Saturday, January 23, 2016

Nate the slippery Silverfish

++Addition++Jason Malloy points out that today (1/25/16) a Slate writer picked up on the same thing we've been chronicling here. From the darkness comes light, and a blinkered, blinking Silver is stultified, mouth agape.


In November, Nate Silver put Donald Trump's chances at the GOP nomination thusly:
For my money, that adds up to Trump’s chances being higher than 0 but (considerably) less than 20 percent.
In the interim, Trump's performance in national polls has climbed 10-15 points higher than Silver thought they would ever reach. From the aforementioned November post:
Right now, he has 25 to 30 percent of the vote in polls among the roughly 25 percent of Americans who identify as Republican. (That’s something like 6 to 8 percent of the electorate overall, or about the same share of people who think the Apollo moon landings were faked.) As the rest of the field consolidates around him, Trump will need to gain additional support to win the nomination. That might not be easy, since some Trump actions that appeal to a faction of the Republican electorate may alienate the rest of it. Trump’s favorability ratings are middling among Republicans.
Additionally, he asserted that Trump's poll numbers were probably inflated because a majority of the polls conducted were of registered voters rather than of likely voters, the thought being that, come primary day, those Republicans unlikely to vote will be overrepresented among Trump supporters. (Silver apparently extrapolated this from insights he gleaned at some point showing an inverse correlation between attending political rallies and participating in the electoral process!)

Fortunately, Reuters-Ipsos interactive polling explorer allows us to test Silver's assertion, as the organization polls all Republicans as well as drilling down further to those who say they are likely to vote in the Republican primaries. The latest five-day rolling national tracking poll (through January 22nd) shows that while Trump only gets 38% support among Republicans who are not likely primary voters, he gets 44% among those who are likely primary voters. In other words, Silver's implausible-sounding assertion is contradicted by the actual data now available to test it.

Undeterred by his awful predictions in November, Silver shifted to talking about Trump's putative looming problems with general election appeal last week. I suspect the primary motivation here is to get Republican Trump backers to second-guess their support, since, as Silver knows, only a fraction of voters have started paying attention to the presidential election ten months out.

Hillary Clinton, a known political entity, is likely closer to her ultimate support ceiling than Trump, a less well known political entity, is. Indeed, in the month that Reuters-Ipsos has tracked Trump's favorability rating among likely general election voters, it has risen from 42.2% on December 20th to 46.2% on January 21st.

Silver didn't stay there for long. Just three days later, he put out a post entitled "One Big Reason To Be Less Skeptical Of Trump", referring to Trump's presidential chances. Rather than cutting through anecdotes, hype, and talking-head blather to give us the true story based on cold, hard empirical data, Silver sounds like any of the other punditry clowns who have been off the mark on just about everything in the 2016 presidential election up to this point. Silver, in finally hinting at the deficiencies in his powers of prognostication thus far, offered this explanation:
The reason I’ve been especially skeptical about Trump for most of the election cycle isn’t listed above. Nor is it because I expected Trump to spontaneously combust in national polls. Instead, I was skeptical because I assumed that influential Republicans would do almost anything they could to prevent him from being nominated.
Oh, so all the reasons he gave in those previous posts about Trump's support being wide but shallow, or about how Trump's support was overstated because most voters still had yet to decide who they'd vote for, or that Trump's support had probably peaked, or that it was likely that someone would surge in the weeks before Iowa to steal Trump's thunder, or that the polling data was misleading because it was based on registered voters rather than likely voters weren't the real reasons he put Trump's chances of getting the Republican nomination at "considerably less than 20 percent". No, no, the real reason he predicted Trump's demise was because he thought "influential Republicans" would try to keep him from getting the nod!

Good grief, on the sidebar of the very post in which Silver is writing this is a link to what Silver calls "The Endorsement Primary", something he describes as "among the best predictors of which candidates will succeed and which will fail". It shows ¡Jabe! in first. Trump, along with Ben Carson, are tied in dead last, without a single endorsement from a Republican officeholder of significance. At the state level, the party is trying to handicap Trump however they are able to. The Republican response to Obama's state of the union address includes an attack on its party's own frontrunner. Leading cuckservative publications like National Review throw everything they can against him. Members of the Respectable Right say they'd vote third-party if Trump was the GOP's nominee. One wonders how different the race would be if influential Republicans actually opposed Trump!

Last month, Agnostic wrote that Big Data would be the biggest loser from the 2016 election cycle. How very right he was.


Jason Malloy said...

The first of the (many future?) "Silver failing on Trump" retrospectives now at Slate.

Channeling Epigone:

"Maybe, like many people who have watched Trump’s rise with increasing horror, Silver latched onto a narrative that justified rejecting the Apprentice star’s achievements, identifying them as symptoms of a media bubble rather than a reflection of real popular sentiment. If that’s the case, Silver turns out to have a good bit in common with the pundits that he and his unemotional, numbers-driven worldview were supposed to render obsolete. Faced with uncertainty, Silver chose to go all in on an outcome that felt right, one that meshed with his preexisting beliefs about how the world is supposed to work."

Channeling Aggro:

“This is an extraordinary, unusual, utterly bizarre election year, in which events that have never happened before are happening,” says Blake Zeff, the editor of the political news site Cafe and a former campaign aide to Obama and Hillary Clinton. “That’s a nightmare scenario for a projection model that is predicated on historical trends.”

Audacious Epigone said...


Thanks for pointing that out!