Posts Tagged ‘Nate Silver’

Reality Pierces Republican Bubble

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

Last week’s election was a big victory for President Obama and the Democrats.  But aside from a win for the Democrats, the election was also a win for the pollsters — you know, the trained statisticians who make their living surveying public opinion? These guys were under attack this year by Fox News and the conservative media. According to the perpetually paranoid over at Fox News, the pollsters who were showing Obama leading in the Electoral College for the entire year were just as liberally biased as the overwhelming number of scientists who believe in global warming and the statisticians in the Bureau of Labor Statistics who showed a decline in the unemployment rate in the run up to the election.

Even to the bitter end, Fox contributor and Harvey Fierstein impersonator Dick Morris was predicting an electoral college landslide for Romney, and the conservative media bought it hook line and sinker. I always try to keep Mark Twain’s maxim about statistics in mind, but when you have different polls with varied methodology all telling you something that’s at odds with your view of the world, that’s a pretty good indicator that your assumptions might be incorrect. Morris was contrite this week, explaining that he assumed a turnout more in line with 2004, but it’s not clear that there was any evidence to suggest this except the personal opinions of him and others on Fox.

I was having this debate months ago with my conservative uncle whose comeback for “the polls are showing you behind” was always “not according to Scott Rasmussen.” Rasumssen was was the king of the 500 person automated poll which assumed a strong Republican turnout based on responses to questions regarding party identification. Rasumussen’s polls consistently showed a Republican bias of a few points, which can make a real difference in a close election. But a little knowledge can be dangerous and Rasmussen’s polling bred a cottage industry of bloggers contesting the polling in the presidential race by adjusting the party identification mix the pollsters were predicting based on their interviews. The website was the most prominent of the naysayers and they “specialized” in taking other peoples polls and recasting the results by adding more Republicans to the mix.

Meanwhile, the conservative media shills needed to find a visible scapegoat and they found it in Nate Silver, a statistician who turned to election prediction in 2007. Silver had a great record in 2008, predicting every state except Indiana for Obama. In the wake of that election, he was hired by the New York Times as a blogger, where (in case you were wondering) he did well predicting the Republican Congressional landslide year of 2010 as well.

Silver’s model was projecting an Obama win for most of the year based on his narrow but steady lead in the Electoral College polls. Oftentimes, his percentage prediction of an Obama win seemed over-optimistic, so you could quibble with the confidence level, but it’s hard to look at a guy who leads for most of the year in enough electoral college states to win the presidency and argue that he’s not the favorite. Plus, this is a statistical model. One assumes that if Romney was showing the same swing state resiliency, then it would have shown the same result for him.

By the Monday before the election, Silver had Obama at an 85% chance of victory. Meanwhile, the folks at Fox were still telling their viewers that Romney had the momentum and was going to win this thing. Dick Morris, George Will and others predicted a Romney landslide. Perpetually smarmy Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote a blog post that Monday in which she predicted Romney would win the election based almost completely on… a feeling she had. Business Insider called it “the most anti-Nate Silver column imaginable,” not because she spoke about or even alluded to Silver, but because her analysis was almost completely devoid of empirical facts. This seemed like bravado at the time — a way to embolden the troops before a big fight–but in the aftermath it looked like they spent so much time in their own bubble that they couldn’t imagine any other objective reality where a majority could vote for Obama. Last week James Fallows likened it to the dismay attributed to Pauline Kael in the wake of the 1968 election when she couldn’t imagine how Nixon could have won, since “no one I know voted for him.”

To a certain extent, this makes sense. If you spend all your time talking to white Republicans who think that Obama is leading this country on a dangerous slide to socialism, that’s going to color your analysis. To be sure, Romney did carry white voters by a big margin and if the electorate turned out to be as white as they all seemed to think it would be, then we would have been looking at President Romney. But with all of the evidence pointing the other way, these guys should have known better. I have to imagine that there’s more than a few Fox viewers this week who feel like they’ve been had.

Romney Doesn’t Have The Mojo

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Well, here we are.

