Commentary Magazine


Topic: Nate Silver

Free Advice for Liberals: Stop Complaining About Skewed Polls

With less than a week left before Election Day, liberal pundits have been reading the polls in battleground states and don’t like what they see. Though many races are still falling inside the margin of error, Republicans are being given the edge in most of the tossup states. Despite the endless talk about there being no “wave” or this being a “Seinfeld election,” a GOP-controlled Senate next January is likely and their gains in both houses of Congress may well exceed what most observers thought was likely. In response, Democrats are doing what a lot of people do when they don’t like the way things are going: they’re crying foul and claiming the polls are skewed against their party. While there’s a chance they may be proved right, the odds are they’re whistling in the wind. And conservatives should be very familiar with the sensation.

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With less than a week left before Election Day, liberal pundits have been reading the polls in battleground states and don’t like what they see. Though many races are still falling inside the margin of error, Republicans are being given the edge in most of the tossup states. Despite the endless talk about there being no “wave” or this being a “Seinfeld election,” a GOP-controlled Senate next January is likely and their gains in both houses of Congress may well exceed what most observers thought was likely. In response, Democrats are doing what a lot of people do when they don’t like the way things are going: they’re crying foul and claiming the polls are skewed against their party. While there’s a chance they may be proved right, the odds are they’re whistling in the wind. And conservatives should be very familiar with the sensation.

Two years ago as we headed for the presidential vote, most of the polls were telling us that Barack Obama would win a clear if narrow victory in his bid for reelection. Battleground states that Republican nominee Mitt Romney badly needed to build an Electoral College majority were all in play but survey after survey showed him trailing. The response from some conservative pundits was to take a close look at the polls, drill down into the data, and see if the sample was kosher. Most of the major polls were built on a statistical model that seemed to overestimate the number of affiliated Democrats being asked their opinion. The samples invariably showed Democrats turning out in the same numbers as they had in 2008 when Obama swept to the White House on a cloud of hope and change charisma and messianic expectations. It seemed impossible that after four years of an indifferent presidency that Obama could perform the same magic trick again when it came to inspiring the Democratic base and huge numbers of minorities, young voters, and unmarried women to come to the polls. Seen in that light, the pollsters were skewing the sample to favor Obama and the Democrats and shortchanging Romney who might well be even with the president once the totals were adjusted to account for who would really show up and vote.

Unlike many other conservative writers who spent the year convinced there was no way as bad a president as Obama could get reelected, I felt he was more likely to win than not. His historic status as our first African-American president made him a unique political figure and his charms, though lost on me and most other conservatives, kept him popular even after a dismal record in office. But after spending enough time parsing electoral survey samples, I became convinced that wildly inflated estimates for the number of Democrats who would vote had created an exaggerated poll-driven picture of the likely outcome that was boosting Obama’s chances and hurting Romney. Along with others who had worked out the same math, I thought the likely Obama victory predicted by New York Times statistical guru Nate Silver seemed to be based on inaccurate data.

My logic was impeccable and my arguments sound. But there was one problem. I was wrong.

It turned out the pollsters were right to think that the Democratic base would turn out for Obama in 2012 the same way they had in 2008. Silver had rightly understood that the pollsters had accounted for possible changes in the electorate. More minorities and young Democrats would turn out than four years earlier or in the 2010 midterms. The result was that Obama did sweep almost every battleground state, although some were by slender margins. Silver was acclaimed as a genius and those of us who had questioned his figures and those of the pollsters he cited had to admit we were mistaken.

I retell this story not out of nostalgia for a result I still consider unfortunate for the nation but as a cautionary tale for liberals who are spending this week digging the same kind of hole I dug for myself prior to the 2012 vote. Listen to MSNBC at any time of day or read some of the people who now write for The Upshot, the section that replaced Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog that he pulled from the Times and now operates as his own independent franchise, and you’ll see, hear, or read similar refrains to the ones I was sounding just two years ago. We are told that the sample sizes being used by the polls showing Republicans winning are underestimating Hispanics, women, or Democrats. Adjust the polls for what they think are the real totals and you’ll find that races are tied or with Democrats rather than Republicans leading.

My advice is to Rachel Maddow and Co. is simple: stop digging. Save your breath and start preparing for the worst rather than creating embarrassing sound bites that will come back to haunt you in a week.

As the redoubtable Silver notes today on his site, errors on the scale that conservatives thought possible in 2012 or liberals are alleging today are always possible but not terribly likely. Talk about skewed polls is the last refuge of those in denial about an electoral trend. That was true two years ago and it’s happening today. The temptation to try and “unskew” the polls is obvious and it’s what readers in our bifurcated media want to see. But, as Silver writes, “Usually this doesn’t end well for the unskewers.”

With so many polls out there showing much the same thing about a Republican advantage, the chances that they are all wrong about who will vote (or have already cast ballots in early voting states) are slim. Unskewing seems like it makes sense but it is invariably based more on wishful thinking than sober analysis. Just as conservatives had to eventually accept that pre-election poll estimates of Democratic turnout were right, so, too, will liberals likely have to own up to the fact that today’s expectations about their base’s voting patterns are similarly accurate. Indeed, as Silver writes, it may be that pollsters are underestimating the number of Republicans this year just as they did the same to some degree for Democrats in 2012.

This should not cause us to lose all skepticism about polls. They should be closely examined and probed for possible errors. But such analyses tend to be based on the idea that the candidates you prefer are being shortchanged more than a real suspicion of error. Assuming that the errors will all go one way or that your candidate will  catch the breaks is a guarantee that you’ll soon be eating your hat, humble pie, crow, or whatever metaphor you prefer. Ms. Maddow and her friends will soon find that it doesn’t taste any better in their mouths than it did in mine.

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Dems Shouldn’t Bother Arguing with Silver

Back in 2012, Republicans and many conservative writers weren’t buying Nate Silver’s forecasts about the presidential election. They argued he was exaggerating President Obama’s appeal and some, like me, doubted the New York Times writer’s assumptions about turnout that year resembling that of the 2008 election. As everyone knows, we who differed with Silver were wrong. In fact, we were extremely wrong and those who care to learn from the experience will try not to allow their political opinions or their hopes temper their views of the numbers again. But, as the Washington Post reports, this time around it’s the Democrats who are the doubters.

Silver, who left the Times to start his own website associated with ESPN, posted a piece this weekend establishing the GOP as a clear favorite to win control of the Senate this fall. But, as the Washington Post reports, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is trying to argue that the man who called all 50 states right in the 2012 election is wrong. The DSCC claims that there aren’t enough polls to justify Silver’s assertion that the Republicans have a 60 percent chance of picking up at least six Senate seats. The Democrats also point out instances of Silver being either wrong in the past or at least underestimating the actual margins of races. But while the attempt to take down Silver will reassure some nervous Democrats who may have been under the impression the liberal-leaning pundit/statistician was only capable of predicting results they like, the response bears all the signs of the same denial that characterized GOP jousting with the writer two years ago.

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Back in 2012, Republicans and many conservative writers weren’t buying Nate Silver’s forecasts about the presidential election. They argued he was exaggerating President Obama’s appeal and some, like me, doubted the New York Times writer’s assumptions about turnout that year resembling that of the 2008 election. As everyone knows, we who differed with Silver were wrong. In fact, we were extremely wrong and those who care to learn from the experience will try not to allow their political opinions or their hopes temper their views of the numbers again. But, as the Washington Post reports, this time around it’s the Democrats who are the doubters.

Silver, who left the Times to start his own website associated with ESPN, posted a piece this weekend establishing the GOP as a clear favorite to win control of the Senate this fall. But, as the Washington Post reports, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is trying to argue that the man who called all 50 states right in the 2012 election is wrong. The DSCC claims that there aren’t enough polls to justify Silver’s assertion that the Republicans have a 60 percent chance of picking up at least six Senate seats. The Democrats also point out instances of Silver being either wrong in the past or at least underestimating the actual margins of races. But while the attempt to take down Silver will reassure some nervous Democrats who may have been under the impression the liberal-leaning pundit/statistician was only capable of predicting results they like, the response bears all the signs of the same denial that characterized GOP jousting with the writer two years ago.

As the Post notes, the DSCC has been trying to fundraise off of Silver’s last prediction about the Senate made less than a year ago. Last summer, Silver’s assessment of the various competitive Senate races gave the Republicans a 50-50 chance to pick up the seats they need. The article was cited in an attempt to rouse a somewhat lethargic Democratic donor base into action to fend off a potential disaster for President Obama’s party. But now that Silver’s analysis has begun to point toward what many are thinking may be a wave election in November, the Democrats are rightly worried about panic setting in among their ranks.

Silver’s breakdown of the competitive races is not particularly original. You don’t have to be a stat geek to know that the GOP will be heading into the fall knowing that, barring some kind of cataclysm, they will gain at least three red-state seats in West Virginia, South Dakota, and Montana. They are odds-on favorites to pick up two more from the Democrats in Arkansas and Louisiana. He rates North Carolina as a 50-50 tossup as to whether the GOP will seize yet another red-state Democratic seat won in Barack Obama’s big year in 2008. Worse than that, he gives the Republicans at least a 40 percent shot at taking three more in Colorado, Michigan, and Alaska. And he rates Democratic chances of gains in Kentucky and Georgia as no better than 25 and 30 percent respectively. While it is conceivable to think that unforeseen circumstances or GOP gaffes can allow the Democrats to hold on, the chances of that happening are no better than those of the Republicans winding up winning far more than the six they need.

So my advice to Democrats is to not waste time arguing with Silver. He may be a liberal but as we have seen in the past few years, his background in baseball statistics as one of the leading lights of the SABRmetric revolution leads him inevitably to sober and unflinching looks at the numbers. If liberals don’t like the way things are heading this year, they would do better to evaluate their own positions on issues like ObamaCare or the fact that their out-of-touch “Downton Abbey” elitist party (to use the Daily Beast’s Lloyd Green’s apt phrase) is setting this midterm cycle up as one that will be extremely favorable for the GOP, not bad poll numbers or faulty analysis. If not, they’ll be eating crow that is just as bitter as the dish so many conservatives had to consume in 2012.

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Are the Polls Biased? Democrats Hope Not

The latest crop of opinion polls has generally brought good news for Democrats. The Real Clear Politics average of all the national polls has given President Obama a slight lead, after this poll of polls had shown him trailing since Mitt Romney’s post-Denver debate comeback changed the race. Even more important, polls of likely voters in the battleground states have given the president leads in most of them. This caused New York Times blogger Nate Silver to double down on his forecast predicting an Obama win. According to Silver, Obama now has an 83.7 percent likelihood of prevailing on Tuesday.

We’ll leave aside the arguments about Silver’s odds-making, which depicts what even most liberals concede is an extremely close election as a near certain Obama win. Suffice it to say, as I wrote on Thursday, Silver’s belief that Obama had a field goal lead with 3 minutes left in the game (which he may now think is more like a 4-point lead with 2 minutes left) is based on a belief that the polls he trusts are accurate. On Saturday, however, he returned to the question that has to be haunting his readers: what if these polls aren’t accurate? While he admits the possibility, he thinks it unlikely that so many surveys could be in error. That seems logical, even persuasive. But the problem with that assumption is the same as it has been for the past month. Most of the polls showing Obama ahead either nationally or in some states reflect a common bias: their sample reflects a picture of the electorate that resembles the 2008 Democratic advantage. But this year we expect the gap in party identification to be smaller. In short, unless the Democrats match or exceed the massive “hope and change” surge of four years ago, then what Silver and the Democrats who look to his column for encouragement fear will be true: all the pro-Obama state polls are going to turn out to be quite wrong.

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The latest crop of opinion polls has generally brought good news for Democrats. The Real Clear Politics average of all the national polls has given President Obama a slight lead, after this poll of polls had shown him trailing since Mitt Romney’s post-Denver debate comeback changed the race. Even more important, polls of likely voters in the battleground states have given the president leads in most of them. This caused New York Times blogger Nate Silver to double down on his forecast predicting an Obama win. According to Silver, Obama now has an 83.7 percent likelihood of prevailing on Tuesday.

We’ll leave aside the arguments about Silver’s odds-making, which depicts what even most liberals concede is an extremely close election as a near certain Obama win. Suffice it to say, as I wrote on Thursday, Silver’s belief that Obama had a field goal lead with 3 minutes left in the game (which he may now think is more like a 4-point lead with 2 minutes left) is based on a belief that the polls he trusts are accurate. On Saturday, however, he returned to the question that has to be haunting his readers: what if these polls aren’t accurate? While he admits the possibility, he thinks it unlikely that so many surveys could be in error. That seems logical, even persuasive. But the problem with that assumption is the same as it has been for the past month. Most of the polls showing Obama ahead either nationally or in some states reflect a common bias: their sample reflects a picture of the electorate that resembles the 2008 Democratic advantage. But this year we expect the gap in party identification to be smaller. In short, unless the Democrats match or exceed the massive “hope and change” surge of four years ago, then what Silver and the Democrats who look to his column for encouragement fear will be true: all the pro-Obama state polls are going to turn out to be quite wrong.

Silver sums up this equation quite succinctly:

I do not mean to imply that the polls are biased in Mr. Obama’s favor. But there is the chance that they could be biased in either direction. If they are biased in Mr. Obama’s favor, then Mr. Romney could still win; the race is close enough. If they are biased in Mr. Romney’s favor, then Mr. Obama will win by a wider-than-expected margin, but since Mr. Obama is the favorite anyway, this will not change who sleeps in the White House on Jan. 20.

My argument, rather, is this: we’ve about reached the point where if Mr. Romney wins, it can only be because the polls have been biased against him. Almost all of the chance that Mr. Romney has in the FiveThirtyEight forecast, about 16 percent to win the Electoral College, reflects this possibility.

