Triumph of the Nerds, Math and Modern Political Polling: Nate Silver Wins in 99 out of the last 100 States

Barack Obama may have comfortably won re-election in the electoral college, and squeaked a victory in the popular vote. But here is the absolute, undoubted winner of this election: Nate Silver and big data.

The analyst, despite being pilloried by the pundits, outdid even his 2008 prediction. In that year, his mathematical model correctly called 49 out of 50 states, missing only Indiana (which went to Obama by 0.1%.)

This year, according to all projections, Silver’s model has correctly predicted 50 out of 50 states. A last-minute flip for Florida, which finally went blue in Silver’s prediction on Monday night, helped him to a perfect game.

What does this victory mean? That mathematical models can no longer be derided by “gut-feeling” pundits. That Silver’s contention — TV pundits are generally no more accurate than a coin toss — must now be given wider credence.

The great thing about a model like Silver’s (and that of similarly winning math nerds, such as Sam Wang of the Princeton Election Consortium) is that it takes all that myopic human bias out of the equation. The ever-present temptation to cherry-pick polls is subverted.

You set your parameters at the start, deciding how much weight and accuracy you’re going to give to each poll based purely on their historical accuracy. You feed in whatever other conditions you think will matter to the result. Then, you sit back and let the algorithm do the work.

Silver may be a registered Democrat, but he learned back when he was doing baseball analysis that he’d never get anywhere if his models weren’t absolutely neutral, straight down the line between feuding teams.

By 2016, if the networks are paying attention, don’t be surprised to see that the talking heads are all Nate Silver clones. Every media organization will now want its own state poll-based algorithm, especially given how much traffic Silver has driven to the New York Times‘ website. We’ll see more about that kind of model, and less stories about individual polls, which are almost always misleading unless you aggregate them.

Statistics, big data, neutral mathematical models — this, it turns out, is what people want. Who knew?

Well, we geeks knew, but we’re starting to get used to having the rest of the world follow our lead. We had the smartphones first, we read the fantasy books before they became blockbuster movies and TV shows, and now we can boast that we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Nate Silver’s data before it was popular.

— repost of

About andy dingfelder

Andy is a CISO/CTO in the fintech sector with over 20 years of experience in Software Delivery and Team Leadership in multiple industry domains. Master's Degree (MPA) in Public Administration Information Systems and over 10 years of board governance experience for multiple organisations. Full bio is available at: and links available at or follow him on Twitter at Andy lives in the Wellington region, New Zealand with his wife and two daughters.
This entry was posted in Politics. Bookmark the permalink.