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All of Nate Silver's State-Level Polling Predictions Proved True 576

Posted by timothy
from the panned-out-you-might-say dept.
kkleiner writes "For the last few months, the political pundit class has been at war with NYT/FiveThirtyEight blogger Nate Silver. Joe Scarborough of MSNBC called him a "joke," while an op-ed in the LA Times accused him of running a "numbers racket." But last night, Silver triumphed: every one of his state-level presidential predictions proved true. "
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All of Nate Silver's State-Level Polling Predictions Proved True

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  • Math (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:33PM (#41922747)

    http://www.xkcd.org/1131/

    • Re:Math (Score:5, Insightful)

      by YodasEvilTwin (2014446) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:38PM (#41922835) Homepage
      This. People need to learn that statistics and polling are sciences. Like all sciences they are inexact, with a margin for error; but the chances of the poll averages being wrong in this case were incredibly small.
      • Re:Math (Score:5, Insightful)

        by alphatel (1450715) * on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:49PM (#41923013)

        This. People need to learn that statistics and polling are sciences. Like all sciences they are inexact, with a margin for error; but the chances of the poll averages being wrong in this case were incredibly small.

        Or This. Pundits and Statisticians are about as far apart as Republicans and Climate Scientists.

        • Re:Math (Score:5, Funny)

          by coldfarnorth (799174) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:03PM (#41923211)

          Or as a friend of mine said:

          Nate Silver is to talking-head punditry what the National Weather Service is to "Hurricanes are caused by teh gays."

        • Re:Math (Score:5, Insightful)

          by jhoegl (638955) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:05PM (#41923231)
          Pundits were creating the illusion of close races to drive up viewing.
          They could care less if it adversely affected a vote or increased voter turnout.
          The fact is they manipulate the information for their own personal gain. This time was it not only Fox News and MSNBC, but CNN.
          This opens up an avenue for truth, which sheds light on what they are doing. Media outlets are calling him that because they are upset he is telling the actual truth and not making it cloudy to increase revenue.
          Colbert Report made fun of this when he had him on the night before the election.
          • Re:Math (Score:5, Insightful)

            by MightyMartian (840721) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:09PM (#41923311) Journal

            Indeed. There was an illusion of a close race to sell advertising. People love drama, and having a contest where the media reported "Obama's got it, Romney's cause is hopeless" would not have had the sexy urgency necessary to cash in on.

            We are seeing the OJ simpson freeway chase kind of reporting being applied to elections.

          • Re:Math (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Genda (560240) <mariet@@@got...net> on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:26PM (#41923567) Journal

            This is the price of allowing 10,000 independent journalistic voices to be consolidated into 2 or 4 mega-media-conglomerates who's infotainment is supposed to pass for a free and responsible forth column. What we now call news is to free journalism, what the grocery weekend throw away is to journalistic press. The current media is selling you ideas and opinions. It is paid for and owned by its corporate sponsors, so they will be the source of your information. Anyone who isn't getting news from outside of the United States (and from diverse sources) would be better served reading their toilet paper, in the end it will perform the same job.

            Nobody who reads "REALITY" is by any means surprised by any of this, or the really shocking things our government is doing. In the debates, where were the questions regarding the gutting of the constitution or the fact that the President now has a license to kill? Where were the questions about the government printing trillions of dollars to "FAKE" the existence of an economy? Or even the questions about all our trade partners quietly working out new trade routes that exclude the use of dollars? Boys and girls, the fan and the schist are on the verge of close embrace, and ours news hasn't bothered to mention our emperor is prancing about buck nekid!!! I hope y'all have your emergency supplies well stocked... I suggest dehydrated food myself.

            • 10,000 sounds a bit high, where is that estimate coming from?
              Just curious.
              Although, maybe newspapers should become clipping services for blogs, i.e. let the blogosphere break the story, and use actual journalists to fact check the blogs, then publish a paper based on that.
            • Re:Math (Score:5, Funny)

              by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @05:01PM (#41924109)

              This is the price of allowing 10,000 independent journalistic voices to be consolidated into 2 or 4 mega-media-conglomerates who's infotainment is supposed to pass for a free and responsible forth column.

