Monday, December 19, 2011

The Great Quantitative Political Analysis Nate Silver Puts Numbers to Iowa

If You Had to Read Just One Election Commentary, Mr. Silver is the One

One of the many things the nation does not lack  is commentary on politics and elections.  But it seems there is only one individual who has brought the discipline of statistics, probability and quantitative analysis to the party, and that is Nate Silver, whose Forum “Five Thirty Eight” is almost reason enough by itself to view or read the New York Times.  Mr. Silver is not a polemicist, he is a keen mathematical observer and reporter.

With about three weeks to go before the Iowa Caucuses Mr. Silver has quantified the expectations of the results.

The polling data I’ve seen over the past two or three days suggests that Newt Gingrich’s momentum has stopped — and has probably reversed itself.

The most troubling numbers for Mr. Gingrich are in Iowa, where three recent polls show that his lead — which had been in double-digits just a week ago — has all but evaporated. One poll, in fact, from Rasmussen Reports, now shows him trailing Mitt Romney. The other two do not show gains for Mr. Romney, but do have Mr. Gingrich essentially tied with Ron Paul.

Right now, our forecast model projects Mr. Gingrich to receive 23 percent of the vote in Iowa, as compared to 20 percent each for Mr. Paul and Mr. Romney. That’s not much better than a three-way tie for Mr. Gingrich considering the uncertainty intrinsic to primary polling. In our model, it translates into a 38 percent chance of him winning in Iowa, which is down from 50 percent just 48 hours ago and from what would have been as high as 70 percent if we had run the numbers last week. (The model gives a 27 percent chance to Mr. Paul of winning Iowa and a 26 percent chance to Mr. Romney, with Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann also retaining plausible chances.)

Now the value here is not so much in the absolute numbers as it is in providing a benchmark for measuring change.  Mr. Silver states that the race is close to being tied between Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Romney and Mr. Paul.  But as Mr. Silver himself admits, primary voters move quickly, and in Iowa in particular things can change rapidly.

Two weeks before the Iowa Democratic caucuses in 2008, Barack Obama’s polling appeared to be headed slightly downward — but the numbers reversed themselves in the final week and he won by a solid margin. Likewise, Mr. Obama appeared to be unstoppable after winning Iowa, but Hillary Rodham Clinton upset him in New Hampshire. Similarly, in 1980, Ronald Reagan appeared extremely vulnerable to the elder George Bush in New Hampshire after Mr. Bush won Iowa, but Mr. Reagan dominated the New Hampshire primary, winning by 27 points in what polls suggested was a toss-up.

So this is neat stuff.  As spectators all of us can view through the eyes of Mr. Silver’s analysis whether or not the increased scrutiny of Mr. Gingrich, which reveals faults not virtues, will result in lower support.  And it also lets everyone judge the actual Iowa results in context of expectations.  So as soon as everyone can survive the holiday season with its saccharine like sentiments of “peace on earth, goodwill to men, next year will be better etc,” there will be the treat of the results of the Iowa caucuses. 

And the best news of all, no more Republican debates for the rest of 2011!


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  2. Silver is assuming that the 2008 New Hampshire primary was not rigged. Obama led all pre-election and exit polls. He led in the hand-counted ballot precincts. Just like all mainstream analysts, Mr. Silver refuses to even consider the Systemic Election Fraud factor.

  3. To amplify the above: This site contains an exhaustive set of links to many of my original posts and models dating back to 2004. Also included are links to important articles from some of the most influential election analysts and activists: