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 of Reuters.
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.