              You are badly mixing the "fourth estate" and "fifth column" metaphors, neither of which actually fit your claim. Your post is like watching David and Goliath paint the Sistine Chapel.

          • Re:Math (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Solandri (704621) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:55PM (#41923993)

            Pundits were creating the illusion of close races to drive up viewing.

            Not exactly. What you say is partly true. But there's another dynamic at play here: when predicting election outcomes, there are two sources of uncertainty, not one.

            The first is random sampling error, which is what Nate Silver does an excellent job correcting for.

            The second is uncertainty in how likely it is that someone will vote. This means if supporters of a candidate acknowledge that their opponent has a seemingly insurmountable lead in the polls, they create a self-fulfilling prophecy. If their candidate seemingly has no chance, then what's the point of voting for him? His supporters will stay home on election day, and he ends up losing even if the polls were wrong and he was actually in the lead.

            So when it comes to elections, you basically have two choices. Hold a gun to everyone's head and force them to vote. Or everyone has to pretend their favored candidate could win, even if the polls show he's losing. When people don't do the latter, you get the situation we have in the U.S. - where people who would really prefer the Libertarian candidate end up voting for a Democrat or Republican. Because everyone "knows" the Libertarian candidate could never win. (There are other ways to combat this, e.g. instant run-off voting, but that's a different discussion.)

            • Re:Math (Score:4, Interesting)

              by TWX (665546) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @05:10PM (#41924239)
              My observation is that while there are third-party candidates that attract attention, rarely do their positions fall into the political spectrum somewhere that would allow them to gain a majority. In my experience, third-party candidates fall much farther to the left or to the right of their Democratic or Republican counterparts, and thus generally don't gain widespread acceptance.

              The Tea Party is an aberration, but the Tea Party is an attempt to infiltrate and hijack the Republican Party- all Tea Party candidates are registered Republican. Should the Tea Party identify itself as its own unique party at this point then it would find itself in the same position as the Libertarians, with no national apparatus to help rearrange funding and poor name recognition. Granted, it would start with a position of relative strength given the number of Republican/Tea Party members that are in office, but without national support as part of the Republican party they'd probably lose elections fairly quickly. If they manage to more thoroughly take over the party, though, they might either be able to strip off the apparatus for a true separate Tea Party, or just make the Republican Party itself the defacto Tea Party in whole.
            • Re:Math (Score:5, Informative)

              by AdamWill (604569) on Friday November 09, 2012 @12:09AM (#41928531) Homepage

              This always sounds like a great argument, except that the evidence we have doesn't really bear it out.

              Even in 'two-party system' countries, the two parties seem to change far more than that theory would allow for. Where are the Whigs and the Federalists now? In the U.K., the Whigs transformed into the rather different Liberals, who were decimated by the rise of Labour yet persist as the smaller third party, the Liberal Democrats, after a merger with the Social Democrats.

              Often the 'two-party system' theorists excuse these changes by constructing narratives where there are periods of stability followed by some kind of 'exceptional event' which causes a 'realignment', but to me, this is really just retrospectively imposing a narrative on much messier events, to fit your convenient belief.

              Most strikingly, consider this country, Canada. We have an identical electoral system to the U.K., which is often argued to be a two-party system (notwithstanding the changes I noted above), just as much as the U.S. system - the same arguments are made, that people believe only two parties can possibly attain power, so they only vote for those two parties, and the electoral system reinforces this.