After all of the blood, sweat, tears and trash talk, the election is one and a half days away. I don’t think a day has gone by in the last four months in which I didn’t check the polls for the day. Real Clear Politics is the biggest aggregator of polls in the country, and I’m on that website every day despite their obvious Republican bias. One thing you do get from Real Clear Politics, is a sense of how different news sources provide alternate realities. The Republican flacks have all come out to predict their candidate’s victory on Tuesday. To read Michael Barone and Dick Morris, we are headed to a Mitt Romney Electoral College landslide. Even George Will, an Obama hater to be sure, but at least someone who has been intellectually honest in the past, predicted a Romney Electoral College victory of 321 to 217 (including Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire). 

I do find that the Left is more intellectually honest in their analyses of the situation, but then again, they have had the numbers in their favor for the last year. Statistician and election prognosticator Nate Silver has been a target of the Right lately because his model has consistently been predicting an Electoral College win for President Obama. Currently, his model is forecasting an 85% chance of President Obama winning the Electoral College. Do I think that Barack Obama is an 85% favorite in this race? I’d say that’s aggressive, but it’s very difficult to argue that he is not the favorite.

When you are winning an argument, you don’t need to jump up and down to mke your points. You usually just need to calmly recite the facts. Silver has done exactly that over the past few days and in the process has made a very convincing case for an upcoming Obama victory. The key to the Obama victory is what has been called his “Electoral College Firewall,” comprised of Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and/or Nevada. The theory in a few sentences: in the week and a half after the first debate, Mitt Romney caught up in Colorado and Virginia and took a narrow lead in Florida, but his gains were not enough to overtake Obama in enough states to win the Electoral College. The easiest path for Mitt Romney to flip this result are winning either Ohio or Wisconsin, and Iowa or Nevada. Even with a win in Ohio or Minnesota, he’s not guaranteed victory unless he can hold Virginia and Florida (and in some scenarios Colorado). 

Looking at Ohio specifically, Real Clear Politics currently has Obama up by 2.9%. Republicans pundits argue that this result is within the margin of error of most individual polls, and that makes it a tossup, but this ignores the fact that across 12 Ohio polls in the last week and a half, Romney has not led in one.  One pollster had him down by only one and Rassmussen (a notoriously Republican biased pollster) has it a tie. This is not what a tied race looks like. If you want to see an actual tie, look at Virginia, where Obama and Romney often switch leads by a point or two, depending on the pollster and date of the polls.

Silver looks at Romney’s momentum in the swing states over the past few weeks and concludes that, if anything, Obama’s firewall is solidifying in these states:

There were 12 polls published on Wednesday among Iowa, Nevada, Ohio and Wisconsin. Mr. Obama held the lead in 11 of the 12 surveys… On average, Mr. Obama led in the polls of these states by 3.9 percentage points.    

In a more broad based look at the race from Thursday, Silver takes on the pundits that argue Romney is ahead or that the race is a tossup. He basically demolishes the arguments that Mitt Romney has been showing any momentum since his post-Denver debate bounce, as well as the idea that undecideds usually break for the challenger (they have in some elections, but not in the past 3 presidential elections). This really only leaves two options: either the state polls are getting it completely wrong, or Obama is a very big favorite to win. It’s not impossible that the polls are wrong, but it seems exceedingly unlikely that so many polls showing the same thing can be that far off.   

My take on this? In order to unseat an incumbent, you need to make the case for two main things:  1) the incumbent needs to be fired, and 2) you’re a better alternative. There’s certainly an argument that Romney and Co have been successful at the first. Although Obama is close to 50% approval, the popular vote is too close to call, and I get the sense that most of the country would be at least open to a change in leadership. But while Mitt Romney may have done a good job of convincing the country that Barack Obama might not be a great leader, most people look at Romney and don’t believe that he is a credible alternative. The reasons for this are myriad, but they include the complete demolishing of Romney’s business record by the Obama campaign, the ideological contortions that we all witnessed him go through in order to get the Republican nomination and the fact that he just doesn’t seem like a guy that most Americans will want to see on their TVs for the next four years.

I don’t take anything for granted and an upset is still possible, but it’s looking less and less likely that Romney has the mojo to turn this around in the next 40 hours.

Obama’s Debate Performance Erases Post-Convention Bounce

Thursday, October 11th, 2012


A week later, Nate Silver on how post debate polls show that Obama basically erased his convention bump with his no- show at the debate last week.

Lot’s of hard work gone to waste because the guy decided to phone it in.

Plenty of time to turn things around,  but it needs to start now. The Pres can’t afford another week like the last one.

So Far So Good for Obama’s 2004 Model

Monday, August 6th, 2012

A few months ago, I wrote about how I thought that David Axelxrod’s model for this election was George W. Bush’s 2004 victory against John Kerry.

If that’s true (which I think it is), then so far so good.

In 2004 Bush ran a mostly negative campaign against John Kerry, the theme of which was basically: you may not be crazy about me, but this guy is much worse. In the period after Kerry was the inevitable nominee, but before the convention, Bush surrogates absolutely hammered Kerry with their disgraceful “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” ads.  They went after Kerry’s biggest biographical strength (his military service), and tried to denigrate it, suggesting that Kerry may not have earned the accolades he received in the military and therefore could not be trusted.

Similarly, Mitt Romney has staked the positive rationale for his candidacy on being the economy’s “Mr Fix it.” According to this biographical thread, his experience at Bain Capital makes him uniquely qualified to diagnose the issues with the US economy and provide the necessary fixes. But over the past month and a half, Obama and his surrogates have hit Romney hard on the Bain issue, effectively making the argument that Bain’s profits came mostly at the expense of outsourcing jobs in the United States and demolishing his claim to be a job creator. Romney’s rejection of calls to release his taxes have added to the negative perceptions of his business record, leading to suspicions that the Cayman Island and Swiss Bank Accounts detailed in his past two years of returns may be just the tip of the iceberg for Romney.

Romney allies initially gloated the the Bain attacks had not been successful, pointing to the fact that Obama’s margins have been steady throughout this period, while his campaign coffers were drained. But Mitt Romney’s increasingly negative ratings and Obama’s consistent lead in the swing states where these ads have been airing belies that assertion.  The 45% that Romney has been garnering in polls represents a kind of low-water mark for the Republican candidate since it is close to John McCain’s 2008 totals, so don’t expect him to go much lower. The question is whether he can get a large majority of the undecided voters given their negative feelings about him. For an alternate measure of how effective the Obama campaign has neutralized Bain as a positive issue for Romney, look how infrequently Romney mentions his job creating record at Bain during his campaign events.

A few weeks ago, at the height of the Bain controversy, Republican strategist Mark Murray pointed out that the sheer volume of negative campaign ads makes running on biography impossible in modern presidential campaigns and that — the Bain experience effectively demolished — Romney should shift a campaign about the issues. The problem with that advice is that Romney’s not positioned well for that strategy either. While President Obama spent the last four years positioning himself in the center of the electorate in order to win the general election, Romney has spent the last nine positioning himself to win the Republican nomination against people like Texas gun enthusiast and mental midget Rick Perry, paranoid social conservative Rick Santorum and all around demagogue, Newt Gingrich. Independent analysts have determined that Romney’s economic plan which is intended to lower taxes on the rich, will either need to be funded by exploding the national debt, or by eliminating tax breaks that the vast majority if the middle class depend on. The “Right-Wing Social Engineering” of The Ryan Plan has become almost a Republican litmus test and it relies on cutting the second most popular government program in order to (surprise!) lower taxes on the rich.   

Meanwhile, Obama continues to outperform Romney where it matters: in the swing states. Nate Silver, the EF Hutton of election prediction, now gives Obama a 71% chance of winning the Electoral College and Dan Balz points out that, 

nationally and in the battleground states, the consistency of Obama’s lead is striking. More than two dozen national polls have been conducted since the beginning of June. Obama has led in the overwhelming number of them.

