Quote of the Day: New York Times’ Nate Silver Insists Race is Not “Too Close to Call” (UPDATED)

Our political Quote of the Day comes from the New York Times’ Nate Silver, who has come under attack recently from conservatives and Republicans for his forecast formula which puts President Barack Obama ahead. Silver — whose latest forecast gives Obama a 83% chance of winning and predicts Obama will get 305 electoral votes to Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s 232 — is adamant that while there is a chance many state polls could be wrong, all evidence points to the race NOT being too close to call:

This introduces the possibility that most of the pollsters could err on one or another side — whether in Mr. Obama’s direction, or Mr. Romney’s. In a statistical sense, we would call this bias: that the polls are not taking an accurate sample of the voter population. If there is such a bias, furthermore, it is likely to be correlated across different states, especially if they are demographically similar. If either of the candidates beats his polls in Wisconsin, he is also likely to do so in Minnesota.

The FiveThirtyEight forecast accounts for this possibility. Its estimates of the uncertainty in the race are based on how accurate the polls have been under real-world conditions since 1968, and not the idealized assumption that random sampling error alone accounts for entire reason for doubt.

To be exceptionally clear: I do not mean to imply that the polls are biased in Mr. Obama’s favor. But there is the chance that they could be biased in either direction. If they are biased in Mr. Obama’s favor, then Mr. Romney could still win; the race is close enough. If they are biased in Mr. Romney’s favor, then Mr. Obama will win by a wider-than-expected margin, but since Mr. Obama is the favorite anyway, this will not change who sleeps in the White House on Jan. 20.

His bottom line:

My argument, rather, is this: we’ve about reached the point where if Mr. Romney wins, it can only be because the polls have been biased against him. Almost all of the chance that Mr. Romney has in the FiveThirtyEight forecast, about 16 percent to win the Electoral College, reflects this possibility.

Yes, of course: most of the arguments that the polls are necessarily biased against Mr. Romney reflect little more than wishful thinking.

Nevertheless, these arguments are potentially more intellectually coherent than the ones that propose that the race is “too close to call.” It isn’t. If the state polls are right, then Mr. Obama will win the Electoral College. If you can’t acknowledge that after a day when Mr. Obama leads 19 out of 20 swing-state polls, then you should abandon the pretense that your goal is to inform rather than entertain the public.

But the state polls may not be right. They could be biased. Based on the historical reliability of polls, we put the chance that they will be biased enough to elect Mr. Romney at 16 percent.

The one certainty: come Tuesday night someone will have a carton of egg on their face: either Silver or his critics who insist his methodology is flawed (as I’ve pointed our here partisans on both sides attack the methodology of polls and pollsters when it shows their side behind but NEVER go after them when the polls show their candidate way up in those polls) and that he’s merely in the tank for Obama.

Some polls:
Swing state polls
NBC/Marist polls find Obama ahead in Ohio and tied with Romney in Florida.
Miami Herald FL Poll: Romney 51%-Obama 45%
CNN Poll: Obama 50% – Romney 47% in Ohio
--Talking Points Memo Polltracker with many polls
Real Clear Politics poll page


Pollster poll page


UPDATE:
GOPer Michael Barone looks at the numbers and sees a big and win for Romney.
The Huffington Post says the national numbers may say one thing but in the swing states every sign suggests Obama’s battleground “firewall” is holding.

UPDATE 2: VERY INTERESTING MUST READ election predictions from some of the writers at Outside the Beltway.

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  • ShannonLeee

    He lays his logic out pretty well. He is doing straight math. We don’t know the madness of his weighting system, but it seems pretty solid. I still think he over-weights certain polls and does not take spot manipulation into his equations, but for the most part, he is pretty darn good at what he does.

  • SteveK

    This race has never been close! The horrendously misleading and mislabeled “Liberal Main Stream Media” is in reality the “Big Business Media.”

    In order for “Big Business Media” to maximize profits and squeeze the most out of both parties they play everyone for the fool… And sell those that will buy into it the “It’s a nail-bitter, too close to call” line of BS.

