New York magazine has an interview with Nate Silver, the poll-watching wunderkind who went from blogger to go-to expert on political predictions. He had some very interesting things to say, including about the presidential election. Here’s how he’s handicapping the election at this point:
So, basically, barring an October surprise, Romney’s chances are more like nil?
Not nil, but slim. So the debates for example have proven to move the number by about 3 points in the past. So, for example, in 2000, Al Gore had about a 3-point lead against George W. Bush at this point in the election and was perceived to have lost the debates — I guess he sighed too often or something — and that was enough to reduce his lead and turn the election into what was almost literally a tie.
The problem now is that there are a lot of ways that Romney could kick a field goal, but Obama seems to be ahead by a touchdown right now. So, I guess he could kick two field goals, to stretch the metaphor out. Or maybe if Romney did pretty well in the debates, and you had a couple of bad but not extraordinarily bad jobs reports, he could put two or three things together, and then they get a strong turnout. So that’s why you can’t quite say that he can’t come back organically, if you had a cluster of different medium-sized things happen, to get some momentum. But I’m not sure that, say, the debates alone are enough to move the numbers for him. I think he needs that and something else, or he needs some kind of acute crisis to develop.
And I love this exchange about Dick Morris:
What do you make of Dick Morris? You mention him in your book, and he’s just the absolute least accurate pundit ever, and yet he still gets a platform.
I’ve been thinking about starting a hedge fund, just to invest in whatever Morris says won’t happen. You have to actually be quite skilled to be that bad.
It’s amazing. He said the other day that Romney would win by 4 or 5 points.
I know, that would be my secret plan if I were the Romney campaign, to get Morris to make a prediction of an Obama landslide. I’d definitely lay some money on Romney at that point. I think it’s just, when you make that many poor predictions — and we’re not just teasing him for one, he really does have a terrible track record — are you deluding yourself? Or is it all a show to rally your base? With him I don’t really know, but, I see prediction as a way to judge whether you’re, frankly, in touch with reality or not. We all have our views, and we look at this information in a certain way, and you test that by means of an event that you don’t know the outcome to yet and seeing if your subjective point of view matches what unfolds. So I think a slightly impolite way to put it is that at best Dick Morris is detached from reality, and at worst I guess, he knows it and is just lying to people.
Morris gets a platform because he’s telling fact-averse Fox News viewers exactly what they want to hear. He reinforces their wishful thinking.
Incidentally, Silver also talks about his days making lots of money playing online poker. Silver went to East Lansing High School, where his debate coach was my friend Will Repko, now the debate coach at Michigan State (where he’s won 3 national championships in the last 9 years). I’ve known Will since he was in high school, when I coached against him. Will is also a very good poker player. We’ve played together a few times and I’ve generally tried to stay out of his way and tangle with other players instead.