Polls in the most contested states show a similar pattern. In three of the most important — Ohio, Florida and Virginia — there have been roughly three dozen polls total since April, about the time that Romney’s GOP rivals were exiting the nomination race. In Ohio and Virginia, Obama has led in all but a few. In Florida, Romney has done better, but overall, Obama has led about twice as often.

If Mitt Romney can’t make inroads in all three of these states, the election is basically over.

In summary, the 2004 model is looking good for the Obama camp. Obama’s job approval still lingers just below 50%, but the attacks on Romney have gone a long way towards diminishing him as a viable alternative. Last weeks jobs report was anemic by any standards, but it dashed Republican hopes to be able to claim that the economy has completely sputtered. The private sector has now had positive job creation for twenty nine consecutive months. Republicans counter that the economy should be bouncing back much more robustly, but this ignores the fact that this is an unprecedented global recession and that the United States’ economy is growing more than any other industrial country in the world. President Obama’s approval ratings by themselves show some evidence that Americans understand the extraordinary situation that the president was handed in 2008 and don’t hold him as responsible for economic conditions as the Republicans would like. 

To be sure, there is still an opportunity for Romney to turn things around, but he faces a limited number of opportunities to do this: namely,  the VP pick, the conventions and the debates. So far, Romney has provided the public a lot of reasons to vote against Barack Obama, but not very many to vote for Mitt Romney. The Romney camp hopes to start filling those details in with the upcoming convention…but has to be worried that Obama’s campaign has already started doing that for them.

Let the Brokered Convention Discussion Begin

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Watching Morning Joe’s Friday morning show, I had a real sense that the last South Carolina debate (and the Newt surge that was accompanying it) was a real turning point in this primary process. I knew that Newt’s surge would make the Republican nomination process drag on, but I also knew that he couldn’t win the nomination and I had assumed that this would mean that Romney would be the eventual nominee by default.

But watching Joe Scarborough talk about how he has been talking to “the most powerful conservative movers and shakers” in the party, and that “every single one I’ve spoken to is trying to figure out a way to get to a brokered convention,” I got the sense that the outcome could be very different. Mark Halperin’s suggestion that (presumably,  once this possibility becomes more overt) “we might see favorite sons get on the ballot in order to block anyone from accumulating enough delegates to get a majority” confirmed that this was more than just a possibility and that some party elites were already planning for such an eventuality.

Post-South Carolina’s drubbing of Romney, Nate Silver has some musings on whether this year will break the “momentum of early state victories propels the winner to victory” pattern. Of course, political junkies speculate on this possibility almost every time there is a contested primary process, but Silver draws on the work of Rhodes Cook and argues that it is not inconceivable for this race to break the mold of previous races.

Romney just had a horrible twelve days, and it’s certainly possible that he bounces back in Florida, regains his momentum and makes all this discussion seem quaint in a few months. But it’s also possible that the wounds he sustained over the past few weeks may increasingly make him look like a fatally flawed candidate. This, combined with conservative dislike of him, could  be enough to push Tea Party folks to risk it all in order to deny him the nomination.  This is, after all, the party that lost the Senate in 2010 by nominating people like Sharron Angle, Christine O’ Donnell, John Raese and Ken Buck.

As has been the case for every early state to date, we’ll watch the next primary for signs of what’s to come. As Silver notes, “South Carolina alone is not enough to be paradigm-breaking. But if (Gingrich) follows it with a win in Florida, all bets are off.”

Handicapping the Republican Race

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011


As Newt Gingrich has surged ahead of Mitt Romney in the Republican race for president, the Conventional Wisdom has become that the Republican Presidential Race now comes down to Romney vs. Gingrich. Like many others, I have always believed that Romney would be the eventual nominee. I thought that the Republicans would flirt with other candidates, but would eventually come around and support the heir apparent, as they do in most elections. Now, I’m not so sure.

Writing a few weeks ago, Ezra Klein’s blog post, “The Case Against Mitt Romney’s Inevitability” sums up some of the arguments on this topic. He cites Ron Brownstein, who has made the case that the Republican nominating race can be seen as “two races running along parallel but very distinct tracks,” the Tea Party Primary and the Non-Tea Party Primary. At the time of Brownstein’s writing, Romney had been dominating the Non-Tea Party primary, but losing in the Tea Party primary.

