Like many of the pundits that you see on TV spouting off about politics, I went to school for journalism and political science. Unlike (seemingly) many of them, I was not in the least bit surprised by last week’s election results.
There is a battle brewing between words and numbers and right now, numbers are winning.
See, many of the political analysts thought they understood how polls worked and many of them tried to read them themselves as though they were soothsayers reading tea leaves or something. Then they mixed in a healthy dose of “gut instinct” and came up with their conclusion that the election was going to be a nailbiter and Gov. Mitt Romney had a good chance of winning because unemployment was high — among other reasons.
I’m not an analyst. I don’t pretend to read polls. I don’t pretend to understand polls. In fact, I don’t like dealing with numbers at all. Math is so not my strong suit. But I’m smart enough to know that, acknowledge it and use a lifeline to “phone a friend.”
For the past three elections, that “friend” has been Nate Silver*. He’s been spot on in reading the poll numbers, giving them weight, and figuring out what they all mean. Taking his cue from his ability to analyze baseball statistics, Silver created a website devoted to analyze polling statistics for elections. And a brand was made.
For some reason, Silver’s polling numbers got under some people’s skin this year — primarily because they didn’t like the results, I think. It was a classic case of attacking the messenger.
But now that the election has come and gone and Silver was overwhelmingly correct in his “predictions,” there will be a new fight - between Silver’s new (and old) fans and those who still believe that gut instincts and intuition plays a role.
I suppose it is possible that Silver’s dead-on predictions in the 2008, 2010 and 2012 election cycles are all a matter of happenstance. It’s theoretically plausible that he’s just gotten lucky for the past three elections. But the odds are that he’s just smart.
Sadly, people are already talking about who will run for what office in two years and four years. Personally, I’m not ready for that. I think we should finalize the results of this election first.
Apart from the battle for the House, Senate and White House, though, many political pundits — analysts, whatever — face an uphill battle for mere relevancy. And just as people hoped and prayed that Obama would be a one-term wonder, there are many secretly (and some openly) praying for the downfall of Nate Silver and his ability to do math.
That’s a battle I’m excited to watch. Granted, it’s inside baseball, but for a political geek like me it’ll be fun.
* Scott Leffler isn’t actually friends with Nate Silver. He just has an overactive imagination and a horrible penchant for mixing metaphors. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.