              Yet here, at the last federal election, the Liberals - who had been one of the main parties for over a century, and were considered to be part of a two-party system along with the Conservatives, the only two parties realistically capable of attaining power - were virtually destroyed at the polls. They now have just 34 seats in a 308 seat chamber, and got 18.9% of the popular vote; they'd never previously in their 140+ year history polled under 20%. The strangest thing is there isn't even the possibility to construct any kind of narrative of an 'exceptional event' leading to this - people just flat out got sick of the Liberals and felt they ran a terrible campaign with a terrible leader, and so they just up and voted for other parties. Even though according to the two party theorists, they shouldn't have done, because they shouldn't have believed those parties could possibly win. But they did, and now the NDP - a party which had never previously gained more than 43 seats, or just over 20% of the vote - is the second party, with 103 seats and over 30% of the popular vote. That's only the most recent example; Canada has had a much more turbulent party history than the U.S. or the U.K., despite sharing the same system as the U.K., with all the arguments about it encouraging two-party stability.

              I don't have all the answers as to how things _do_ work, but I think the two-party theory is pretty weak and not really borne out by a close reading of the history of mature democracies, even ones that are commonly considered to be two-party systems.

          • Re:Math (Score:5, Informative)

            by composer777 (175489) * on Thursday November 08, 2012 @05:14PM (#41924313)

            I've always found the best way to find great news sources is to hold them accountable and stop using them when they screw up the big stories. For example, when the media was shocked by the 2008 crash, I wasn't. I had predicted it 5 years earlier (not necessarily when, but the fact that it would happen). How? I took a look at the small handful of pundits and bloggers that accurately predicted the demise of the tech bubble and looked at what they said would be the next bubble. If people actually started paying attention to the sources that get it right, vs the ones with the largest reach, places like FOX wouldn't exist. What I have found over the past decade is that far left independent news sources get it right far more often than mainstream (or far right) new sources.

            The election is another great example. Some people weren't surprised, and those are the ones that we should look to next time, unless we enjoy being a bunch of dumbfounded idiots all the time.

            • Re:Math (Score:5, Insightful)

              by hondo77 (324058) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @06:59PM (#41925679) Homepage

              For example, when the media was shocked by the 2008 crash, I wasn't. I had predicted it 5 years earlier (not necessarily when, but the fact that it would happen).

              You didn't predict anything. You made a guess. It took five entire years for reality to coincide with your guess. That's all. When you can make accurate guesses consistently over time, then maybe we can talk about calling them "predictions".

          • Re:Math (Score:5, Interesting)

            by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @05:23PM (#41924459)

            Pundits were creating the illusion of close races to drive up viewing.

            Of they are simply delusional - to the very end. Example: Live Fox News coverage exchange between Meghan Kelly and Karl Rove just after Fox predicted an Ohio win for President Obama and, thus, the election. Rove said they were flat-out wrong and Kelly said:

            Is this just math you do as a Republican to make you feel better, or is it real?

            Karl assured her that his "math" was real. Kelly then trotted off to talk with the statisticians who explained their math and stood by their results with "99.95% certainty."

            I really hate to say this, but "Yay Meghan" and, except for the talking-head pundits they had on, Fox actually did a rather professional job of covering the election (I flipped through all the major channels), though it was probably because they were expecting a huge Romney win... (especially considering how quickly they signed off after Obama's acceptance speech)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        ; but the chances of the poll averages being wrong in this case were incredibly small.

        I'm not sure that's exactly knowable. Sure, the numbers are way better than contradictory pundit guts, but for instance, we had no way of knowing if a "Bradley Effect" would have been in play. Response rates for polling firms consistently came in below 10%. Polling is getting harder and harder in an age where fewer people have landlines and polling cell phones is restricted. As of now, state polls are good guides. They will be right up until they aren't, and then the science will change.

        I'm not saying th

        • Re:Math (Score:5, Insightful)

          by sjames (1099) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:00PM (#41923185) Homepage

          We can know the odds to a high precision. Just like I can know the odds of the flip of a weighted coin. That doesn't mean I can't be wrong when I guess my next coin toss, it just means I have a fair idea how likely I am to be wrong.

        • Re:Math (Score:5, Informative)

          by BasilBrush (643681) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @06:11PM (#41925003)

          but for instance, we had no way of knowing if a "Bradley Effect" would have been in play

          Sure we do. Nate Silver has looked at this effect a number of times. If it exists at all, it's tiny.

          http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/search/label/bradley%20effect [fivethirtyeight.com]

          I'm not saying that the probability of systematic error is large, just unknowable.

