* Correctly predicted 49 of 50 states, 50th too close to
* Plaudits from pundits after pre-election criticism
* Silent since election feat
By David K. Randall
NEW YORK, Nov 7 So much for gut feeling.
After correctly predicting the results in 49 of the 50
states that have been called in the U.S. election (Florida
remains too close to call), Nate Silver, the statistician behind
the popular FiveThirtyEight blog, woke on Wednesday to find
himself the poster child of what is sure to be a new data-driven
approach to politics.
While Obama was declared the winner of the election, Silver
won the polling race. Television anchors from Rachel Maddow on
the left-leaning MSNBC, to Bret Baier on the right-leaning Fox
News, praised his accuracy. A comedian on Twitter called him
"The Emperor of Math." Silver's publicist said he had been so
inundated with requests she had been unable to reach him.
The victory lap of sorts was well-deserved for a man who
received widespread criticism from conservatives for giving
President Barack Obama a 90.9 percent chance of re-election in
the weeks leading up to Election Day, said Clifford Young,
managing director of polling at firm Ipsos, the polling partner
But beyond getting the results right overall, as other
pollsters did in this election cycle, Silver's true genius is
his ability to make statistical modeling accessible to a lay
audience, Young said.
"Ultimately, what he's done is take a lot of the mysticism
out of politics. This puts a check on the traditional pundits
and the state of punditry in general. It makes me wonder if we
have a changing of the guard," Young said.
It has been an impressive start for a man who does no
polling himself. After graduating from the University of Chicago
with a degree in economics in 2000, Silver worked as an economic
consultant at an accounting firm before creating a model to
predict baseball player's future performance. He sold it to
stats firm Baseball Prospectus for an undisclosed amount and
then turned to politics during the 2008 primaries with a model
that emphasized demographics and past polling history.
Sales of his recent book, "The Signal and the Noise," jumped
500 percent on Wednesday to reach the No. 2 book on Amazon.com,
just behind the latest in the children's "Diary of a Wimpy Kid"
A NERDY SCHTICK
Unlike traditional pollsters, who put questions to a field
of voters, Silver incorporates the averages of several polls and
weights them based on factors like the past accuracy of the
polling firm, the number of likely voters on Election Day and
the composition of each state's electorate. He then runs
multiple simulations of the results, which results in his
The end result often mirrors other aggregate data that is
available. Real Clear Politics and Pollster.com, for instance,
also showed that Obama held an advantage in all of the swing
states except North Carolina. Yet Silver's probability
simulations as well as his status as, essentially, a one-man
shop, has helped burnish his image and reputation, especially in
light of the performance of traditional polling firms.
Rasmussen Reports, for instance, was wrong on six of the
nine swing-state polls and showed Romney winning the popular
vote by one percentage point. The NBC News/Wall Street
Journal/Marist College poll incorrectly predicted that Obama
would win North Carolina, while the CBS/Quinnipiac University
poll incorrectly showed Obama losing Colorado.
Silver's track record in the 2008 election led Penguin Books
to sign him to a two-book deal worth more than $700,000,
according to a person with knowledge of the deal. The New York
Times reached a license agreement with Silver to host his blog
through at least the 2012 election.
At the Times, Silver has branched out from politics to
include more day-to-day topics, including a post that
investigated whether KFC's Double Down Sandwich was the
unhealthiest sandwich ever. But it is his electoral predictions
that have paid dividends: on the day before the election, 20
percent of all visitors to the Times website clicked on a 538
post, according to press reports.
Silver's status as the electoral sage has led him to be
courted throughout the business and media worlds. "He's at a
level about four times as high as I am," said Jack Bogle,
founder of investment-management company the Vanguard Group.
The understated Silver is not especially social and
definitely not schmoozy, says Colby Hall, the founding editor of
Mediaite.com, which tracks media news. Like many Silver fans,
Hall has been trying to cultivate a relationship with Silver
with several years, with no luck.
"He relies on his track record," Hall says. The nerdy shtick
works in Silver's favor. "If Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are
falling over themselves to talk to you, you are in the
hippest/coolest/most-insidery group," Hall says.
Even so, Silver's methods have been criticized by political
pundits, who detected a Democratic slant in his results, leading
some to come up with so-called "unskewed polls" that showed
Republicans winning handily.
Politico, a hub of news for D.C. wonks, skewered him as
"over-rated" and wondered if a Romney win would turn Silver into
a "one-term celebrity." The New York Times own public editor
criticized Silver for betting MSNBC host Joe Scarborough that
President Obama would be re-elected.
Silver did not respond to phone and email requests for
comment for this story. He has made no public comments since
tweeting at 2:33 a.m. ET Wednesday morning.
He took to his Twitter account around 10 p.m ET last night
to give one of his last messages of the 2012 campaign: "On the
Wall, the Writing," he wrote.
(Additional reporting by Lauren Young; Editing by Jennifer
Merritt, Mary Milliken and David Brunnstrom)