Yes, of course: most of the arguments that the polls are necessarily biased against Mr. Romney reflect little more than wishful thinking. …

But the state polls may not be right. They could be biased. Based on the historical reliability of polls, we put the chance that they will be biased enough to elect Mr. Romney at 16 percent.

That 16 percent chance that Silver talks about though is far more potent than the forlorn hope he implies. Quite simply, if Democrats do not have the near 10-point lead in partisan affiliation that many polls show — which mirrors the 2008 results — then the polls that show the president leading are a misreading of a race, which is either tied or actually trending in Romney’s favor.

This is a possibility that Silver and those who look to him for comfort try not to think about, but which looms large in the final days of the race. The president may have gained some ground as coverage of Hurricane Sandy diverted the public from the election and allowed Obama (with an assist from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie) to appear in control of events. But it strains credulity to believe even that advantage can conjure up a Democratic turnout that would rival that of 2008.

That’s why the polls not only could be wrong, but are likely to be wrong. Silver may be right and our expectations of a more even partisan split may not materialize. But if that isn’t the case, then November 6, 2012 will prove to be the Waterloo not only for President Obama but also for the pollsters who are predicting victory for him.

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Which Team Has a Field Goal Lead?

There’s been probably too much attention paid to New York Times blogger Nate Silver over the last few weeks. Some of the criticism he has received (including some from this page differing with his conclusions if not necessarily always with his methodology) has been justified. But in fairness to Silver, he appears to be sticking to his guns about the accuracy of his forecast that continues to show President Obama as a heavy favorite to win re-election. While not intending to belabor the issue of his accuracy more than necessary, I think it’s worth returning to the subject one more time both in order to clarify my differences with his approach.

Silver explained his forecast again this morning as he surveyed the latest round of polls on the presidential race:

Mr. Obama is not a sure thing, by any means. It is a close race. His chances of holding onto his Electoral College lead and converting it into another term are equivalent to the chances of an N.F.L. team winning when it leads by a field goal with three minutes left to play in the fourth quarter. There are plenty of things that could go wrong, and sometimes they will.

But it turns out that an N.F.L. team that leads by a field goal with three minutes left to go winds up winning the game 79 percent of the time. Those were Mr. Obama’s chances in the FiveThirtyEight forecast as of Wednesday: 79 percent.

Not coincidentally, these are also about Mr. Obama’s chances of winning Ohio, according to the forecast.

That is a reasonable sounding point of view, especially when it is coupled with Silver’s disclaimers about the possibility that his forecast could be wrong and noting that a lot of tossup states that he believes Obama will win are still closely contested. But the problem here is that despite Silver’s confidence that what we are looking at is a three-point lead for the president, it may be nothing of the kind, either in Ohio or in the country as a whole. The probabilities he alludes to in sports–such as those that can give us precise statistical odds about what happens when an NFL team has a field goal lead with three minutes to play or a Major League baseball team has a two-run lead in the ninth inning–are entirely accurate and reliable because there’s no doubt in a game as to what the score is. In politics there is no such certainty, rendering Silver’s rational Sabrmetric approach to political polling mere guesswork.

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There’s been probably too much attention paid to New York Times blogger Nate Silver over the last few weeks. Some of the criticism he has received (including some from this page differing with his conclusions if not necessarily always with his methodology) has been justified. But in fairness to Silver, he appears to be sticking to his guns about the accuracy of his forecast that continues to show President Obama as a heavy favorite to win re-election. While not intending to belabor the issue of his accuracy more than necessary, I think it’s worth returning to the subject one more time both in order to clarify my differences with his approach.

Silver explained his forecast again this morning as he surveyed the latest round of polls on the presidential race:

Mr. Obama is not a sure thing, by any means. It is a close race. His chances of holding onto his Electoral College lead and converting it into another term are equivalent to the chances of an N.F.L. team winning when it leads by a field goal with three minutes left to play in the fourth quarter. There are plenty of things that could go wrong, and sometimes they will.

But it turns out that an N.F.L. team that leads by a field goal with three minutes left to go winds up winning the game 79 percent of the time. Those were Mr. Obama’s chances in the FiveThirtyEight forecast as of Wednesday: 79 percent.

Not coincidentally, these are also about Mr. Obama’s chances of winning Ohio, according to the forecast.

That is a reasonable sounding point of view, especially when it is coupled with Silver’s disclaimers about the possibility that his forecast could be wrong and noting that a lot of tossup states that he believes Obama will win are still closely contested. But the problem here is that despite Silver’s confidence that what we are looking at is a three-point lead for the president, it may be nothing of the kind, either in Ohio or in the country as a whole. The probabilities he alludes to in sports–such as those that can give us precise statistical odds about what happens when an NFL team has a field goal lead with three minutes to play or a Major League baseball team has a two-run lead in the ninth inning–are entirely accurate and reliable because there’s no doubt in a game as to what the score is. In politics there is no such certainty, rendering Silver’s rational Sabrmetric approach to political polling mere guesswork.

In five days, we’ll know who was right and who was wrong about all of this, and it’s entirely possible that we’ll look back and think that Silver’s field goal analogy was spot on. But since, as we’ve pointed out time and again, almost all of the polls that show the president leading are based on expectations of a Democratic turnout that will match or exceed the impressive levels he achieved in 2008 rather than a more even partisan divide (as seems more likely), it’s difficult to accept Silver’s certainty about the reliability of those surveys. That means it’s just as likely the score is currently tied or that Romney could be up by a field goal right now.

As I wrote yesterday, two competing polls in Virginia gave us two different results. Quinnipiac showed Obama ahead based on a sample of eight percent more Democrats voting than Republicans, a turnout similar to the electorate of 2008. Roanoke College’s poll had a sample that was only four percent more Democratic and that yielded a result that showed Romney ahead. Yet Silver gives Obama a 60 percent chance of winning the state.

Unlike the analysis of sports and poker — two fields in which Silver is an acknowledged master — political polling is still more of an art than a science. Until the unlikely, if not impossible, day when we can know with certainty what the voters are thinking as easily as we can read the scoreboard at a football game, his forecast will remain more conjecture than anything else.

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Latest Defense of Nate Silver: Even When He’s Wrong, He’s Right

At this point in the election, both the national tracking polls and, generally speaking, the battleground state polls show an extremely close race. This has inspired much criticism of stat-man Nate Silver. Liberals, as Jonathan wrote recently, may be looking for a scapegoat if Barack Obama loses, and will wonder why Silver insisted that statistically Obama was an overwhelming favorite to win re-election right up to the end. Conservatives say that statistics don’t factor in momentum, that any predictive model that ignores trends should be taken with a grain of salt, and that current trends don’t back up Silver’s predictions of Obama as the heavy favorite.