          It is knowable, and that's exactly why Nate Silvers forecasts are so much more accurate than anyone else's. He does the donkey work to minimise these systematic errors.

          It was a perfectly reasonable and scientific position for a Republican to say "Romney's chances are equal to the probability of error in the polls, and I hope that probability is large."

          No, it was really, really dumb. Not only can systematic errors be minimised, but margin of error is not going to go in the same direction on all polls.

      • Re:Math (Score:5, Interesting)

        by mcgrew (92797) * on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:03PM (#41923215) Homepage Journal

        This topic isn't nearly as wild as the election the year I was born. From USA Today's In '52, huge computer called Univac changed election night: [usatoday.com]

        In a few hours on Nov. 4, 1952, Univac altered politics, changed the world's perception of computers and upended the tech industry's status quo. Along the way, it embarrassed CBS long before Dan Rather could do that all by himself.

        Computers were the stuff of science fiction and wide-eyed articles about "electric brains." Few people had actually seen one. Only a handful had been built, among them the first computer, ENIAC, created by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1940s.

        In summer 1952, a Remington Rand executive approached CBS News chief Sig Mickelson and said the Univac might be able to plot early election-night returns against past voting patterns and spit out a predicted winner. Mickelson and anchor Walter Cronkite thought the claim was a load of baloney but figured it would at least be entertaining to try it on the air.

        On election night, the 16,000-pound Univac remained at its home in Philadelphia. In the TV studio, CBS set up a fake computer -- a panel embedded with blinking Christmas lights and a teletype machine. Cronkite sat next to it. Correspondent Charles Collingwood and a camera crew set up in front of the real Univac.

        By 8:30 p.m. ET -- long before news organizations of the era knew national election outcomes -- Univac spit out a startling prediction. It said Eisenhower would get 438 electoral votes to Stevenson's 93 -- a landslide victory. Because every poll had said the race would be tight, CBS didn't believe the computer and refused to air the prediction.

        Under pressure, Woodbury rejigged the algorithms. Univac then gave Eisenhower 8-to-7 odds over Stevenson. At 9:15 p.m., Cronkite reported that on the air. But Woodbury kept working and found he'd made a mistake. He ran the numbers again and got the original results -- an Eisenhower landslide.

        Late that night, as actual results came in, CBS realized Univac had been right. Embarrassed, Collingwood came back on the air and confessed to millions of viewers that Univac had predicted the results hours earlier.

        In fact, the official count ended up being 442 electoral votes for Eisenhower and 89 for Stevenson. Univac had been off by less than 1%. It had missed the popular vote results by only 3%. Considering that the Univac had 5,000 vacuum tubes that did 1,000 calculations per second, that's pretty impressive. A musical Hallmark card has more computing power.

        That doesn't take away from Silver's math, though, considering that the polls all had Obama and Romney neck and neck and Obama won by a huge margin. It seems Woodbury did a far better job with an incredibly primitive computer than the modern polsters' statisticians did with today's high tech machines.

        • Re:Math (Score:5, Informative)

          by halfEvilTech (1171369) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:11PM (#41923337)

          All things considered he was fairly accurate on the 2008 election as well. I think he got one state wrong if that as well.

          So as far as I know he is 2 for 2.

        • Re:Math (Score:5, Insightful)

          by MightyMartian (840721) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:11PM (#41923341) Journal

          Part of the problem was an obsession with national level polling. Silver was analyzing the races per state, which is the only legitimate way to analyze it in an electoral college system. National polling is at best only an extremely crude indicator, and to my mind, in most modern presidential elections is likely useless.

          • Re:Math (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:42PM (#41923817)

            But his analysis of national polls was correct too. He predicted Obama would win the popular vote by 2.5 points and he won by 2.4 points. Media outlets were rounding poll results to get "50% to 48% with 1% margin of error OMG it's practically tied!!!"