    And next week it will be time for them to start their annual “There’s only 31 Days till Christmas” moneymaker… Half the country believes this BS too.

  • StockBoyLA

    Even if Obama receives more votes at the polls. Romney could very well hijack the voting machines in Ohio, giving him the election.

  • ShannonLeee

    Oh I think there have been times in the race where it has been very close… after the first debate for instance. Right now, it isn’t that close. Sandy has had something to do with it, but I think Obama had taken a solid lead before the hurricane hit. Things are just now a little more solidified.

    Obama might end up taking Florida and Virginia…Romney would have to hijack a lot of machines in many different states to pull this one out.

  • rudi

    In case anyone is interested, Sam Wang at Princeton agrees with Silver, but does have some criticism of his methods.
    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:wAdXolYgkwwJ:election.princeton.edu/2012/10/29/nerds-under-attack

    I have my own technical beefs with FiveThirtyEight (for example, see here, here, and here). I believe Silver doesn’t extract all the information and tends to add unnecessary factors, which leads to blurry probabilities and poor time resolution. However, his intuitions about the data are excellent and he is very concerned with getting things right. For purposes of popular consumption, he is a fine and honest nerd.

    Jordan’s capacity for wishful thinking is apparent when he writes:

    While it’s impossible to know how the late deciders will break, the historical trend has been for them to break for the challenger.

    I sympathize with this, since I thought the same in 2004, and added a “turnout/undecideds” parameter. For this I received a well-deserved drubbing afterward. In fact, undecideds split about equally, as amply documented by Charles Franklin. I don’t add such parameters any more.

    (However, if Jordan wants to implement his idea, he can do so easily by clicking the “With +2% for Romney” link, over in the right sidebar.)

    Finally, I will state something obvious. None of this storm of criticism would be happening if “Ro-mentum” (Oct. 23) were real. In fact, Mitt Romney’s fortunes peaked around October 4-9. Since then, the race has moved back toward Obama by about 2.5 points. National polls* give the graph at left.

    Wang’s site is under improvements and the links aren’t working at this time. Both he and Silver predicted the EV counts with GREAT accuracy. The same cannot be said of Silver’s critics.

  • http://themoderatevoice.com T-STEEL, Site Administrator

    Ahh if we didn’t have an electoral college, we would be talking about all the states in the union instead of craptastic “battleground states” (craptastic not in hating the state, but hating the role a battleground state plays). Anyways Nate Silver goes straight scientific and it is sound (I loves me some science). But I have this nagging feeling that polling is just off this year. And that we are looking at a very tight electoral college.

  • ShannonLeee

    maybe T, but someone needs to explain to me why this year is different than the previous 50. That is how back Silver goes to weight his pollsters.

    In all fairness to conservatives…if NS’s numbers were showing a Romney victory, liberals would be out saying that NS has his head up his….

  • ordinarysparrow

    in order to keep sane made the decision to follow one pollster… after hearing NS on NPR decided he is the one to follow.. one of the things i am looking forward to is whether his math holds up…maybe it be so…

  • sheknows

    There is a certain amount of truth to what you say Steve. The media wants to ramp up the excitement, and keep those viewers tuned in to the “play by play” action. How dull would it be to see ” Obama is still in the lead” week after week.
    Nate Silver does his homework. I am with him on this. I find it either amusing or terrifying also that some predicters show Obama winning the electoral while Romney wins the popular vote. REALLY??

  • zephyr

    My prediction is that after the election republicans will take harping and whining about the electoral college to levels not seen before. ;-)

    StockBoy, I sure hope you’re wrong about those voting machines. That would indeed present a can of worms we don’t really need.

  • http://www.americaincontext.com Barky

    As for me, I’ll take a fine and honest nerd over a political pundit any day of the week. :-)

  • Rambie

    I’m with you Zephyr, especially if Romney pulls off the popular vote. I didn’t see the Republics change/dispose of the Electoral College in 2000 when it worked in their favor. Now they whine about it not being “fair”.

    I’m not against changing it, but it appears it’d help the party with the most money to spend on campaigning. No wonder the billionaires want it changed.