Additionally, as Josh Jordan has pointed out at National Review Online, there are problems with Silver’s statistical model, which gives more weight to pro-Obama polls—even older polls—than to those showing Mitt Romney’s recent gains. Silver’s defenders respond that Silver makes no guarantees, and that giving Obama a high chance of winning doesn’t preclude the opposite outcome. This defense—essentially that no outcome can disprove Silver’s model—treads a bit too close for comfort to Chuck Klosterman’s classic rant about statistics:

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At this point in the election, both the national tracking polls and, generally speaking, the battleground state polls show an extremely close race. This has inspired much criticism of stat-man Nate Silver. Liberals, as Jonathan wrote recently, may be looking for a scapegoat if Barack Obama loses, and will wonder why Silver insisted that statistically Obama was an overwhelming favorite to win re-election right up to the end. Conservatives say that statistics don’t factor in momentum, that any predictive model that ignores trends should be taken with a grain of salt, and that current trends don’t back up Silver’s predictions of Obama as the heavy favorite.

Additionally, as Josh Jordan has pointed out at National Review Online, there are problems with Silver’s statistical model, which gives more weight to pro-Obama polls—even older polls—than to those showing Mitt Romney’s recent gains. Silver’s defenders respond that Silver makes no guarantees, and that giving Obama a high chance of winning doesn’t preclude the opposite outcome. This defense—essentially that no outcome can disprove Silver’s model—treads a bit too close for comfort to Chuck Klosterman’s classic rant about statistics:

Life is chock-full of lies, but the biggest lie is math. That’s particularly clear in the discipline of probability, a field of study that’s completely and wholly fake. When push comes to shove–when you truly get down to the core essence of existence–there is only one mathematical possibility: Everything is 50-50. Either something will happen, or something will not.

When you flip a coin, what are the odds of it coming up heads? 50-50. Either it will be heads, or it will not. When you roll a six-sided die, what are the odds that you’ll roll a three? 50-50. You’ll either get a three, or you won’t. That’s reality. Don’t fall into the childish “it’s one-in-six” logic trap. That is precisely what all your adolescent authority figures want you to believe. That’s how they enslave you. That’s how they stole your conviction, and that’s why you will never be happy. Either you will roll a three, or you will not; there are no other alternatives. The future has no memory. Certain things can be impossible, and certain things can be guaranteed–but there is no sliding scale for maybe. Maybe something will happen, or maybe it won’t….

Quasi-intellectuals like to claim that math is spiritual. They are lying. Math is not religion. Math is the antireligion, because it splinters the gravity of life’s only imperative equation: Either something is true, or it isn’t. Do or do not; there is no try.

Klosterman was being sardonic (probably?) but much of this argument over Silver’s model feels that way too. Both sides warn against putting too much stock in Silver’s model because it’s only numbers. Here is Ezra Klein’s defense of Silver:

It’s important to be clear about this: If Silver’s model is hugely wrong — if all the models are hugely wrong, and the betting markets are hugely wrong — it’s because the polls are wrong. Silver’s model is, at this point, little more than a sophisticated form of poll aggregation.

But it’s just as important to be clear about this: If Mitt Romney wins on election day, it doesn’t mean Silver’s model was wrong. After all, the model has been fluctuating between giving Romney a 25 percent and 40 percent chance of winning the election. That’s a pretty good chance! If you told me I had a 35 percent chance of winning a million dollars tomorrow, I’d be excited. And if I won the money, I wouldn’t turn around and tell you your information was wrong. I’d still have no evidence I’d ever had anything more than a 35 percent chance.

That basically boils down to: Don’t blame Silver if he’s wrong, because he’s relying on other people’s work, and no matter what happens, Silver wasn’t wrong, because he said it could happen, and it did.

If Mitt Romney wins, does that discredit Nate Silver? Only if you defied Silver’s advice, and that of his defenders, not to rely on him in the first place.

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Infallible Election Prognosticators Tend to Have Brief Careers

Back in May 2011, the leading liberal poll analyst of this election cycle returned to his roots in an op-ed published in the New York Times. Nate Silver, who had parlayed a brilliant record as an independent numbers cruncher in the 2008 presidential election into a gig as the paper’s political blogger in the age of Obama, first made his name as a writer as a baseball guy and one of the leading exponents of new and advanced ways of looking at baseball statistics. On May 9, 2011, Silver penned a piece for the Times explaining why New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter was finished as a baseball star. Given that that the Yankees shortstop had an uncharacteristically mediocre 2010 season and was off to a slow start in 2011, it was hard to argue with Silver’s conclusion.

Except the very same day that Silver was planting Jeter’s tombstone in the Times, the future Hall-of-Famer got four hits, including two home runs in a game. I noted this embarrassing development in a blog post here titled, “The Perils of Punditry: That’s Why They Play the Games.” For my pains, I was subjected to a chorus of abuse via e-mail and Twitter from Silver’s fans, most of whom knew nothing about Sabermetrics. Indeed, another Times blogger noted my criticism (which was laced with respect for Silver’s work on both baseball and politics) and ironically noted, “the jury was out” on whether the results of “one game” could disprove the great Nate.

The jury was out in May, but within a few months, Silver’s fans would be dropping that prediction of his down the proverbial memory hole as Jeter put together a stellar second half of 2011 and followed it up with a brilliant 2012 in which he led the Major Leagues in base hits. That didn’t mean Silver didn’t know what he was talking about, but it was proof that a proper understanding of what has already happened didn’t necessarily give even the smartest of researchers the ability to predict the future. Fast forward to the last days of the 2012 presidential election campaign, and it looks like that day in May wasn’t the only time Silver’s crystal ball has clouded up.

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Back in May 2011, the leading liberal poll analyst of this election cycle returned to his roots in an op-ed published in the New York Times. Nate Silver, who had parlayed a brilliant record as an independent numbers cruncher in the 2008 presidential election into a gig as the paper’s political blogger in the age of Obama, first made his name as a writer as a baseball guy and one of the leading exponents of new and advanced ways of looking at baseball statistics. On May 9, 2011, Silver penned a piece for the Times explaining why New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter was finished as a baseball star. Given that that the Yankees shortstop had an uncharacteristically mediocre 2010 season and was off to a slow start in 2011, it was hard to argue with Silver’s conclusion.

Except the very same day that Silver was planting Jeter’s tombstone in the Times, the future Hall-of-Famer got four hits, including two home runs in a game. I noted this embarrassing development in a blog post here titled, “The Perils of Punditry: That’s Why They Play the Games.” For my pains, I was subjected to a chorus of abuse via e-mail and Twitter from Silver’s fans, most of whom knew nothing about Sabermetrics. Indeed, another Times blogger noted my criticism (which was laced with respect for Silver’s work on both baseball and politics) and ironically noted, “the jury was out” on whether the results of “one game” could disprove the great Nate.

The jury was out in May, but within a few months, Silver’s fans would be dropping that prediction of his down the proverbial memory hole as Jeter put together a stellar second half of 2011 and followed it up with a brilliant 2012 in which he led the Major Leagues in base hits. That didn’t mean Silver didn’t know what he was talking about, but it was proof that a proper understanding of what has already happened didn’t necessarily give even the smartest of researchers the ability to predict the future. Fast forward to the last days of the 2012 presidential election campaign, and it looks like that day in May wasn’t the only time Silver’s crystal ball has clouded up.

