it another Dewey moment?

Nov 6, 2012

The New York Times psephologist has forecast an easy victory for incumbent Barack Obama


HAS THE New York Times been stunningly prescient with its prediction of victory today for President Obama - or is the Old Grey Lady set to have egg all over her august face by the end of today's vote?

Nate Silver, the newspaper's resident psephologist, has published his final analysis of the race, giving Barack Obama a 92 per cent chance of being re-elected president today and also suggesting his final margin of victory could be more than 100 Electoral College votes (there are 538 up for grabs and the first to 270 is the winner).

Silver's computer model prediction says that Obama could be on course to win all the states he took in 2008 bar Indiana and North Carolina, which would see him back in the White House by 332 to 206 votes - an unexpectedly crushing victory given media reports of Romney's 'Mittmentum' since the first presidential debate.

Behind Silver's optimism is a series of positive national and state polls, enabling him to call Obama as the favourite in all of the swing states. In his final analysis, even Florida - where most recent polls have given Romney the edge - is now heading Obama's way.

Students of American presidential history will need no reminding that in 1948, in a race between incumbent Democrat Harry Truman and his Republican challenger, Gov Thomas Dewey, the latter was the favourite among the majority of pollsters and political savants at the time.

So confident was the Chicago Tribune, that it went ahead and printed the paper with the unequivocal front page headline 'Dewey defeats Truman' above a report detailing Dewey's "sweeping victory in the presidential election yesterday".

Truman actually secured an easy victory by 303 electoral college votes to 189, and famously posed with a copy of the Tribune in a photograph (above) which, one hopes, is taped somewhere on Nate Silver's office wall.

Silver, of course, uses a sophisticated computer model that the hacks at the Chicago Tribune could hardly have imagined. Every night, he enters the new polling data into his computer which then produces thousands of predictions of how the election will map out.

It is from these that he calculates and issues his percentage odds. In his final tally today, he is saying that 92 per cent of the election scenarios show Obama winning with just eight per cent showing Romney doing so.

In 2008, Silver, using this method, correctly predicted the outcome in 49 of the 50 states, and got all 35 Senate seat races right.

Even so, the New York Times will be hoping Mitt Romney isn't photographed tomorrow morning holding up a laptop showing Silver's prediction and wearing the same smug grin Truman wore in 1948.

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I must admit, this story, by god only knows, because this (largely conservative) site doesn't post a byline, DEFINITELY falls under the umbrella of "Reporting That Makes You Stupid" (a recent column by Paul Krugman in the "NYTimes"). ANYone who knows Nate Silver's name should be smart enough to read one of his columns and figure out that he doesn't throw chacma bones, cast runes or burn candles. He crunches numbers from polls run by a wide variety of people (conservative AND liberal) and makes predictions (just like a weatherman) based on percentages and probabilities. That's a far cry from the days of Truman and Dewey, and the guessing that went on way back then!

From the article - did you read it? "Silver, of course, uses a sophisticated computer model that the hacks at the Chicago Tribune could hardly have imagined."