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Nate Silver Might Give Up Blogging If He’s Impacting Elections

Fresh off his second correct Presidential election forecast in a row, New York Times star political blogger Nate Silver had some interesting remarks during a recent talk at Washington University of St. Louis:

Silver spent an hour minimizing his achievements as an auspicious combination of decent blogging and statistical analysis in his Monday night lecture sponsored by the Washington University Political Review. Silver, who began his career doing statistics for Major League Baseball, gained wider fame when his FiveThirtyEight political blog hosted by the Times correctly predicted the 2012 presidential election results in every state.

He said that his statistics are not intended to affect results, which shouldn’t be an issue in most general elections. But he conceded that in races such as last year’s Republican presidential primary, analysis can make a difference.

The polls can certainly affect elections at times,” Silver said. “I hope people don’t take the forecasts too seriously. You’d rather have an experiment where you record it off from the actual voters, in a sense, but we’ll see. If it gets really weird in 2014, in 2016, then maybe I’ll stop doing it. I don’t want to influence the democratic process in a negative way.”

“I’m [hoping to make] people more informed, I don’t want to affect their motive because they trust the forecasters,” he added.

Political observers have often wondered about the extent to which the media’s constant attention on static polling might have an impact on voters’ political preferences, and it’s a legitimate question to ask. After all, with the media spending most of its time focusing on the “horse race” aspect of the race it’s logical to assume that at least some segment of voters might be influenced in to backing Candidate A not so much because they agree with him, but because it looks like he’s the one whose going to win. When that happens, the polls, and the media that cover them, become part of the story rather than just a mean of covering the race itself. So, it’s good to see Silver at least thinking about the possibility that his forecasting model, assuming it continues its current level of accuracy, could have a similar impact.

H/T: Taegan Goddard

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. I’ve gotten every presidential election right since I was in single digits the when Reagan won the second time, and every congressional, senate and governors race in the state I’ve been in since I was in college. Where’s my damn golden star?!? haha

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 6

  2. Franklin says:

    I’m glad he’s thoughtful about it, but if he doesn’t do it somebody else will. There’s no clear way around the fact that some people have a slight tendency to vote for whoever’s ahead in the polls, and it’s highly doubtful that polls will ever be banned.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  3. edmondo says:

    Looks like Nate Silver is taking himself wayyyyyyyy too seriously. That move to the New York Times is gonna kill him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 14

  4. bernieyeball says:

    I gotta’ wonder how a citizen being influenced by any pollster is somehow different than a voter swayed by the hot air expelled by political campaigns.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  5. al-Ameda says:

    Well I know that I personally would not have voted if not for Nate Silver – he called me and talked me out of not voting. So I can tell you that he definitely influences elections

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  6. Tillman says:

    It saddens me to think people would rather have the satisfaction of voting for a candidate who wins than voting for a candidate whose positions they support. It’s a secret ballot, it’s not like you can’t just lie about who you voted for after the fact.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  7. jd says:

    “I don’t want to affect their motive because they trust the forecasters,” he added.

    Unlike every other forecaster.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. Hal 10000 says:

    I understand the idea that silver’s projection may affect elections by making one side too cocky or too resigned. But to me, Nate Silver’s forecasting is like the scoreboard in a football game. It’s a semi-objective indication of where the teams are and how much ahead or behind each one is. The poll data is still going to exist and other groups will still put it together. Frankly, his statement sounds like someone saying they don’t want to keep score in a game because it might hurt someone’s feelings.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  9. PogueMahone says:

    As an atheist… I must say God bless Nate Silver.

    Mr. Silver, you ain’t and you never will effect the outcome of an election but by one vote.

    Cheers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  10. giantslor says:

    Then everyone will just follow Sam Wang, Pollster, etc.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  11. matt bernius says:

    @jd:

    “I don’t want to affect their motive because they trust the forecasters,” he added.

    Unlike every other forecaster.

    This is pretty much it. But, as the phrase goes — don’t hate the player, hate the game.

    I like Nate Silver. I think he’s a good person and his heart is in the right place. But the fact is that he has had/is going to continue to have, an effect on Presidential elections. That particular contract got signed on the dotted line when he moved 528 to the Times.

    Like it or not, we are effected by media. And we have been and continue to be affected by polling (at least at the margins). Why else would we get into such arguments about it? Why else would “unskewed polls” become such a hit?

    Rather than asking “Is Nate Silver effecting the race?,” the question should be “To what degree is Nate Silver effecting the race?” — of course, good luck trying to answer that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. superdestroyer says:

    What will lower the profile of Silver is the lack of competitive elections to write about. What happens if the Republican once again lose badly in 2016. How can someone have a long term career analyzing polling data if there are not enough competitive elections to justify polling and campaigns. What happens if most elections are like the crowning of Rahm Emanuel as mayor of Chicago from a couple of years ago. What would Silver have written about that election?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  13. This is definitely an ODD situtation!

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