As Dylan Byers notes today in Politico, Silver is fast on his way to being a one-term celebrity. Having become the top liberal swami by predicting the 2008 election, it’s fair to ask whether as many people will pay attention to him if it turns out the forecast model he has been using all year to reassure worried Democrats that President Obama had to win was fatally flawed. But the possibility that Silver could be wrong or had let his own bias affect his judgment is sending his liberal fan base over the edge, as this post by fellow Timesman Paul Krugman indicates.

Let me stipulate that some of the attacks on Silver’s attempts to establish what the percentages of an Obama win are a little unfair. His model, like similar attempts to weigh the percentages in baseball games, is a matter of probability not certainty. A game-tying home run in the ninth inning can make previous projections that the team with the lead had a 95 percent chance of winning look silly, even if they were reasonable at the time. But the problem with his forecast model is not just that it’s not infallible, but that it is probably a little harder to being purely objective about political analysis than baseball. There are just too many moving parts and political judgments about which polls to believe to make his system work as well as his PECOTA model for projecting what a player will do in the upcoming baseball season–and even that is often wrong.

Even when I think Silver’s conclusions are incorrect, I learn something from his analyses. But those who point out that his Times on-line column that has consistently showed the president with a 75 percent chance of winning the election appears absurd in a race that is a tossup or heading in Mitt Romney’s direction are not off base.

Silver survived his whopper of a mistake in underestimating Derek Jeter. He’s not likely to fare as well if he has been calling the presidential election wrong all year.

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The New National Pastime: Poll Analysis

The 2012 election is the first presidential contest in the age of Twitter. It’s also the one that may be remembered as the one in which analysis of poll data became the subject of mass discussion as opposed to the domain of a few political science and statistical freaks. The New York Times’s Nate Silver is as responsible for this as anyone, but the trend is fed by the proliferation of national polls whose results are as varied as their methodologies. Silver has become something of a lightening rod in this election as his forecast which, has continually favored President Obama’s prospects, is now coming in for almost as much scrutiny as the policies of the man he’d like to see re-elected. As someone who has occasionally criticized Silver’s conclusions, I think the focus on him is unfortunate. Silver is a brilliant stat man who whose work attempts to bring the unsparing realism and devotion to accuracy and understanding that is the hallmark of sabermetrics — the study of baseball statistics that derives from the acronym for the Society of American Baseball Research — to political writing. That, like some baseball writers, he cannot always rise above his prejudices, is unfortunate but does not mean his work isn’t worthwhile. Silver is always a good read and even if he seems to have an agenda, I always learn from his posts.

Nevertheless, given the importance that Democrats are placing on his “Five Thirty Eight Forecast,” it was only a matter of time before Silver was given a thorough takedown and Josh Jordan of National Review has done it in a must read analysis. In “Nate Silver’s Flawed Model,” Jordan details how Silver’s partisan leanings have influenced his judgment about how much weight to give to various polls. As Jordan points out, Silver tends to assess the reliability of certain polls based on his feelings about whether they are right, which is to say sufficiently pro-Obama. While I don’t think Silver’s purpose is deception, his bias has created a model that seems designed to produce one result even if it contradicts what many see as a pro-Romney trend. As such, he’s become the geekiest yet perhaps also the most important cheerleader in the country these days as liberals look to his blog for comfort in trying times. But Silver isn’t the only one making mistakes out there.

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The 2012 election is the first presidential contest in the age of Twitter. It’s also the one that may be remembered as the one in which analysis of poll data became the subject of mass discussion as opposed to the domain of a few political science and statistical freaks. The New York Times’s Nate Silver is as responsible for this as anyone, but the trend is fed by the proliferation of national polls whose results are as varied as their methodologies. Silver has become something of a lightening rod in this election as his forecast which, has continually favored President Obama’s prospects, is now coming in for almost as much scrutiny as the policies of the man he’d like to see re-elected. As someone who has occasionally criticized Silver’s conclusions, I think the focus on him is unfortunate. Silver is a brilliant stat man who whose work attempts to bring the unsparing realism and devotion to accuracy and understanding that is the hallmark of sabermetrics — the study of baseball statistics that derives from the acronym for the Society of American Baseball Research — to political writing. That, like some baseball writers, he cannot always rise above his prejudices, is unfortunate but does not mean his work isn’t worthwhile. Silver is always a good read and even if he seems to have an agenda, I always learn from his posts.

Nevertheless, given the importance that Democrats are placing on his “Five Thirty Eight Forecast,” it was only a matter of time before Silver was given a thorough takedown and Josh Jordan of National Review has done it in a must read analysis. In “Nate Silver’s Flawed Model,” Jordan details how Silver’s partisan leanings have influenced his judgment about how much weight to give to various polls. As Jordan points out, Silver tends to assess the reliability of certain polls based on his feelings about whether they are right, which is to say sufficiently pro-Obama. While I don’t think Silver’s purpose is deception, his bias has created a model that seems designed to produce one result even if it contradicts what many see as a pro-Romney trend. As such, he’s become the geekiest yet perhaps also the most important cheerleader in the country these days as liberals look to his blog for comfort in trying times. But Silver isn’t the only one making mistakes out there.

Trying to make sense of the various national polls would defeat a lesser mind than Silver’s and that’s the position the rest of us are placed in by the contradictory results being produced. But you don’t have to be as sharp as the Times blogger to understand that if you poll a Democrat-leaning sample, you get a Democrat-leaning result.

Thus, amid the flood of polls showing progress for Romney, there are some showing Obama holding his own. But almost all of them report that their poll sample is made up of respondents who appear to be disproportionately identified as Democrats. For example, that was the case with last week’s Washington Post/ABC News poll that showed the president with a three-point lead. It’s sample showed nine percent more Democrats as opposed to Republicans, a result that seems at variance with reality as well as outstripping the numbers that were produced by President Obama’s 2008 near-landslide.

This week, the same poll produced a slightly less favorable result for the president giving him only a one-point lead. While some might interpret this as part of a pro-Romney trend or more evidence that the president failed to get a bounce out of last week’s debate, the reason for the different result is found in the last question in the survey: Do you think of yourself as a Republican or a Democrat? In one week, the poll’s party identification sample changed from plus nine for the Democrats to only plus five.

Now, as Silver has often rightly pointed out, party identification is not set in stone and can vary. But do we really believe the country’s view of the parties, as opposed to the candidates, can change that much in one week. A review of the samples in this poll in the past year shows similar fluctuations.

Understanding that the sample you choose more or less dictates your poll results is the sort of unoriginal insight that puts even stat amateurs pretty much on an even playing field with smart guys like Silver. Put simply, the polls that show Obama winning only make sense if you believe the Democrats’ turnout will far eclipse that of the Republicans and at least match the “hope and change” fervor of 2008. That’s certainly possible but is not particularly likely. Which is why the healthy skepticism being shown toward outlier polls that favor Obama is not merely conservatives letting their wishes be father to their thoughts.