            2.4% sounds like a small difference only until you realize it represents about 2.9 million votes. Pundits dumbed down the math and ended up looking dumb.

        • Re:Math (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:29PM (#41923605)

          "That doesn't take away from Silver's math, though, considering that the polls all had Obama and Romney neck and neck and Obama won by a huge margin."

          That's the thing though, Silver's math was extrapolated directly from the polls themselves. The polls weren't really close; that was just an illusion created by bad interpretation of the data. Media pundits cherry picked the closest polls, fudged margins of error, and made differences of 1% sound very small when in reality they represented hundreds of thousands of votes.

          That's the whole point. The election wasn't ever really close at all. The evidence was there, most people just interpreted it badly (or outright dishonestly).

        • Thinking the Univac would have blown up in today's election environment - when its computations were interrupted for the 34th time by a phone call from RNC headquarters.
        • Re:Math (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Ambitwistor (1041236) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @05:09PM (#41924221)

          That doesn't take away from Silver's math, though, considering that the polls all had Obama and Romney neck and neck and Obama won by a huge margin.

          But the polls didn't have them neck and neck, if you looked at the state level and added up the electoral votes. That's what Silver's math was based on. He does have some non-poll information in the mix too, but Princeton Election Consortium got the same results using pure polls.

        • Re:Math (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Dahamma (304068) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @05:28PM (#41924519)

          That doesn't take away from Silver's math, though, considering that the polls all had Obama and Romney neck and neck and Obama won by a huge margin.

          Actually, there wasn't all *that* much math... and in fact (given most of his raw data was just the polls) - the polls that mattered did *not* have them neck and neck. His key insight was just to use polling information by state, find the bias in some polls (like Rasmussen, which had Romney by 2%, hah!) and then weigh and average those polls to get predicted electoral votes. I bet it's simple enough computations Univac could chug through it in a reasonable time :)

          It's basically a given now that future presidential race predictions will be based on those same ideas... in fact, the Princeton predictions use a similar model and came up with pretty much the same results:

          ELECTORAL PREDICTION (mode): Barack Obama 303 EV, Mitt Romney 235 EV. The mode is the single most frequent value on the EV histogram. It corresponds to the map below, and has a 22% chance of being exactly correct. The next-most-likely outcome is Obama 332, Romney 206 EV.

          [and unlike Silver, their blog [princeton.edu] goes into all of the gory details of their model, which is pretty cool...]

        • Re:Math (Score:4, Interesting)

          by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @05:32PM (#41924561)

          That doesn't take away from Silver's math, though, considering that the polls all had Obama and Romney neck and neck and Obama won by a huge margin.

          Actually, it wasn't "all the polls" that said that, just some of the polls. His math actually took all the polls into consideration and their vectors, which is the point. Additionally, while Obama won by a large Electoral College margin, the Popular Vote was rather close - something the Republicans will try to remind us all of in the months to come as they try to find some grip on reality.

      • Re:Math (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Artraze (600366) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:18PM (#41923457)

        Not this.

        No one was pretending that polls are some kind of random guess by someone. The thing is that polls and elections are different circumstances. When you vote, you need to travel and you can do it in secret. It also counts so maybe you change sides when push comes to shove. There's also fraud, which isn't exactly polled for either.

        The ultimate question isn't whether the polls were "wrong", but whether they could accurately predict the outcome of an election, which is not the same as a poll. In a computer context, this is like using synthetic benchmarks to predict real-world performance. Sometimes with good data and a good model you can nail it. Sometimes you overlook something and are fairly off.

        In reality, I'd say it's damn remarkable that the outcome was so close to the predicted value. From the perspective of fraud _alone_ this is a striking result: either the statisticians can predict fraud quite well or it's not as much of an issue as expected. (Or, maybe the shadow organization controlling the outcome of elections got lazy and decided to just follow the predictions this time around :p.)

