It is human nature to dislike bearers of bad news, but conservatives are extending this to a visceral hatred of those who even predict bad news. This has been compounded by the anti-fact/anti-logic/anti-science sentiments which now dominate the right wing. While there have been comments for months on conservative blogs showing denial of bad polling results, this has escalated over the past week, and become far more personal. Last week The Examiner laid down this battle-line:
While many conservatives look to former Clinton political consultant Dick Morris to understand the polls and political surveys on the elections, or even a site like UnSkewedPolls.com, those on the left look to New York Times blogger Nate Silver.
I have read Nate Silver’s blog as just one of many sources which evaluate the polls, but the authoritarian mindset of the right wing does tend to see things in terms of following one or the other leader. A look at how the left and right view this issue is consistent with how they differ on more substantiate matters than mere predictions.
First let’s look at UnSkewedPolls.com. They have been predicting a Romney victory well in excess of 300 electoral votes. Maybe this will happen, but it would require either that the polls are way off or that things change drastically before the election (which is possible, but not predictable). In other words, their predictions are based on the hope that their candidate will win as opposed to actually paying attention to the polling data.
Today Dick Morris is predicting a Romney landslide. Throughout the election his predictions have also been based upon what the right wingers want to hear, not based upon any facts. Perhaps he is trying to help Romney, or perhaps he is trying to increase readership among conservatives by saying what they want to read. Either way, he is also ignoring the actual polling data. I have also seen many posts from conservative blogs which distort the findings in polls, declaring a victory for Romney when the actual polling data shows the opposite or at most a tie.
Looking at actual polling data shows the popular vote as being too close to call while Obama continues to have a lead in the battleground states. Obama has leads in the latest polls in Ohio, Virginia, and Florida. It is certainly possible that Romney could still take one or more of these states, but he would need to either win all three or win in other states where Obama is now leading to win the election. With that in mind, let’s compare what Nate Silver says about the race compared to the two right wing commentators above. Silver’s map of state by state probabilities is based upon the polls, but he does adjust them to take into consideration factors such as the state of the economy and the historical partisan tendencies of the state. Unlike the conservative commentators, Silver’s electoral predictions have been very close to the status at sites such as ElectoralVote.com which are purely poll driven. Silver predicts Obama victories in Ohio and Virginia while his last prediction continued to predict Romney would win in Florida. He predicts an approximate two percent victory in the popular vote, which is the same as I and many others have been predicting (at least prior to Superstorm Sandy).
What especially confuses conservatives is that Silver includes odds, now predicting a 77.4 percent chance of Obama winning (up 9.3 percent over the past week). That sounds like a reasonable prediction, except to those who do not understand the concept of probability. Last week Silver gave Romney well over a one in four chance of winning, and continues to give him over a one in five chance. Ezra Klein defended Silver (with his post written when Silver’s chances of an Obama victory were a little lower than at present):
Silver’s model is currently estimating that Obama will win 295 electoral votes. That’s eight fewer than predicted by Sam Wang’s state polling meta-analysis and 37 fewer than Drew Linzer’s Votamatic.
So before we deal with anything Silver has specifically said, it’s worth taking in the surrounding landscape: Every major political betting market and every major forecasting tool is predicting an Obama victory right now, and for the same reason: Obama remains ahead in enough states that, unless the polls are systematically wrong, or they undergo a change unlike any we’ve yet seen in the race, Obama will win the election.
There’s no doubt about that. Real Clear Politics, which leans right, shows Romney up by 0.8 percent nationally, but shows Obama up in Ohio, New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Romney is up in Florida and North Carolina, but note that his lead in Florida is smaller than Obama’s lead in Ohio. And RCP shows Colorado and Virginia tied. Pollster.com, meanwhile, shows Obama leading by a point in Colorado and Virginia and the race tied in Florida.
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.
Nate Silver is one of the sources I look at after his predictions were extremely accurate in 2008, but I also don’t follow any one source, suspecting that another source could edge him out in other elections. It will be interesting to see if his model is any more accurate than other means of predicting electing results when the results are in next week. Util then I will continue to look at a variety of sources, and leave it to the more authoritarian-minded conservatives to want to follow a single leader. Looking a other of sources of predicting the election finds that Silver’s predictions are far more in line than those of the conservative wishful thinkers. For example, Intrade predicts an Obama victory at 66.1 percent.
Predicting an Obama victory also isn’t out of line with what most Americans predict. Gallup found that 54 percent of Americans think Obama will win while only 34 percent predict Romney will win. It is only the far right, which places ideology over facts in all matters, which would predict a Romney landslide based upon the information now available.
Another source that Romney is losing is speculative, but I think does say a lot about the state of the race. Mitt Romney is now running like a candidate who believes he is going to lose and must throw a Hail Mary. He has been running highly dishonest and desperate ads about the auto bail-out despite the fact-checking of newspapers who see this as Romney going too far with his lying. Seeing both Chrysler and GM debunk Romney’s false claim is reminiscent of Candy Crowley debunking Romney on Libya during the second presidential debate. He is also resorting to repeating his discredited welfare attack. He is making desperate attempts to compete in states such as Pennsylvania where he has no serious chance, most likely due to realizing his chances of winning by taking Ohio are slipping away.
While many conservatives who cite Dick Morris sound convinced that Romney will win, the attitude on liberal blogs remains more in tune with reality. Besides better understanding the math, liberal bloggers are more likely to realize that polls are a snapshot of where we are now and not absolutely predictive of the election results. With the race this close, things can still change. When pundits spoke of Hurricane Sandy freezing the race, I had fears that this might blunt Obama’s momentum in Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida, where he has recently been improving in the polls after falling behind after the Denver debate. Looking presidential, and getting the praise of Republican keynote speaker Chris Christie, might make up for any lost days of campaigning. Superstorm Sandy does provide a strong contrast between Democratic and Republican views as they relate to the real world, from views on the importance of the federal government in disaster relief to views on accepting the scientific consensus on global warming.