In the two weeks that remain before the election, we’ll have a lot more polls to dig through but that basic truth about samples should never be far from our thoughts. We don’t know what the results in the only poll that counts — the one at the ballot box — will be but until we get there, we’re stuck trying to, as Silver would say, filter out the “noise” that is obscuring the truth about public opinion. Unfortunately, some of that noise comes in the form of analysis that is as heavily influenced by partisan feelings as that shown by any hometown baseball scribe.

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Romney’s Lead: More Than Just One Poll

On Tuesday, New York Times blogger Nate Silver attempted to make sense of the latest round of polls that had been released on Monday. Silver, an astute political statistical analyst, took note of the post-debate trend that has tilted the presidential contest in favor of Mitt Romney, but argued that the average of the various polls that had altered his daily forecast of the outcome had been skewed by one poll. That poll from Pew Research showed Romney ahead of President Obama by four percentage points, a result that seemed out of line with other surveys.

But the problem with dismissing the Pew Research Poll is that as more data is coming in from other sources, it isn’t possible to pretend that what has happened in the last week is the product of one poll. With the latest Gallup Tracking poll and an Investors Business Daily/TIPP Tracking poll both showing Romney ahead by two points, as well as other polls showing Romney gaining ground in swing states, there is a clear trend that is showing up across the board in a wide range of surveys. Romney has spent most of the year trailing the president and looked to be in big trouble in September as his deficit grew. But the first debate was clearly a turning point in the race, and though Silver has tried to argue that the post-Denver bounce has already started to recede, there is now a wide body of evidence illustrating that Obama is losing ground and, at best, is locked in a dead heat with his Republican challenger. The fact that the Real Clear Politics average of major polls is showing Romney with an aggregate lead today for the first time all year must send chills down the spines of the Obama campaign.

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On Tuesday, New York Times blogger Nate Silver attempted to make sense of the latest round of polls that had been released on Monday. Silver, an astute political statistical analyst, took note of the post-debate trend that has tilted the presidential contest in favor of Mitt Romney, but argued that the average of the various polls that had altered his daily forecast of the outcome had been skewed by one poll. That poll from Pew Research showed Romney ahead of President Obama by four percentage points, a result that seemed out of line with other surveys.

But the problem with dismissing the Pew Research Poll is that as more data is coming in from other sources, it isn’t possible to pretend that what has happened in the last week is the product of one poll. With the latest Gallup Tracking poll and an Investors Business Daily/TIPP Tracking poll both showing Romney ahead by two points, as well as other polls showing Romney gaining ground in swing states, there is a clear trend that is showing up across the board in a wide range of surveys. Romney has spent most of the year trailing the president and looked to be in big trouble in September as his deficit grew. But the first debate was clearly a turning point in the race, and though Silver has tried to argue that the post-Denver bounce has already started to recede, there is now a wide body of evidence illustrating that Obama is losing ground and, at best, is locked in a dead heat with his Republican challenger. The fact that the Real Clear Politics average of major polls is showing Romney with an aggregate lead today for the first time all year must send chills down the spines of the Obama campaign.

The signs of trouble for the Democrats are showing up in a raft of new polls being released every day. In the past few days, states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, which looked to be in the bag for the president, are now tightening up. Obama had opened up a significant lead in the key battleground state of Ohio, but now the Buckeye state, which was being colored blue in most electoral maps last month, is now back in the tossup column.

Some Democrats dismissed the Pew poll because they felt it reflected a disproportionately high sample of Republican voters. Yet the president’s cheering section had no problems with polls that were the product of samples that were based on the assumption that Democrats would heavily outnumber Republicans at the voting booth in November. While the assumption that Obama can duplicate his 2008 turnout seems wildly optimistic, Silver also wisely points out that party identification can be fluid in a presidential election. The number of those claiming sympathy with the GOP may be increasing. After getting a good look at the two candidates side by side last week, many Americans may have decided the Republicans aren’t the monsters that Democratic ads have portrayed.

Silver continues to insist that the “fundamentals” of the race are still pointing toward a favorable outcome for the president. He believes the index of economic factors he has compiled works in favor, rather than against, the incumbent. The assumption there is that the majority of Americans believe the rosy numbers about unemployment. Many may still blame the country’s problems on George W. Bush, and others may be persuaded by the Democrats’ attempt to brand Romney a “liar” based on assertions that even liberals concede are misleading if not a downright false.

As I have pointed out many times in this space, conservatives have always underestimated how much of an advantage it is for Obama to have the mainstream media in his pocket (something that was clearly demonstrated by their use of a clip of Andrea Mitchell wrongly claiming that Romney would raise taxes on the middle class in an ad that is being run repeatedly on national broadcasts such as the baseball playoffs). The right also tends to ignore the powerful hold that Obama’s status as the first African-American president has on many voters.

But the sinking feeling that has set in among Democrats in the wake of the president’s disastrous debate performance stems from their grudging recognition of the fact that the political messiah of 2008 is starting to show his feet of clay.

If the trend holds, and there is good reason to think it will, I expect Silver will start adjusting his November forecast to reflect the fact that the president should no longer be considered the overwhelming favorite. Anything can happen in the next four weeks, but right now it’s starting to look as if Obama peaked too early and Romney caught fire at just the right moment.

UPDATE:

After digesting the polls released on Tuesday, Nate Silver has now backed away from his claim that Romney’s surge is solely the result of one survey skewing the averages. He concedes that Romney’s “uptick on Tuesday was a result of a wider volume of evidence.”

Despite this, he is still sticking to his forecast model that shows President Obama as the overwhelming favorite in the election:

The forecast model is not quite ready to jump on board with the notion that the race has become a literal toss-up; Mr. Romney will need to maintain his bounce for a few more days, or extend it into high-quality polls of swing states, before we can be surer about that.

But we are ready to conclude that one night in Denver undid most of the advantage Mr. Obama had appeared to gain in September.

Silver believes the president has amassed such a large lead that even Romney’s significant post-debate bounce still leaves him trailing. However, he does admit that the evidence of the national polls shows it to be essentially a dead heat.

It will be interesting to follow Silver’s forecast and to see whether his model, which seems to favor Obama, will stick with the president to the bitter end or wind up hedging its bets by Election Day.

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CNN Moves Wisconsin to “Toss Up”

Following several polls that show the race tightening in Wisconsin, CNN has moved the state from “lean Obama” to “toss up” on its electoral map:

CNN Thursday turned the important battleground state of Wisconsin from “lean Obama” to true “toss up” on its electoral map, in the wake of Mitt Romney’s naming of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, a seven term congressman from the Badger state, as his running mate. One contributing factor behind CNN’s move was a new poll that matched two others from last week that indicate that the presidential contest in Wisconsin is close. …

With Wisconsin’s move to true “toss up,” the CNN Electoral Map now suggests Obama leading in states with a combined 237 electoral votes, Romney ahead in states with a combined 206 electoral votes, and states with 95 electoral votes up for grabs. 270 electoral votes are needed with win the White House.

