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Election 2012: Has Nate Silver destroyed punditry?


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Heading into the next election cycle, more and more media outlets will want their own Nate Silvers. After all, in the run-up to Election Day, 20 percent of all New York Times web visits included a stop at Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog. In that sense Silver has dented the old way of doing things, which may never be quite the same. The future of political journalism includes more numbers. We, um, veteran types will have to get used to that fact.

But the Dick Morrises of the world aren’t going away either. In today’s polarized media landscape, one purpose is to inform, but another is to make the news consumer feel comfortable. Fox News will give lots of air time to pundits who just happen to lean Republican. MSNBC will do the same for liberals. Viewers who want to break out of partisan closed-feedback loops will need to try to discern which “experts” know what they’re talking about and which are just repeating what they think the partisan skew of the audience demands.

Because – and here’s our last point – it’s really about time that journalism stepped up its performance in this area. The politicians themselves adopted a quantification-heavy approach to their business long ago. In terms of voter analysis, microtargeting, and other techniques they’re far beyond what the media discusses. In the book “Moneyball,” Michael Lewis wrote how statistics revolutionized baseball. Well, the “Voterball” revolution is upon us, if it hasn’t already occurred.

Why do you think Mitt Romney went to Pennsylvania on the campaign’s last weekend? Given the scope of his loss, it’s clear he wasn’t trying to run up his score or force Obama to play defense in the state. No, he knew he was quite likely to lose Ohio, and Pennsylvania provided the slim chance of an alternate path to 270 electoral votes. That’s what his quants told him. Dick Morris? He was out of the loop.


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