Revenge of a Michigan nerd: Nate Silver's election night victory

Nov 9, 2012

President Obama defeated one Michigan native Tuesday night, but in doing so contributed directly to the landslide victory of another.

Obama’s victories in a number of swing states vindicated the predictions of East Lansing native and celebrity political forecaster Nate Silver.

Silver went 50 for 50 Tuesday, correctly projecting the outcome of the presidential race in every state on his FiveThirtyEight blog.

Silver made a name for himself in the 2008 Presidential election by using a complex mathematical model and reams of polling data to correctly project the winner in 49 states.

His most recent success comes in the wake of criticism for his left-leaning projections and unyielding faith in the power of his own math.

In the weeks leading up to election day, Silver was derided for his conviction that the race was plainly not a tossup.

This drew flak from MSNBC commentator Joe Scarborough, who said anyone with that idea was an “ideologue” and a “joke.”

Then from David Brooks of the New York Times:

“If there’s one thing we know, it’s that even experts with fancy computer models are terrible at predicting human behavior.”

Silver responded to Scarborough with a $2,000 bet that his predictions would hold up, but that didn't mean the pollster wasn't privately concerned before the results began to roll in.

Silver told NPR that he did not sleep Monday night and that it would have been tough to rebound had a Romney victory repudiated his stats:

“You know, I don't know that I was putting my career on the line. But I'll be frank. I think I don't know if I would have been inclined to blog about politics for very much longer if that had occurred.”

In the end, Silver came out on top, and his accuracy is being hailed as a victory for geeks, and proof that statistical analysis has earned its place in the political arena.

Michigan political analyst Mark Grebner agrees. He told Michigan Radio’s Lester Graham that he has been particularly impressed with Silver.

“We’re getting to have a pretty good idea of how everybody’s voting and how many of them will show up and, you know, which names they’ll pick on the ballots, who will use an absentee ballot and a thousand other things.”

Nate Silver graduated from East Lansing High School in 1996. Taken out of context, his senior quote could be seen as prophetic.

“Then the liars and swearers are fools for there are liars and swearers enough to beat the honest men and hang them up.” – William Shakespeare

- Jordan Wyant, Michigan Radio Newsroom