Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Falsifying Prophets

Something of a backlash is occurring against Nate Silver's steady prediction of a 73 percent chance of an Obama win (75 percent now-cast). Here's Joe Scarborough yesterday:
Anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue, they should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops and microphones for the next 10 days, because they're jokes.
I get the point, but a toss-up can still have a favourite, and a 27% chance of victory is still not a bad chance. Tim Stanley has even more harsh words:


Nate says that, according to his model, Obama has a 74.6 per cent chance of winning. You might find that figure a little odd given that on the same page you’ll see that Obama is ahead by less than 3 per cent nationally and his advantage lies in one state, Ohio. It’s even odder when you consider how it conflicts with other polls that emerged this weekend giving a virtual tie in Wisconsin and Minnesota. It’s damn near-surreal when you discover that Gallup puts Romney ahead by four points among (and this distinction is critical) likely voters. Meanwhile, Obama’s job approval rating is heading downwards. Does Nate know something that the rest of the world doesn’t? 
Being ahead by only 3 percent nationally is perfectly compatible with Obama as the clear favourite for re-election. It's not true that Ohio is Obama's only advantage - it's that he has far more plausible paths to victory than Romney does at this point, given that a crucial number of swing states have him with a slight lead. Gallup does have a comfortable lead for Romney, but it's important to realise that Gallup also had McCain pretty far ahead close to polling day last time round and, more importantly, it stands with Rasmussen as the only poll out of hundreds that has Romney ahead. In that context - it's really Gallup we should be asking if they know something the rest of the world doesn't? None of this is to say that Romney is dead in the water - a slight percentage point shift in a couple of battleground states could swing the election to Romney, but it's clear that Obama has the upper hand right now. Here's David Axelrod's assessment:
Governor Romney profited from that first debate primarily by recouping those voters who he had lost in his dismal month of September when they had such an uninspired convention and when the 47 percent tape came out,” Axelrod said. “But that is all that happened. We’ve had two debates since. I haven’t seen — in the things that I have looked at — I haven’t seen momentum since that time. I think the race has settled in, and it has settled in with us with a small but durable and discernable lead in these battleground states both in the aggregate and individually. The question is how does he change that dynamic now? There is no big intervening event.
And that's the rub. That one, inexcusable debate Obama had made this contest once again competitive, and it could still go either way - the aggregate polling could be wrong, party identification could have been skewed (not likely), but given the information at the moment, the smart money is on an Obama victory. Not enough to bet your house on, admittedly, but a comfortable lead. Fact is that the Democratic Convention switched this election from a simple referendum on the economy into an ideological choice between hard-right and not-so-hard right (by UK standards, at least). When the base was fired up enough, the Romney camp tried to make it a question of managerial competence to attract swing voters - disavowing all the crazy ideological bullshit of the past year and just stopping short of agreeing with the President on everything. It could be, though, that enough swing voters can see through the Romney facade to hand Obama re-election.

But the attempt to discredit Silver is just silly. He's not an ideologue, he's a data nerd who simply reads the polls that are there - and in most of the states up for grabs, Obama has a (slight) lead. Let's not get too emotional about this.

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