        • Re:Math (Score:5, Funny)

          by jpvlsmv (583001) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @05:21PM (#41924433) Homepage Journal

          There's also fraud, which isn't exactly polled for either.

          I would suggest that the number of positive responses to the polls that ask "are you going to commit vote fraud this year?" is a statistically-accurate sampling of the actual in-person voter fraud.

          --Joe
          (0 respondants out of N gave a positive response to a question we didn't ask, which is within the poll's margin of error for the vanishingly small fraction of fraud)

      • Re:Math (Score:5, Informative)

        by sribe (304414) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @06:23PM (#41925161)

        People need to learn that statistics and polling are sciences. Like all sciences they are inexact, with a margin for error; but the chances of the poll averages being wrong in this case were incredibly small.

        No, actually the poll averages were not correct. Read up a bit more on what he actually did.

        The point is actually that the poll averages are reasonably likely to be wrong, because some polls are designed much better than others. Most news outlets just average the polls. Nate Silver weights them in an attempt to give more weight to accurate ones. So, the simple averages of polls are right in most cases, but in a handful of states are sufficiently skewed by biased polls to give an incorrect prediction. Nate Silvers' weighting of polls, on the other hand, got all 50 states correct--and in many so-called "contested" states actually nailed the Romney v Obama share perfectly to 0.1%!

    • Re:Math (Score:5, Funny)

      by xevioso (598654) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:41PM (#41923809)

      The fantastic, insightful website http://natesilverwrong/ [natesilverwrong] website was very helpful in showing me how Silver would be entirely proven incorrect, with quotes from lots of people about why he would be shown as an idiot, and his methods were skewed.

      It seems to be down now. Not really sure why. :-)

      • Re:Math (Score:4, Informative)

        by nitehawk214 (222219) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @05:05PM (#41924153)

        The fantastic, insightful website http://natesilverwrong/ [natesilverwrong] website was very helpful in showing me how Silver would be entirely proven incorrect, with quotes from lots of people about why he would be shown as an idiot, and his methods were skewed.

        It seems to be down now. Not really sure why. :-)

        Because you mistyped the url. :)

        Actually, the site really is down [natesilverwrong.com]. Guess someone was embarrassed. The cache [googleusercontent.com] still exists, though the site seemed to be completely devoid of content anyhow.

  • But when? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by metrometro (1092237) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:33PM (#41922759)

    As Nate Silver pointed out, many times, over the course of the campaign, predicting what will happen one day before the election is easy. Very easy. Most everyone gets that right.

    Predicting what will happen in June is hard. And much more interesting.

    • Re:But when? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Latentius (2557506) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:44PM (#41922915)

      And yet, even the very day of the election, there were still large numbers of pundits predicting a landslide victory for Romney. Guess the predictions aren't that easy, or perhaps it's just easier to ignore the numbers and resort to wishful thinking.

      • by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:49PM (#41923017)

        Pundits are there to draw people to a news organization, not provide accurate information. How many people would tune into the election if they said "Obama's got this one in the bag" (which we've known ever since Romney was nominated). Of course they will say you don't know who's going to win! Otherwise no one will watch their show.

      • Re:But when? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:52PM (#41923057) Journal

        Why do you think the early media reports were landslide for Romney? Why do you think it stayed so tense? Why do you think states were called before they were reporting, or that they were called for Romney at 74% reporting with 60% going to Obama? 97% chance of Obama victory. Obama's gonna win, Obama's winning, cool. Let's put in the Harry Potter DVDs and make some popcorn.

        Don't watch Harry Potter, you faggots! Watch MSNBC and CSPAN so we can get ratings! Hey! HEY! HEY, CHECK IT PEOPLE, ROMNEY IS WINNING!

      • Re:But when? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by rhsanborn (773855) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:55PM (#41923117)
        Large numbers of conservative pundits predicting a landslide for Romney. They also predict that the Earth is 6,000 years old, evolution isn't true, and illegitimate rape can't result in pregnancy. Let's call it wishful thinking instead of a prediction.
      • by sjames (1099)

        Most pundits aren't there to perform an insightful political analysis, they're there to tell a bunch of people what they want to hear so they can sell the soap.

