It Ain't by the Numbers

Jay Cost on the Nate Silvers of the world:

But they misinterpret 2008: the Democratic share of the vote that year was right within its historical track of the high-30s. What differed was a drop in Republican identification from the mid-30s to the low-30s.

Does anybody really expect that to persist this year? Of course not.

This means we will probably be back to a slender divide between the two parties, narrowed even more by greater Republican loyalty. In all likelihood, white Democrats from the Ohio River Valley to the Gulf of Mexico will defect from their own party’s ticket in droves. These children and grand children of FDR’s core backers will support Mitt Romney overwhelmingly, so a nominal 3 to 4 point Democratic identification edge over the GOP will shrink to 1 or 2 points, meaning that independents will determine the outcome, just as they have basically for the last 32 years.

Again, this is a different approach than the poll mavens will offer. They are taking data at face value, running simulations off it, and generating probability estimates. That is not what this is, and it should not be interpreted as such. I am not willing to take polls at face value anymore. I am more interested in connecting the polls to history and the long-run structure of American politics, and when I do that I see a Romney victory.


This jibes nicely with the technique I used during the Tea Party wave of 2010 to beat Silver black and blue. He plugged his numbers into his spreadsheet and came up with a 25% chance of the GOP taking 60 seats away from the Democrats. My final call was a bit firmer: 64 seats, no hedging with probable outcomes or any of that BS.

The real result was 67 seats. I missed three out of the 113 I figured might be up for grabs.

So how did a blogger in his pajamas absolutely smear a statistician armed with the best tools and data the New York Times could provide?

Well, as I said, I have a technique. It’s called “judgment.” That’s exactly what Cost is writing about above. Judgment is inherently humble, because it comes from hard experiences of being wrong. And it isn’t hobbled by the vile progressive insistence that what they do is science because they’re just so damn forward thinking and progressive and scientific and so it must be so.

Nate seemed like he had it spades in 2008 — when real life just happened to trend the same way as the presumptions he plugged into Excel and called “a scientific model.” In 2010, he looked a little foolish when he tried to repeat the stunt. We’ll see what he ends up looking like this year, but I trust Cost’s judgment a lot more than I’ve come to trust Silver’s “science.”

Soon enough, we’ll know for sure.


Also read:

Keep Calm and Finish Him


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