Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?
It's time to repost Byers's entire initial catastrophe--the one in which he could not find anybody who actually knew anything about forecasting elections to quote, but only Joe Scarborough and David Brooks:
Nate Silver: One-term celebrity?: The New York Times's resident political predictor says President Barack Obama currently has a 74.6 percent chance of winning reelection. It's a prediction that liberals, whose heart rates continue to fluctuate with the release of every new poll, want to take solace in but somehow can't. Sure, this is the guy who correctly predicted the outcome of the 2008 election in 49 of 50 states, but this year's polls suggest a nailbiter.
"Romney, clearly, could still win," Silver told POLITICO today.
Prediction is the name of Silver's game, the basis for his celebrity. So should Mitt Romney win on Nov. 6, it's difficult to see how people can continue to put faith in the predictions of someone who has never given that candidate anything higher than a 41 percent chance of winning (way back on June 2) and — one week from the election — gives him a one-in-four chance, even as the polls have him almost neck-and-neck with the incumbent.
Silver cautions against confusing prediction with prophecy. "If the Giants lead the Redskins 24-21 in the fourth quarter, it's a close game that either team could win. But it's also not a "toss-up": The Giants are favored. It's the same principle here: Obama is ahead in the polling averages in states like Ohio that would suffice for him to win the Electoral College. Hence, he's the favorite," Silver told POLITICO.
For all the confidence Silver puts in his predictions, he often gives the impression of hedging. Which, given all the variables involved in a presidential election, isn't surprising. For this reason and others — and this may shock the coffee-drinking NPR types of Seattle, San Francisco and Madison, Wis. — more than a few political pundits and reporters, including some of his own colleagues, believe Silver is highly overrated.
"If you tell me you think you can quantify an event that is about to happen that you don
t expect, like the 47 percent comment or a debate performance, I think you think you are a wizard. Thats not possible," Times columnist David Brooks, a moderate conservative, said on PBS earlier this month. "The pollsters tell us what
s happening now. When they start projecting, theyre getting into silly land."
Brooks doubled down on this charge in a column last week: "I should treat polls as a fuzzy snapshot of a moment in time. I should not read them, and think I understand the future," he wrote. "If there’s one thing we know, it’s that even experts with fancy computer models are terrible at predicting human behavior."
On MSNBC's "Morning Joe" today, Joe Scarborough took a more direct shot, effectively calling Silver an ideologue and "a joke."
"Nate Silver says this is a 73.6 percent chance that the president is going to win? Nobody in that campaign thinks they have a 73 percent chance — they think they have a 50.1 percent chance of winning. And you talk to the Romney people, it's the same thing," Scarborough said. "Both sides understand that it is close, and it could go either way. And anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue, they should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops and microphones for the next 10 days, because they're jokes."
Silver's no stranger to doubt and criticism. He even doubts his own model sometimes. But he dismisses this criticism.
"We can debate how much of a favorite Obama is; Romney, clearly, could still win. But this is not wizardry or rocket science," Silver told POLITICO. "All you have to do is take an average, and count to 270. It's a pretty simple set of facts. I'm sorry that Joe is math-challenged."
Of course, it hardly matters what Brooks, Scarborough or any of Silver's critics or supporters think. What matters for Silver is that the president wins and that he ends up with a total number of electoral votes somewhere in the ballpark of whatever Silver predicts on the afternoon of Nov. 6. And even then, you won't know if he actually had a 50.1 percent chance or a 74.6 percent chance of getting there.