Post-Election Thoughts
Published on November 7, 2012 by Sara Foss

The election marked an important victory for Democrats, and the various constituencies that comprise the party - women, blacks, young adults, Hispanics, gays, etc. - but also for common sense and math.

As an avid reader of statistician Nate Silver, I followed the war on math and common sense with interest. Silver has a reputation for pinpoint accuracy in his analysis of polls and electoral predictions, and he has been projecting an Obama victory for months, in direct contradition to the conventional wisdom that suggested this would be a close election. Not everybody liked Silver's analysis, and as the election grew closer, the attacks on him grew.

These attacks came from two sources: pundit hacks, who find it hard to believe that math is a better predictor of election results than intuition, and Republicans, who decided to invent their own reality in response to Silver's numbers, which they found distasteful.

The most ridiculous character to emerge in the war on math was Dean Chambers of UnSkewed Polls, who basically invented his own model for predicting the election, which involved fiddling with his model until it produced the result he wanted: a Romney victory. Of Silver, Chambers sneered: "Nate Silver is 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. In fact, Silver could easily be the poster child for the New Castrati in both image and sound. Nate Silver, like most liberal and leftist celebrities and favorites, might be of average intelligence but is surely not the genius he’s made out to be. His political analyses are average at best and his projections, at least this year, are extremely biased in favor of the Democrats. [Projects Romney wins in Oregon, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Minnesota.]." Of course, mainstream journalists also sneered at Silver's tricky math, with Washington Post political reporter Dana Millbanks sniffing that anyone who claims to know what is going to happen on Election Day is “just making it up.” Meanwhile, Silver gave as good as he got, challenging Joe Scarborough to a bet on the outcome, and telling Colbert, "I’m not very pro-pundit, I have to say. If pundits were on the ballot against, like, I don’t know, Ebola, I might vote Ebola, or third party."

Anyway, on Tuesday the election happened and guess what? Silver's methodology works pretty well! He correctly predicted the vote in all 50 states, even getting Florida, which he switched from Romney to Obama right before the election, and pretty much nailing the popular. What should we take away from this?

1. Pundits are full of crap. Many of these people sneered away at Silver, while predicting all manner of preposterous things, like a Romney landslide. Against all reason, George Will said that Minnesota would go for Romney, while Cokie Roberts said "the law of averages" would prevent Obama from winning all of the swing states that he eventually won. These people were eager for Silver's model to fail and for Silver to be discredited, but trust me: These wrong-headed pundits are not going to apologize or resign after failing so spectacularly to understand what was going on in this election. They are going to continue to pretend that numbers and data don't mean anything, and get paid tons of money to blab away cluelessly on TV. How can we stop this madness? Well, by reading Silver and the other smart new political writers, such as Sam Wang of the Princeton Election Consortium.

2. The Republicans would do well to take a break from the Fox News bubble and join the rest of us here on planet earth. It must have been shocking for Republicans to realize that the Kenyan Muslim Sleeper Agent everybody in America supposedly hates is actually the preferred candidate of a majority of Americans. Now, I don't like to hear bad news, and I become sad when the polls aren't telling me what I want to hear. But denial is not a very good strategy, and I'm not sure why Republicans think claiming that polling data has a liberal bias is going to help them win elections. As Conor Friedersdorf wrote at The Atlantic:

"It is easy to close oneself off inside a conservative echo chamber. And right-leaning outlets like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh's show are far more intellectually closed than CNN or public radio. If you're a rank-and-file conservative, you're probably ready to acknowledge that ideologically friendly media didn't accurately inform you about Election 2012. Some pundits engaged in wishful thinking; others feigned confidence in hopes that it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy; still others decided it was smart to keep telling right-leaning audiences what they wanted to hear.

But guess what?

You haven't just been misinformed about the horse race. Since the very beginning of the election cycle, conservative media has been failing you. With a few exceptions, they haven't tried to rigorously tell you the truth, or even to bring you intellectually honest opinion. What they've done instead helps to explain why the right failed to triumph in a very winnable election.

Why do you keep putting up with it?"

Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler has also been good on this topic.

In any case, this election was a triumpth math and common sense, and that's a good thing.

Add Comment
Add comment