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Following several polls that show the race tightening in Wisconsin, CNN has moved the state from “lean Obama” to “toss up” on its electoral map:

CNN Thursday turned the important battleground state of Wisconsin from “lean Obama” to true “toss up” on its electoral map, in the wake of Mitt Romney’s naming of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, a seven term congressman from the Badger state, as his running mate. One contributing factor behind CNN’s move was a new poll that matched two others from last week that indicate that the presidential contest in Wisconsin is close. …

With Wisconsin’s move to true “toss up,” the CNN Electoral Map now suggests Obama leading in states with a combined 237 electoral votes, Romney ahead in states with a combined 206 electoral votes, and states with 95 electoral votes up for grabs. 270 electoral votes are needed with win the White House.

It’s a great sign for Republicans, who haven’t won Wisconsin in a presidential race since Ronald Reagan. But Nate Silver warns against putting too much stock in CNN’s decision:

Adjust the Rasmussen numbers upward for Mr. Obama, and the CNN poll downward for him, and it looks as though Mr. Obama might win by about two percentage points if an election were held in Wisconsin today. I wouldn’t quite use the term “tossup” to describe the state — particularly if Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan are in the midst of a modest but temporary bounce — but it has become much more essential to the electoral math, and now rates as the fourth most important state in our tipping-point calculus, behind Ohio, Virginia and Florida.

Whether it’s a temporary bounce or not, Paul Ryan does have high favorables in Wisconsin and his addition to the ticket puts an important state in play.

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Defining a “Very Slight Favorite”

Today, on his New York Times blog, Nate Silver published the first of what will be a regular series of updates on the forecast for the November election. Silver makes no secret of his liberal leanings, but his statistical work (forged in his beginnings as an outstanding baseball analyst) is straightforward and generally reliable. In his first 2012 presidential forecast, he establishes President Obama as a “very slight favorite” as of the moment. That means he gives the president roughly a 60 percent chance to win re-election but, as he notes, his current estimate of 290 electoral votes for Obama is flexible with “outcomes ranging everywhere from about 160 to 390 electoral votes are plausible, given the long lead time until the election and the amount of news that could occur between now and then.” That sounds about right as does the criteria by which he seeks to judge trends via an economic index that will decline in importance, as we get closer to election day and an average of polls taken.

The problem, as Silver notes, is that national polls have trended toward Mitt Romney while state polls tend to favor the president, which has given the incumbent something of an intrinsic edge in Electoral College projections. That edge may be offset if current negative economic trends continue and Obama’s numbers decline everywhere. But it also points out that the wisest course for both candidates, but especially Romney, is to concentrate his resources in the key swing states of Virginia, Ohio and Colorado. Those three are the states where the probability of an Obama victory is the most narrow and may therefore decide the outcome. But while Silver’s detailed breakdown of the numbers is well worth readers’ efforts, the problem with this and any forecast is that trends have a logic all their own. If the public perceives that the economy is failing, then the president’s slight edge can be thrown out the window.

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Today, on his New York Times blog, Nate Silver published the first of what will be a regular series of updates on the forecast for the November election. Silver makes no secret of his liberal leanings, but his statistical work (forged in his beginnings as an outstanding baseball analyst) is straightforward and generally reliable. In his first 2012 presidential forecast, he establishes President Obama as a “very slight favorite” as of the moment. That means he gives the president roughly a 60 percent chance to win re-election but, as he notes, his current estimate of 290 electoral votes for Obama is flexible with “outcomes ranging everywhere from about 160 to 390 electoral votes are plausible, given the long lead time until the election and the amount of news that could occur between now and then.” That sounds about right as does the criteria by which he seeks to judge trends via an economic index that will decline in importance, as we get closer to election day and an average of polls taken.

The problem, as Silver notes, is that national polls have trended toward Mitt Romney while state polls tend to favor the president, which has given the incumbent something of an intrinsic edge in Electoral College projections. That edge may be offset if current negative economic trends continue and Obama’s numbers decline everywhere. But it also points out that the wisest course for both candidates, but especially Romney, is to concentrate his resources in the key swing states of Virginia, Ohio and Colorado. Those three are the states where the probability of an Obama victory is the most narrow and may therefore decide the outcome. But while Silver’s detailed breakdown of the numbers is well worth readers’ efforts, the problem with this and any forecast is that trends have a logic all their own. If the public perceives that the economy is failing, then the president’s slight edge can be thrown out the window.

Distinguishing between short-term advantages (the “nowcast” as Silver puts it) and long-range trends, including how states have voted in the past, is vital to employing a coherent model. That means that although Democrats can certainly take some solace in their current small advantage, they need to be very worried about whether the arc of this election cycle is running against them. Romney has been gradually gaining strength, and if the economy doesn’t recover, he may be in a far stronger position at the end of the summer than he is today.

As he should, Silver sticks to the numbers, but there is more in play here than just polls and economic statistics. The president has the advantage of incumbency and the mainstream media’s liberal bias. Romney has more of the public’s confidence on the economy and that may play out as the factor that may be the difference in those tipping point states like Ohio and Virginia. So while it is certainly better to be the “very slight favorite” on June 7 than to be behind, as the last week’s terrible economic numbers and the Democrats’ Wisconsin disaster proved, the tide may be starting to turn against the president.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Robert Gibbs thinks the administration made the right call Mirandizing the Christmas Day bomber. Dennis Blair said no one really thought it through. One of them is off the reservation. Unfortunately, I think in this case it’s Blair. The Obami never make errors, don’t you know?

Not even on health care. Gibbs also says that the Massachusetts election doesn’t prove nuthin’ about nuthin’. (Democrats have to be praying that this is an act and that the White House doesn’t truly believe this.)

Back on planet Earth, Sen. Evan Bayh “gets cold feet” about pushing unpopular health-care legislation through Congress using parliamentary tricks on a party-line vote. It’s not clear whether he’s an outlier or the beginning of a trend toward political sanity in his party.

In a similar vein, Allahpundit catches Chris Matthews being sane, arguing for “reality” and against reconciliation to pass health care. Well, he was going up against Alan Grayson.

Noemie Emery thinks there’s a split on the Left: “Those edging their way toward the lifeboats are those members of the House and Senate who sooner or later have to be in touch with the voters. Those who want the bill passed (i.e., pushed down the throats of the howling public) are White House officials and pundits, bloggers, academicians, talk show hosts, and others who don’t face reelection in this year or any, and will even find their business improving if the bill passes and all hell breaks loose. The pundits, who have no skin in this game since they will not get fired, have transferred their soaring contempt for the American people to their beleaguered House members. ‘Jump! Jump!’ they cry to the quivering congressfolk. No sacrifice is too great for others to make for their dreams.” Unfortunately for the Democrats, the White House so far is with the “Jump! Jump!” crowd, raising the question as to whether Obama really wants a second term or simply thinks he’s immune to the same forces that are knocking down fellow Democrats one by one.

If the elections were held today, Larry Sabato and Nate Silver think the Democratic majority would shrink to 52 seats in the Senate (h/t Michael Barone). But the elections aren’t being held today, and lots can change in 10 months.