Last week brought more bad news for Romney. As Brownstein chronicles, polling from Iowa, South Carolina and across the nation has shown significant erosion of Romney’s position, not only among conservatives, but among less conservative Republican voters:

In all three surveys, Gingrich is not only lapping Romney among the ideologically conservative and religiously devout voters who have resisted the former Massachusetts governor throughout the race; Gingrich is also running step for step (or ahead) with Romney among the less ideological, more secular, voters who have been Romney’s base.

This pattern has been subsequently confirmed in national polls as well as the key primary states of Iowa, South Carolina and Florida, all of which show an amazing surge for Newt, from polling in the single digits two months ago, to polling over 30%, and even 40% in a some polls. All of this is bad news for Mitt Romney. While this has been a repeating pattern for Romney throughout the race, somehow this seems different. Even though Tea Party types have always been skeptical of Romney, his support among moderate Republicans kept him in the race. If this base is threatening to crumble, Romney could quickly go from front runner to also-ran.

To be sure, even if Romney stumbles out of the gate, he would still have time to recover. As Nate Silver points out, the schedule of primaries in this election is built for just such a comeback, with Super Tuesdday coming a full eight weeks after the New Hampshire Primary, instead of the two to three weeks which has been more common historically. Silver argues that this elongated calendar could dampen the “slingshot effect” that has often propelled candidates to victory after winning in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina. Silver also points out that Romney would be ideally situated to mount this comeback, given the institutional advantages in fund raising, campaign infrastructure and institutional support he has.   

In the National Journal, Charlie Cook writes about the organizational and personal obstacles Newt will need to overcome to get the nomination:

From my perspective, I believe that fundamentals still matter. Someday, someone who has raised very little money may win a presidential nomination. Someday, someone with minimal campaign organization and infrastructure may become the nominee. Someday, someone who has served in Congress with hundreds of fellow party members and dozens of former staff but who has very, very few of them endorsing him and working on his campaign may win. But we are asked to believe that all of this is going to happen in 2012… I want to get further into the process before I am willing to concede that the political laws of gravity aren’t going to apply this time.

In many ways, Gingrich seems like an unlikely nominee. Ezra Klein provides a list of 21 reasons why Gingrich won’t get the nomination, writing that “Gingrich might generate sufficient momentum to win a few primaries. But he can’t survive seven months as the frontrunner. The more interesting question is whether he could damage Romney badly enough that the GOP needs to find a new candidate to serve as their nominee.” Klein goes as far a to say that, if Gingrich is close to getting the nod, establishment Republicans will do all they can to force a brokered convention and pick someone of their own choosing. I can’t think if what I’d like better, a Gingrich Nomination or a brokered convention where the Republican Establishment overturns the will of the Tea Party…

I’ve given up trying to predict this one. As history has shown, four weeks out from the New Hampshire Primary can be a lifetime in Presidential politics.

But fasten your seat belts folks, this is going to be an interesting one.

Nate Silver: Newt Could be the Nominee

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

Nate Silver is like the E.F. Hutton of political prognostication: when he talks, people listen.

Which is why I am paying attention to his prognostications about Newt Gingrich’s chances for the Republican nomination.

In a recent post on the importance of Iowa, Silver notes that winning Iowa could be a real springboard for Newt’s candidacy:

Winning Iowa would remove many of the doubts about Mr. Gingrich’s viability and staying power and provide him with a fundraising boost that his campaign badly needs.

Win Iowa, and there is a real possibility that Mr. Gingrich is the Republican nominee. He is a reasonably strong candidate for Florida and South Carolina. His polling has been all over the map in New Hampshire, meanwhile, but one recent survey puts him quite close to Mr. Romney in the state, and New Hampshire has long had a thing for more intellectually-minded candidates (like Paul Tsongas or Mr. Hart) and for curmudgeonly conservatives (like Pat Buchanan).

