Nate Silver Is Getting Inexplicably Lambasted On Twitter And It Makes No Sense
If you logged onto Twitter or browsed the internet on Wednesday with absolutely no knowledge of his predictions, you'd think that statistician, writer and founder of FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver, was the lone voice predicting a Hillary Clinton victory amidst a wave of dissension and caution.
Yes, his model did fail; and that would be worth singling out if his had been the only one. But not one mainstream American news outlet's model successfully predicted the election results. Not. One. Even the LA Times graph that showed a strong Trump lead heading into Tuesday was actually incorrect, as Trump won the electoral vote but not the popular vote.
Meanwhile Silver was anything but guaranteeing a Clinton victory. He was adamant in the weeks heading into the election that not only did Trump still have a chance to win the election, but that the models showing a nearly definitive Clinton win were dangerously dismissive of the unpredictability that had plagued the entire election season.
"Throughout the election, our forecast models have consistently come to two conclusions. First, that Hillary Clinton was more likely than not to become the next president. And second, that the range of possible Electoral College outcomes — including the chance of a Donald Trump victory, but also a Clinton landslide that could see her winning states such as Arizona — was comparatively wide."
This, by all accounts, was an incredibly open-minded view of the possibilities of the election when compared to almost every other news outlet in the country. While most of Silver's models, like everyone else's, predicted a Clinton victory, he made it abundantly clear that there were warning signs that Clinton's electoral numbers could be in trouble; pointing specifically to the close races in both North Carolina and Florida.
"...because our forecasts are probabilistic, and because Clinton’s leads in North Carolina and Florida especially are tenuous, the average number of electoral votes we forecast for Clinton is 302, which would be equivalent to her winning either Florida or North Carolina but not both."
He also came within a point or two of Clinton's final numbers in the popular vote, which she has secured. Final numbers are expected to reflect that she won the popular vote by 1-2 percentage points.
"Our forecast has Clinton winning the national popular vote by 3.6 percentage points, which is similar to her lead in recent national polls."
Then there's this nifty little part where Silver breaks down all the ways in which the numbers that swayed in Clinton's favor could very easily be negated.
"First, Clinton’s overall lead over Trump — while her gains over the past day or two have helped — is still within the range where a fairly ordinary polling error could eliminate it.
"Second, the number of undecided and third-party voters is much higher than in recent elections, which contributes to uncertainty."
"Third, Clinton’s coalition — which relies increasingly on college-educated whites and Hispanics — is somewhat inefficiently configured for the Electoral College, because these voters are less likely to live in swing states. If the popular vote turns out to be a few percentage points closer than polls project it, Clinton will be an Electoral College underdog."
Prior to posting any of this, Silver was echoing these same sentiments in an interview in which he reminded everyone that the trends in polling during this election cycle could not be ignored.
“The idea that she’s a prohibitive, 95 percent-plus favorite is hard to square with polling that has frequently shown 5- or 6-point swings within the span of a couple weeks, given that she only leads by 3 points or so now,” Silver told Politico in an article literally entitled "Most polling models show Hillary Clinton winning easily. Why is 538 more cautious?"
In response to those statements to Politico and others, Huffington Post's Washington bureau chief, Ryan Grim, posted a scathing takedown of Silver's continued insistence that there were still realistic situations in which Trump could win the presidency.
"By monkeying around with the numbers like this, Silver is making a mockery of the very forecasting industry that he popularized," wrote Grim.
"I get why Silver wants to hedge. It’s not easy to sit here and tell you that Clinton has a 98 percent chance of winning. Everything inside us screams out that life is too full of uncertainty, that being so sure is just a fantasy. But that’s what the numbers say. What is the point of all the data entry, all the math, all the modeling, if when the moment of truth comes we throw our hands up and say, hey, anything can happen. If that’s how we feel, let’s scrap the entire political forecasting industry."
"Silver’s guess that the race is up for grabs might be a completely reasonable assertion ― but it’s the stuff of punditry, not mathematical forecasting."
What's the point of having political forecasting if idiots like Grim are going to act like they know better? The fact of the matter is that Silver was unable to forecast a clear Clinton victory because he was doing the math and he was looking at the models. The only difference was that he was willing to account for unknown variables in a tumultuous political landscape that has continuously been affected by previously unforeseen variables.
Silver understandably went on a Twitter tirade, eviscerating Grim's hot take on his statistical "punditry" that eventually ended in Grim eating his words.
Wait for it....
So he got lambasted and interrogated for his models that accounted for various roads that could lead Trump to the White House. Then Trump won the election and the entire internet castigated him for not definitively predicting a Trump win despite the fact that everyone else thought Clinton was going to win too.
What none of these idiots criticizing Silver seem to understand is that his predictive models are based on data. Yes, he did his own unskewing of that data (which actually made them trend more accurately) but at the end of the day, he can only work with the information that is being given. It is not his job to predict the outcome of the election based on "a feeling" across the country. He accounted for variables as much as -if not more than - any statistician out there.
At the end of the day, no one had reliable data that would have backed up a major Trump electoral college victory. All Silver could do was make it clear that small variations could mean significant swings in Trump's favor; and he did that.
Ugh. Welcome to American post-election rationalization: where everything is made up and the points don't matter.
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