Tag Archives: Nate Silver

Uncharted Territory

If this political year feels unprecedented, it’s because it is. Even Nate Silver, oracle of the numbers, admits to its abnormality.

In a normal presidential election, both candidates raise essentially unlimited money and staff their campaigns with hundreds of experienced professionals. In a normal presidential election, both candidates are good representatives of their party’s traditional values and therefore unite almost all their party’s voters behind them. In a normal presidential election, both candidates have years of experience running for office and deftly pivot away from controversies to exploit their opponents’ weaknesses. In a normal presidential election, both candidates target a broad enough range of demographic groups to have a viable chance of reaching 51 percent of the vote. This may not be a normal presidential election because while most of those things are true for Clinton, it’s not clear that any of them apply to Trump.

Silver’s acknowledgement of the “not normal” elements of this particular election came in an essay in which he explored the possibility of a landslide for Clinton. We haven’t had any landslides for quite some time–since Reagan, to be specific–and one of the factors militating against one is the highly partisan divide of the American electorate.

These patterns [close elections versus those won by large margins] seem to have some relationship with partisanship, with highly partisan epochs tending to produce close elections by guaranteeing each party its fair share of support. Trump’s nomination, however, reflects profound disarray within the Republican Party. Furthermore, about 30 percent of Republican or Republican-leaning voters have an unfavorable view of Trump. How many of them will vote for Clinton is hard to say, but parties facing this much internal strife, such as Republicans in 1964 or Democrats in 1972 or 1980, have often suffered landslide losses.

An electoral college vote of 270 or more is all that is needed to elect Clinton. The value of a landslide–or anything close–is that it would sweep in down-ticket candidates. Conventional wisdom says a decisive Clinton win will give the Democrats the Senate, but it will take a massive sweep to wrest control of the extensively gerrymandered House.

A big win wouldn’t only give Hillary a legislative branch she could work with. It would also help Democrats chip away at the Republicans’ huge advantage in the nation’s statehouses. (We might even narrow the gap here in Indiana, where the GOP currently enjoys a super-majority.)

A girl can dream.

Given the intense hatred of Hillary Clinton that has been carefully nurtured by Republicans over the years, there is probably a ceiling to her support, even against the unthinkable disaster that is Donald Trump–a ceiling that will prevent her from winning a landslide. And while it does look unlikely that Trump can rebound from his self-inflicted wounds, the last thing we need in this bizarre election cycle is complacency.

If you’ve read this far, please check to be sure that your voter registration is current and correct–and stay healthy at least through November 9th……

The Silver Effect

Remember facts? Those verifiable observations about that thing we call reality?

Pinch me, because I think they may be coming back. The signs are there, although subject to alternative interpretations (making predictions is not unlike reading entrails).

First, there was Nate Silver. Silver’s dogged focus on data drove a lot of discussion during the election. That focus wasn’t new–he’d also predicted the 2010 Republican blowout–but his insistence upon empirical investigation hadn’t previously gotten noticed by people outside the world of political junkies. When the spin-meisters pooh-poohed his “novel methodology” (aka beginning with facts), they succeeded in illuminating their methodology, the technical name for which is  “making stuff up.” In the wake of the election, there has been a subtle but discernible shift in the media toward actual fact-checking.

Exhibit two: Costco. No kidding. I got my most recent Costco member’s magazine, and was leafing through it, when I came to an article titled “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” It was a story about fact-checking on the Internet. The gist was that more and more fact-checking sites are popping up to join Politifact, Snopes and Factcheck.com. This phenomenon tells me a couple of things: there’s a market for fact-checking the “information” that’s so readily available but so often misleading; and recognition of the need for verification is widespread enough to merit notice from a mass retailer like Costco.

Exhibit three: in an inventive vein, I got an email the other day advertising something called LazyTruth [link]. It’s a plug-in for Chrome that automatically scans email for information that FactCheck.org and Politifact have deemed false. If something doesn’t check out, it’ll provide a few words of correction and a link to where you can find out more. You can then easily pass that verified information on to the crazy uncle or friend who forwarded the email to you in the first place. Down the road, the developer plans to add more kinds of rumors to LazyTruth’s filter — urban myths, hoaxes, false security threats, etc. — but for now the tool is limited to political tall tales.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I’ve been very concerned about the loss of journalism–real journalism that deals with verifiable facts about actual events that matter in a democratic system, that gives us the information we need to keep our government and other institutions accountable. These signs that we may be groping our way toward new ways of obtaining the facts we need  are incredibly encouraging. The return of respect for actual facts rather than desirable fabrications is more than welcome.

I think I’ll call it “the Silver Effect.”