The idea is that Gingrich could win Iowa, put up a strong showing in New Hampshire and then go on to South Carolina, where he would face even better chances in a state that borders his homestate. South Carolina has been remarkably determinative of the eventual Republican nominee, with the winner of this primary going on to win in every nomination since its inception in 1980.

Put me down as remaining skeptical about Newt’s chances, but still hopeful that the Republicans will actually be foolish enough to nominate him. He would be a Democrat’s dream candidate.

Good News for Romney: The Newt Surge is Upon Us

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

 As has been widely reported in the media today, six months after I (along with the rest of the country) wrote him off, Newt Gingrich is having some success positioning himself as the latest “Not Mitt Romney” candidate.

As Nate Silver showed last week, over the last two months, Gingrich’s trend lines are the best in the Republican field, and while he still trails both Cain and Romney, he is clearly on the upswing while Cain and Romney seem to be fading a little. Meanwhile a raft of new polling released in the past few days confirms that surge, with one poll even showing Newt leading the Republican field.

I have to admit that I didn’t watch the foreign policy debate on Saturday. I watched Rick Perry’s self-immolation on Wednesday and I just couldn’t bear to watch any more on Saturday. Like most, I think Perry’s meltdown marks the death knell of his already faltering campaign.

Meanwhile, Herman Cain continued to do what he has done in every debate, which is to repeat “NINE-NINE-NINE” at every possible turn. I’m no expert at predicting how Republicans judge candidates, but I think it is becoming more and more evident that, in Cain’s case, the Emperor Wears No Clothes. And while constantly repeating “NINE-NINE-NINE” might be a great way of getting attention, at some point voters are going to expect you to take it to the next level. It’s not clear to me that Cain has a next level. As Mike Murphy tweeted after the foreign policy debate, and Mark Halperin seconded, Cain’s answers always seem to be a mile wide and an inch deep.

What’s interesting about a switch to Newt is that, as Mark Halperin pointed out last week, Gingrich may be the person most likely to become the alternative to Romney, but he’s also the least likely to beat Romney. Gingrich brings a treasure trove of political liabilities to the presidential race. And given that only about 5% of GOP voters in a recent poll rated Gingrich as the most likely to beat Barack Obama, the swing to Gingrich seems to indicate that Republicans might be done searching for a viable alternative to Romney and are now just looking for a credible protest vote to cast.

The bottom line is that, despite Mitt’s yearlong stagnation in the polls and the fact that he’s the last choice of so many conservative Republicans, the paucity of credible alternatives puts him in a pretty good position. The self inflicted wounds of Perry and Cain over the past few weeks have just amplified this advantage.

All in all, a pretty good couple of weeks for the Romney camp.

Final Election Projections Are Out

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Election day is like Christmas morning for me.

And even though I’m getting coal in my stocking this year, I’m still excited. We’ll see how I feel after the results are in.

Here are final election predictions from Nate Silver and Larry Sabato.

Interestingly, they both have the exact same numbers: 8 Senate Seats for the GOP and 55 House seats.

Both show the Republicans coming up slightly short in the Senate. In order to pull the upset, they need to take West Virginia and then either Washington or California, while realizing victory in close elections in the states of Colorado, Nevada, Illinois and Pennsylvania.

In the House, the prediction is for 55 seats, but this is notoriously hard to predict. They both have 47 losses as a likely floor (which would still be a loss of the House) and of course there are the whisper numbers of over 70 seats.

Bring on the Teabaggers.


Nate Silver: Washington is the New Florida

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Here’s Nate Silver on how it increasingly looks like Washington state may be the difference maker in deciding who will control the Senate.

The idea here is that Republicans seem to be increasing or maintaining margins in Illinois, Nevada and  Colorado, and California seems to be trending the opposite way. This leaves West Virginia in the true tossup category and Washington state as the most important Democratic Firewall seat in a usually reliably blue state. Republicans would have to win in both to take the Senate, but recent polls in Washington have shown Patty Murray’s lead tightening in recent days and this one looks like it could go down to the wire.