Friday, November 2, 2012

Nate Silver's Bet and the Twilight of the Horse Race Election Elites

     I wish I could claim credit for that line about twilight of horse race elites. But the TPM reader JPM really nails it:

     "PM Reader JB thinks arc of the moral universe may be bending away from douchedom, and thus all the ruckus …
I have been thinking about the attacks on Nate Silver since I heard about them and think your rejoinder to Margaret Sullivan gets part, but not all of the story. The real story is that we are watching the twilight of the current horse-race elites. As data supplants visceral election appreciation, two groups stand to lose a lot: Horse race pundits and the Republicans who can sway them.
The first one is the Republican party. The Republican party has put forward a strong presence for a long time now. Indeed, it is the puffery of their bluster that forms the basis of their self image. I think they do this for several reasons (many described by you over the years): first, the base of their party is men and men like to have the feeling of voting for a winner much more than women ( Second, I am sure some undecideds want to vote for the winner just like I like to pick a winner at the end of the NHL season—better to be part of a winning team. In each of these, the Republicans use this facade of strength to accomplish their electoral goals. For example, the Republicans have spent decades complaining about a liberal media bias and have pushed the press to the point of constant he said/she said articles. Moreover, with their ability to project a single message so clearly at all levels, the media is pushed to repeat their message. Example: Romney has momentum. When Nate Silver says repeatedly, with data, that this is wrong, it knocks off a key part of their strategy. He was killing all three Republican needs at once: Romney wasn’t winning, the media was harder to push around, and false bravado makes you look weak. Indeed, I worried about Karl Rove’s math in 2006 before the midterms, but this time I smiled and recognized the bully trying to look tough. The second group that I think doesn’t want Silver to be right are the horse race pundits. Just think of the CNN folks after the debates in 2008 and 2012. They would say what they think and then the data would come in and they would have to change what they said. They looked dumb. Data couldn’t be thrown away. The pushy pundit couldn’t walk over the weak one. Data equalizes everyone. Well, why pay Joe Scarborough a lot of money when his analysis is unreliable? He has a financial interest in proving his visceral understanding of the race is more cogent than Nate Silver’s statistical one. That is why the bet is so brilliant. It is a material representation of what is happening. As Nate wins, Joe loses. This election may be best remembered as the occasion when Money Ball came to politics and won. When that happens, who do you want on your news station or news paper? The people who are right, of course. In fact, I would wager that Margaret Sullivan is missing the larger picture of her own demise in media. A public editor is needed most when two opinions are at odds. When solid data is available, one side can argue the world is flat, but you don’t need a public editor mediator to solve that debate, you need a map.
In short, better information available from the variety of statistical websites is better for humanity, but worse for the pundit’s mortgages, and thus the disconnect.

       I think he nails it. It must be really frustrating for the pundits who can no longer poise as the ultimate authority-as real scientists like Nate Silver and Sam Wang are out to challenge them just like men of science have always challenged priestly authority.

       I love all the faux outrage about Nate's challenging Joe Scarborough to a bet as well. Here's Josh Marshall:

      "Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has a post up taking Nate Silver to task for daring Joe Scarborough to a bet over who would win the election. Basically, she says making a bet like this diminishes the Times and he shouldn’t have done it. That may be so. I don’t know and don’t really care."

      "But she concludes with this line …
When he came to work at The Times, Mr. Silver gained a lot more visibility and the credibility associated with a prominent institution. But he lost something, too: the right to act like a free agent with responsibilities to nobody’s standards but his own.

     "I say this as an admirer of Silver and the Times. But I think this is almost a demonstrably false assumption and a sign Sullivan doesn’t fully grasp the politics and new media environment Silver operates in."

      "I’ve been attacking those who’ve been attacking Silver lately and I know that probably makes me seem like I’m some Silver diehard or something. But the reason he’s getting attacked so ferociously on the right now is precisely because he’s viewed as being the standard for poll prognostication. And his ‘odds’, which make Obama an almost overwhelming favorite, are seen by Republicans as really really damaging."

       "Here’s what Sullivan doesn’t get. There are 7 or 8 different organizations running different flavors of systematic presidential poll analysis right now. They range from Silver to sites like TPM and RCP and Pollster to academic political scientists. And they all show pretty much the same numbers that Silver’s showing. But Silver’s the one who has the public rep as the brainiac polling-meister so he’s the one everybody’s focused on — both Dems who want to believe his numbers (and who tend to favor more science/evidence based analysis) and Republicans who desperately want him to be wrong. That is almost the definition of public credibility, which is what the Times purchased when they made their deal with him."

       "Again, everybody is showing basically the same thing. But he’s the lightning rod, pro and con.
Like a number of media personalities/experts (and I mean that in a positive sense), Silver is not really reliant on the Times at all. He’s his own brand. In the political realm he built it in the 2008 cycle (he obviously had a baseball sabermetrics rep before that)."

       "I don’t think there’s any question the Times gained considerably more than he did in the bargain. That’s why I suspect they’re paying him quite a lot of money and he was able to negotiate a deal in which the entire 538 franchise is still his. He’s just leasing it to them."

       P.S. I've tried to get a few posts out this morning early as I don't know when I'll get access to the Internet again-hopefully if my house doesn't soon, the Baldwin Public Library. 


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