  • Seriously... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sunking2 (521698) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:33PM (#41922761)
    The only ones who believed the race was a 'virtual tie' were those who had gains to be had by it being so, namely the media.
  • by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:34PM (#41922771)

    You can't really prove a probability wrong (unless it's 0% or 100%). While his most likely outcomes played out, it doesn't mean that he would have been wrong if a few of them hadn't.

  • by GofG (1288820) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:35PM (#41922793)

    This actually shows that Silver is poorly calibrated. if he were accurately calibrated, 80% of his 80%-confidence predictions would come true, 50% of his 50%-confidence predictions would come true, etc. But 100% of his >50%-confidence predictions came true. In the future, he should be more sure of his predictions.

    • by YodasEvilTwin (2014446) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:40PM (#41922861) Homepage
      ...that's not how statistics work either. A result does not alter the underlying probabilities.
      • by Odin's Raven (145278) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:34PM (#41923695)

        ...that's not how statistics work either. A result does not alter the underlying probabilities.

        That's only true for dusty old fuddy-duddy classical Newtonian statistics. These days quantum statistics is where it's at. Everyone knows that reading poll results can fundamentally alter data, even data that wasn't tabulated for that specific poll. (Something to do with bell curve entanglement and the spin/charm of pundits - gets kind of technical at that point.) Why just yesterday I glanced at a USA Today that someone had left behind on the subway, saw the usual 57-color pie chart about whether readers thought giraffes tasted great or were less filling, and next thing I knew the first president of the USA was George Washington instead of Herbert Whistlefjord.

      • by tgibbs (83782)

        It's not like calculating the probability of a dice roll. There are a lot of empirical assumptions in Silver's model. He adjusts for economic conditions, he normalizes polls for historical bias, etc. He has to decide what distributions to use for his Monte-Carlo simulations. So there's plenty of room for him to refine his methodology based on performance. Sam Wang [princeton.edu] using a simpler median-based method achieved similar accuracy and he argues that Silver's confidence limits are too wide.

    • by khallow (566160) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:51PM (#41923043)
      You have to remember that these are highly correlated events. A lot of the uncertainty goes all the same way. But I otherwise agree with the other poster. We'll need more of a track record to see how Silver does.

      There are still warning signs. For example, he has issued predictions with three digits of precision. That's an obvious sign that something isn't right.
    • by VAElynx (2001046) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:00PM (#41923179)

      This actually shows that Silver is poorly calibrated. if he were accurately calibrated, 80% of his 80%-confidence predictions would come true, 50% of his 50%-confidence predictions would come true, etc. But 100% of his >50%-confidence predictions came true. In the future, he should be more sure of his predictions.

      Congratulations, this is the stupidest thing I have read today.
      The confidence rate of a prediction doesn't work like that. It's the probability with which the null hypothesis can be rejected given the data, basically, suppose that the relationship you are trying to prove isn't there, how likely it is that the data were generated by a statistical fluke? And much like any other statistics, a bunch of predictions with a 50% confidence interval doesn't mean that half of them must come right, especially in a single sample - all it means is that it's as likely for the theory to be true as for it to be false.

      • by GofG (1288820)

        Yes, it does work like that.

        Nate Silver made more than a hundred predictions at around 80% confidence. 100% of those predictions came true. Therefore he is undercalibrated.

        Unless you are saying he made one prediction, that the polls were not biased in favor of democracts, and gave this prediction 80% confidence... in which case, yes, that's a fair point.

    • by radtea (464814) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:11PM (#41923327)

      This actually shows that Silver is poorly calibrated. if he were accurately calibrated, 80% of his 80%-confidence predictions would come true, 50% of his 50%-confidence predictions would come true, etc. But 100% of his >50%-confidence predictions came true. In the future, he should be more sure of his predictions.

