A Statistical Question About Nate Silver

Note I wrote about not for. In reading this Michael Tomasky piece about the electoral college and how it favors Obama (R-Money would have to pull what Tomasky calls an “inside straight” to win), he has very nice things to say about stat/poll wonk Nate Silver.

Silver, in the 2008 election, gained national attention for basically calling the presidential election and Senate races correctly (he got 50 out of 51 states right for the presidential election). No doubt Silver is a smart guy.

But this reminds me of those money managers studies: over any period of time you examine (let’s say three years), some money managers will beat the market. Like a drum. When you look at the next period, they don’t do so well. In fact, there is typically no difference from random picking. However, some managers will also do well in the next assessment period. A genius is born! Or it’s, again, the outcome of a statistical process–by chance, some will be lucky the second time around too.

All of this is a long way of saying that I don’t think Democrats–and pundits in general–should place so much faith in Silver. He is a really bright guy, but it will be interesting to see how he does in 2012.

This entry was posted in Polling, Statistics. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to A Statistical Question About Nate Silver

  1. tomamitai says:

    “50 out of 51 states right”…?

  2. Bob O'H says:

    The difference is the sample size: we don’t have thousands of Nate Silvers doing similar anaylses.

    His analyses also make statistical sense: he’s building models of voter behaviour, based on previous data. He has the advantage of being able to use a lot of background information to make his predictions.

  3. sethkahn says:

    Right. Just like any other statistical analysis, the importance is in understanding what it does and doesn’t say. Pundits and campaign strategists don’t understand Nate Silver any better than they understand any other statisticians.

  4. Ema Nymton says:

    50 out of 51 electoral-vote-granting contests. May as well say “states”, it’s easier.

  5. Pingback: The Other Reason I Think Nate Silver Is Overestimating Obama’s Chances | Mike the Mad Biologist

  6. When did we add the fifty-first state? Last time I checked there were 50.

Comments are closed.