I have received a good reaction to my post, If Nate Silver cannot be wrong, how can he be right?, in which I call non-statistical BS to Nate Silvermania.
Dan McLaughlin, On Polling Models, Skewed & Unskewed examines Nate Silvermania, and links to me for a non-numbers reason, which is good because I’m not a numbers guy:
Poll analysis by campaign professionals often involves a large dollop of conscious partisan hackery: spinning the polls to suggest a result the campaigns know is not realistic, in the hopes of avoiding the bottom-drops-out loss of voter confidence that sets in when a campaign is visibly doomed.
For the record, unlike some of my conservative colleagues, I don’t think Nate is a conscious partisan hack. I have a lot of respect for his intelligence and his thoroughness as a baseball analyst and we have mutual friends in the world of baseball analysis, and I think he undoubtedly recognizes that it will not be good for his credibility to be committed to the last ditch to defending Obama as a prohibitive favorite in an election he ends up losing.
(It’s true that the 538 model is just probabilities, but as Prof. Jacobson notes, Nate won his reputation as an electoral forecaster with similar probabilistic projections in 2008; if you project a guy to have a 77% chance to win an election he loses, that will inevitably cause people to put less faith in your odds-laying later on).
Here’s Dan’s conclusion:
We can’t know until Election Day who is right. I stand by my view that Obama is losing independent voters decisively, because the national and state polls both support that thesis.
I stand by my view that Republican turnout will be up significantly from recent-historic lows in 2008 in the key swing states (Ohio, Wisconsin, Colorado) and nationally, because the post-2008 elections, the party registration data, the early-voting and absentee-ballot numbers, and the Rasmussen and Gallup national party-ID surveys (both of which have solid track records) all point to this conclusion.
I stand by my view that no countervailing evidence outside of poll samples shows a similar surge above 2008 levels in Democratic voter turnout, as would be needed to offset Romney’s advantage with independents and increased GOP voter turnout.
And I stand by the view that a mechanical reading of polling averages is an inadequate basis to project an event unprecedented in American history: the re-election of a sitting president without a clear-cut victory in the national popular vote.
Perhaps, despite the paucity of evidence to the contrary, these assumptions are wrong. But if they are correct, no mathematical model can provide a convincing explanation of how Obama is going to win re-election. He remains toast.
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