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March 25, 2011 / Political Fluency

Nate Silver – Quick Hit

Get this from a friend, turn it into a post.

You probably already read this, but might as well pass it along. I read Nate [Silver] for his sports modeling, but since history in political forecasting is so great I figure I start reading some of his stuff in that arena too

Thanks, man. This is a really good article that defines a lot of terms that I’ve been trying to learn over the past 5 years. It shows you how complicated politics is.

A few thoughts:

1) That Harry Enten kid is a budding genius and I’m envious of him, but some of this 2012 prognostication bugs me. And by bugs I don’t mean to look at the tree and question his statistical methods. I mean look at the forest and ask, “How about we solve our current problems instead of acting like teenage girls dreaming about a wedding day far into the future?”

2) Be very careful of using Intrade as an indicator of anything especially this far out. Silver links to them to show “what betting markets think” but there are probably very few people staking a position for an event in November 2012 and tying their money up for 18 months like that.

3) Enten was also using the Gallup generic poll because it goes back far enough and it’s an accurate poll. Yes, polling averages are more accurate, but averaging them together is a recent phenomenon.

4) I like Nate Silver, but he has made poor assumptions numerous times. And if this is him learning not to do that, then awesome. It’s always good to root for insightful people to become more accurate and he’s definitely one of them.

From Silver’s post explaining the waning of Obama and the Democrats’ popularity was due almost solely to the economy:

Health care, on the other hand, clearly deserves a major place in any narrative about the political climate. Technically speaking, it’s merely somewhat unpopular, rather than wildly so — but the passions it invokes are asymmetric in ways that cut against the Democrats.

When he mentioned Health Care Reform was “somewhat unpopular”, Silver linked to this polling average:

In Nate’s defense, he posted that when the Oppose and Favor lines were the closest in 2010. But if you even look at the distance between the Oppose and Favor lines in the months prior, you could see the bill was always very unpopular. It’s not unreasonable to think that the lines coming closer meant there was a trend that the American people were not opposing the bill as vehemently as before.

But that’s an assumption based on two paradoxical ideas of the Democrats – of which Silver is one so he is more inclined to believe it (that’s not a fault, it’s just human nature). The first was the optimistic view that “the more that people find out about the bill, the more they will like it.” And the second, more cynical view is “now that it’s passed, it won’t be in the news as much and people will forget about it.” That’s of course a paraphrase as no competent politician would ever say that.

Looking at the right side of the chart showing the more recent health care polls and the massive Republican House victory 15 weeks after Silver’s post, we can see the exact opposite trend has occurred.


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