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Silver’s Streak

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November 24, 2008

One of the most interesting characters to emerge from the 2008 election cycle is a young man named Nate Silver.  Not to be upstaged by Sarah Palin, once he caught the interest of the mainstream media, Nate immediately picked up a new, snappy-looking pair of eyeglasses.

Nate is a 30-year-old math wizard who turned the world of political polling on its ear by introducing said ear to some new sounds that make nearly perfect mathematical and sonic sense.  He graduated cum laude from the University of Chicago in 1980 with a major in Economics.  He then took a job for a few years, working for a consulting firm.  During that time, he developed a statistical system to forecast the performance of professional baseball players.  In 2003, he went to work for a group producing an annual book on professional baseball player performance analysis and performance forecasts, called Baseball Prospectus.  He then sold his statistical analysis system to that company and joined their staff.

In November of 2007, Nate began using his skills and systems to make forecasts of the Presidential primaries, using the pseudonym:  “Poblano” on the Daily Kos website.  On February 11, 2008, neocon William Kristol wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times, wherein he made note of “an interesting regression analysis at the Daily Kos Web site” done by Mr. Silver.  The next month, Nate started his blog, FiveThirtyEight.com, where he utilized his new system for analyzing and forecasting Presidential primary results, as well as the ultimate outcome the 2008 Presidential election.  As a consequence of this endeavor, the studios at CNN and MSNBC quickly became familiar surroundings to him.  By November 14, 2008, The New York Observer had this to say about Nate:

Mr. Silver’s statistical skills were ratified when the outcome of the presidential race aligned almost exactly with his final predictions both for the popular vote and the Electoral College breakdown  …

Later that day, Leon Neyfakh reported on The Observer website that Nate had inked a book deal with Penguin Group, USA including a $700,000 advance.  Although this advance is only ten percent of the amount allegedly offered as an advance to Sarah Palin for “her” “book”, you need to keep in mind that Nate is only 30 years old and Sarah will be a grandmother soon.

As the recount for Minnesota’s Senatorial election moves along, Nate’s November 23 posting on his FiveThirtyEight.com website has received quite a bit of attention.  The title alone says it all:  “Projection:  Franken to Win Recount by 27 Votes”.  Will Mr. Silver’s “streak” continue?  A reader, identified as “Max” posted the following comment on that blog:  “If you are right about this you should put all others out of business.”

Nate provided us with another interesting take on the 2008 election, with a particular focus on the state of California.  I was surprised at how Maureen Dowd’s article in the November 23 New York Times exhibited either an unfamiliarity with Nate’s California analysis or (less likely) a refusal to agree with it.  To my disappointment, I detected Ms. Dowd’s apparent acceptance of the “conventional wisdom” concerning California’s controversial ballot initiative:

This month, gays who supported Barack Obama had the bittersweet experience of seeing some of the black and Latino voters who surged to the polls to vote Democratic also vote for Proposition 8, which turned gay “I dos” into “You can’ts.”

She should have known better.  I would expect a pundit of her stature to be familiar with Nate’s November 11 posting on FiveThirtyEight.com:  “Prop 8 Myths”.  Here is some of what he had to say:

But the notion that Prop 8 passed because of the Obama turnout surge is silly.

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At the end of the day, Prop 8’s passage was more a generational matter than a racial one.  If nobody over the age of 65 had voted, Prop 8 would have failed by a point or two.  It appears that the generational splits may be larger within minority communities than among whites, although the data on this is sketchy.

Get with it, Maureen!  If Al Franken turns out to be Minnesota’s new junior Senator, you will no longer be justified in overlooking the observations of Nate Silver.