Wednesday, November 07, 2012

11/07 (Two-Term Obama) Quickie

Today isn't a post about President Obama winning re-election, but instead about the sports-media guy turned politcal-media guy Nate Silver of

Silver became the poster guy for political punditry this season with his confident (and quantitatively backed-up) predictions about the Presidential race, capped by last night, where he basically ran the table. (Not coincidentally, the Obama re-election team took the same approach, with the same results.

Silver took a lot of grief from the more traditional political pundit class -- it was amusing to watch as a sports fan, because this was a debate we had in sports a decade ago (stats vs. scouts, later morphing into sports pundits who were comfortable and facile with numbers versus those who weren't).

In the end, Silver won the day, because rigorous quantitative analysis matters. In sports or in politics, there will always be a place for qualitative punditry -- the 24/7 news cycle demands it -- but it must be rooted in data (and, yes, sometimes counter-balanced or checked by it, too).

I don't expect that things will change in the pundit world too dramatically, even as Silver and his data-first approach ascends to pre-eminence. There was too much ignorance of basic statistics -- basic understanding of probabilistic thinking -- during the past few weeks' Silver-centric flare-up from critics.

But it is a great reminder -- something to hold up and even admire -- that just because you insist on a reality doesn't make it so. Math matters.

Last night in the wake of Obama's victory, NBC News' Chuck Todd called the election the political equivalent of a "Moneyball"-style triumph. The same can be said for Silver.

Of the lasting impacts of this election season, I hope that this kind of clear-eyed quant-aware approach to analysis -- in politics, finally catching up to sports -- earns a place.

-- D.S.

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