Thursday, June 7, 2012

Nate Silver's Tricky Math Is Cool

Nate Silver's presidential race model is now out and the writeup is worth a full read. Lots and lots of really interesting and clever ways of looking at the race.

A couple of quick reactions on things that jump out at me:

1) Silver's model generates probabilities that look an awful lot like the things I've been saying here throughout the campaign. I think you can fairly summarize what I've been saying as "Obama is a modest favorite." Silver summarized his model's message this way:
The first look at the 2012 FiveThirtyEight presidential forecast has Barack Obama as a very slight favorite to win re-election. But his advantage equates to only a two-point lead in the national popular vote, and the edge could easily swing to Mitt Romney on the basis of further bad economic news.

Mr. Obama remains slightly ahead of Mr. Romney in most national polls, and he has had a somewhat clearer advantage in polling conducted at the state level. Mr. Obama would be about 80 percent likely to win an election held today, according to the model.

However, the outlook for the Nov. 6 election is much less certain, with Mr. Obama having winning odds of just over 60 percent. The forecast currently calls for Mr. Obama to win roughly 290 electoral votes, but outcomes ranging everywhere from about 160 to 390 electoral votes are plausible, given the long lead time until the election and the amount of news that could occur between now and then. Both polls and economic indicators are a pretty rough guide five months before an election.
So, I'd sum that up by saying that Silver's model is just a hair less bullish on Obama's prospects than I am.

2) If you read what I wrote yesterday about Wisconsin, you won't find much different in what Silver's model had to say today about Wisconsin.
although Republicans might be tempted to make a play for Wisconsin after winning the gubernatorial recall election there on Tuesday, the model suggests that it is over-hyped as a swing state. Mr. Obama has had a fairly consistent lead in the polls there, including in the exit poll among voters who turned out on Tuesday. Although Mr. Obama is unlikely to win Wisconsin by 14 points, as he did in 2008, all indications from the polls are that the state remains somewhat more favorable to him than the country as a whole
3) One of the more interesting things about Silver's model is that it estimates the likelihood that a state will be the "tipping point," the state that tips the election. If you've been reading here, you're familiar with this general idea and I was just pointing out the other day that Florida is highly unlikely to be the state that ultimately determines the winner of the election. How unlikely? Silver's model provides a number and it is 3.7%. I've been saying Ohio is the whole ballgame and Silver's model agrees ... at least it is the state that is most likely to be the tipping point at 31.0%. Virginia is next most likley at 24.3%. In other words, there is a greater than 50% chance Ohio or Virginia will determine the outcome in November.

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