      Not necessarily. Most of the uncertainty in his predictions was due to the conditional probability of systematic bias in likely voter models. For example, Gallup was showing much better results for Romney and the Rac... err... Republicans across the board, which was probably due to how they screened people who responded.

      Systematic error shows up as a conditional probability, so you are lumping together completely disjoint realities into your final result. In terms of discrete conditional probabilites, imagine that based on historical data you have three equally likley possible conditions: 5% Democratic bias, no bias, and 5% Republican bias. You run your simulations with each of these three biases, and you get a result that says senators D0, D1, D2, D3, D4, D5, D6, D7, D8 and D9 are all 80% likely to win. But 99% of that 20% chance they'll lose comes from the condition where there's a 5% Republican bias.

      But remember: those three conditions describe completely disjoint realities. They are not sampling error, but statements of ignorance about the actual state of the world.

      Now the world really is just one way (it may be ambiguous relative to some human categorization, but then that ambiguity is just part of the one unique way the world realy is.) So only one of the three conditions are true. If it happens that the no-bias case is the way the world really is, then 100% of those 80% chances will come true.

      That said, in future elections Bayesian predictions of the kind Silver and everyone else in this space are making will lower the conditional probabilities of bias, because this election demonstrated good low-bias results, but so long as the ultimate uncertainty is dominated by the systematic error, Bayesian predictors will tend to appear either uncannily accurate or dismayingly inaccurate.

      However, averaged over many, many election cycles (18 or more) you would expect to get statisics such that 80% of the 80% calls are correct, and so on. But within individual elections that use fixed likely-voter models that won't be the case.

      Conditional probabilities are one of the most difficult things for humans to understand (the Monty Hall problem is a classic case where all the confusion comes from treating a conditional probability as if it was a total probability) so it's worth practicing the art of thinking carefully about these things, and the odds are still good I've said at least one confusing or incorrect thing in the above.

  • Why Nate? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:39PM (#41922847) Journal

    Why does Nate get so much attention, when other sites like electionprojection.com and electoral-vote.com do a similar service, are open on their methods and have had almost perfect results for the past two elections. This past election, those two sites only missed on Florida and that one was truly too close to be 90% confident on one way or another.

    • by mewsenews (251487)
      I'm guessing the likely explanation is that Big Media only cares about other Big Media and this Nate Silver guy has the NYT as a patron
    • Re:Why Nate? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by scumdamn (82357) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:55PM (#41923119)
      It's because of what he offers in addition to the model. The color commentary, explanation of why things change from day to day and analysis of individual polling firms after the fact. I was paying attention to him from the start (2008 primaries on Daily Kos) and he does a great job of explaining things to the layman.
    • Because Nate Silver was PERFECT. ElectionProjection.com went 49/50 while Silver went 51/51. Furthermore, he was insisting that Obama was winning months and months ago when everyone was insisting that it was a toss up. Also, he's a gay Jew. I can't help but to think that this brought him into the crosshairs of many of his right-wing critics, most notably, that of Dean Chambers of unskewedpolls.com, who said that Nate Silver was "effeminate."

  • by Attack DAWWG (997171) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:40PM (#41922873)

    Some of the things people said about him were nuttier than that. This [examiner.com] guy called him "a man of very small stature, a thin and effeminate man with a soft-sounding voice that sounds almost exactly like the “Mr. New Castrati” voice used by Rush Limbaugh on his program." So that is supposed to have some sort of effect on his analysis?

    All he did was take polls that already existed--lots of them--and do statistical analysis on them. Just ran the numbers, and didn't speculate. Contrast that with sites like this [unskewedpolls.com] one, which, although quite pompous, was stuck in its own alternate reality and ended up being quite wrong.

  • by jamesoutlaw (87295) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:45PM (#41923861) Homepage

    I applaud Nate's effort to use mathematics to effectively make fools of all the talking head "pundits" in the media. I have followed him since 2008 and am looking forward to many more years of his work. I hope he continues to be successful in the future.

If A = B and B = C, then A = C, except where void or prohibited by law. -- Roy Santoro

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