It’s Republican confidence and the loss of all those seats that may spare the country any more noxious legislation. The Washington Post agrees: “Obama’s biggest priorities — overhauling health care, expanding college aid, reducing climate change — are now in limbo, facing dim prospects as Republicans show little interest in cooperating, and Democrats brace for a 2010 midterm election year potentially as volatile as 1994, when the GOP captured the Senate and the House two years after Bill Clinton was elected president.” Probably didn’t help that, as Democrats now complain, Obama was “too hands-off, too absent.” Or that the country tuned him out.

Mickey Kaus points out that “comparative effectiveness” research is a crock. Obama, Kaus argues, either “has an average President’s shallow understanding of the subject,” is trying to make “bending the cost curve” look painless when it really involves making value judgments to deny care, or is practicing willful ignorance. Could be some combination of all three, of course.

In California, front-runner Meg Whitman is narrowing the gap with Jerry Brown in the gubernatorial race. Hey, if Massachusetts is in play, California is in play.

Robert Gibbs thinks the administration made the right call Mirandizing the Christmas Day bomber. Dennis Blair said no one really thought it through. One of them is off the reservation. Unfortunately, I think in this case it’s Blair. The Obami never make errors, don’t you know?

Not even on health care. Gibbs also says that the Massachusetts election doesn’t prove nuthin’ about nuthin’. (Democrats have to be praying that this is an act and that the White House doesn’t truly believe this.)

Back on planet Earth, Sen. Evan Bayh “gets cold feet” about pushing unpopular health-care legislation through Congress using parliamentary tricks on a party-line vote. It’s not clear whether he’s an outlier or the beginning of a trend toward political sanity in his party.

In a similar vein, Allahpundit catches Chris Matthews being sane, arguing for “reality” and against reconciliation to pass health care. Well, he was going up against Alan Grayson.

Noemie Emery thinks there’s a split on the Left: “Those edging their way toward the lifeboats are those members of the House and Senate who sooner or later have to be in touch with the voters. Those who want the bill passed (i.e., pushed down the throats of the howling public) are White House officials and pundits, bloggers, academicians, talk show hosts, and others who don’t face reelection in this year or any, and will even find their business improving if the bill passes and all hell breaks loose. The pundits, who have no skin in this game since they will not get fired, have transferred their soaring contempt for the American people to their beleaguered House members. ‘Jump! Jump!’ they cry to the quivering congressfolk. No sacrifice is too great for others to make for their dreams.” Unfortunately for the Democrats, the White House so far is with the “Jump! Jump!” crowd, raising the question as to whether Obama really wants a second term or simply thinks he’s immune to the same forces that are knocking down fellow Democrats one by one.

If the elections were held today, Larry Sabato and Nate Silver think the Democratic majority would shrink to 52 seats in the Senate (h/t Michael Barone). But the elections aren’t being held today, and lots can change in 10 months.

It’s Republican confidence and the loss of all those seats that may spare the country any more noxious legislation. The Washington Post agrees: “Obama’s biggest priorities — overhauling health care, expanding college aid, reducing climate change — are now in limbo, facing dim prospects as Republicans show little interest in cooperating, and Democrats brace for a 2010 midterm election year potentially as volatile as 1994, when the GOP captured the Senate and the House two years after Bill Clinton was elected president.” Probably didn’t help that, as Democrats now complain, Obama was “too hands-off, too absent.” Or that the country tuned him out.

Mickey Kaus points out that “comparative effectiveness” research is a crock. Obama, Kaus argues, either “has an average President’s shallow understanding of the subject,” is trying to make “bending the cost curve” look painless when it really involves making value judgments to deny care, or is practicing willful ignorance. Could be some combination of all three, of course.

In California, front-runner Meg Whitman is narrowing the gap with Jerry Brown in the gubernatorial race. Hey, if Massachusetts is in play, California is in play.

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ObamaThink

It’s sometimes hard to figure out why the Democrats are so anxious to pass such awful health-care legislation — in fact indefinite, awful legislation — which is also so unpopular. Taking issue with liberal pollster Nate Silver, who thinks passing ObamaCare would be courageous, James Taranto concludes that the legislation has become highly unpopular because the public has figured out that it’s a “monstrosity.” He explains:

Whose job was it to make ObamaCare popular? The politicians who backed ObamaCare, of course. If 61% of Americans oppose the Senate bill, it is because the senators who support it have failed to make their case. It’s hard to see how someone who thinks they had a good case to make can excuse this failure, much less present it as an achievement of near-courage.

Moreover, Democrats are convinced, in a groupthink exercise outmatched only by the global-warming hysterics, that passing a hugely unpopular bill is the only chance to save themselves from a 2010 wipeout. There are several explanations for this delusion. First, they really don’t believe it’s politically wise but want universal, government-run health care so badly that they’re willing to take a dive politically. (This is the rationalization of the ideological true believer.) Second, they think the voters are dopey and don’t understand how wonderful life under the monstrous tax, mandate, and rationing scheme will be, only that, in the end, they’ll learn to love it. Third, Democrats are petrified of their liberal base and worry about primary challengers and donor rebellion. (As far as the 61 percent of Americans go, however, they seem willing to take their chances.) Of course, more than one explanation may be valid here.

We’ll see if the Democrats manage to cobble together a bill that can attract 60 senators. That seems to be the sole focus of their energies. Then they’ll have to worry about the tens of millions of enraged voters who will be very unhappy with them. Like Scarlett O’Hara — they’ll worry about that another day.

It’s sometimes hard to figure out why the Democrats are so anxious to pass such awful health-care legislation — in fact indefinite, awful legislation — which is also so unpopular. Taking issue with liberal pollster Nate Silver, who thinks passing ObamaCare would be courageous, James Taranto concludes that the legislation has become highly unpopular because the public has figured out that it’s a “monstrosity.” He explains:

Whose job was it to make ObamaCare popular? The politicians who backed ObamaCare, of course. If 61% of Americans oppose the Senate bill, it is because the senators who support it have failed to make their case. It’s hard to see how someone who thinks they had a good case to make can excuse this failure, much less present it as an achievement of near-courage.

Moreover, Democrats are convinced, in a groupthink exercise outmatched only by the global-warming hysterics, that passing a hugely unpopular bill is the only chance to save themselves from a 2010 wipeout. There are several explanations for this delusion. First, they really don’t believe it’s politically wise but want universal, government-run health care so badly that they’re willing to take a dive politically. (This is the rationalization of the ideological true believer.) Second, they think the voters are dopey and don’t understand how wonderful life under the monstrous tax, mandate, and rationing scheme will be, only that, in the end, they’ll learn to love it. Third, Democrats are petrified of their liberal base and worry about primary challengers and donor rebellion. (As far as the 61 percent of Americans go, however, they seem willing to take their chances.) Of course, more than one explanation may be valid here.

We’ll see if the Democrats manage to cobble together a bill that can attract 60 senators. That seems to be the sole focus of their energies. Then they’ll have to worry about the tens of millions of enraged voters who will be very unhappy with them. Like Scarlett O’Hara — they’ll worry about that another day.

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