Nate Silver's First Presidential Election Forecast Is Out, and Democrats Are Losing Their Minds

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

How things change. During the Obama era, election forecaster Nate Silver was a darling of the Democratic Party. He was the official numbers cruncher for The New York Times and would go on to create one of the two most popular polling aggregate sites.

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Things started to shift in 2016, though. Despite still giving Hillary Clinton a 70+ percent chance to beat Donald Trump, Silver was accused of bias for not calling the election a wrap as some others had. We all know how that turned out, and since then, Silver has progressively fallen out of favor with the press and the left. Is it because he's become "right-wing?" No, he's still the same left-leaning guy he's always been, but contradicting the narrative, even through mere data aggregation, means he had to be cast out.

Silver is now out with his first 2024 presidential election forecast, and it gives Trump a shockingly high 66 percent chance to win the election as things stand.

When faced with such a dip, the right response is to be concerned and look for areas to change the dynamic. How did Democrats respond? By lashing out and personally attacking Silver.

The idea that Silver has been "wrong" and has, therefore, been discredited has been a common refrain. Is it true, though? The simple answer is that it's not. His final forecast of the 2020 election gave Joe Biden an 89 percent chance of winning. I understand skepticism of any forecasting as it's not an exact science and will inevitably be inaccurate to some degree, but it's hard to make the case that Silver has been off the deep end the last eight years. He seems to let his model do the talking, and that's happening once again. 

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Silver was prepared for the criticism. In fact, he pre-emptively addressed it in his write-up about the latest forecast. 

Wouldn’t it be suspicious if, in the first presidential cycle where the Democrat has consistently trailed in polls since 2004, I suddenly started telling you that you should trust vibes rather than polls? Or if I chucked out my heretofore well-performing model for a new one that had Biden favored — or at least had the election as a toss-up? 

Yes, of course. It would be a sign that I’d become a hack. I’ve spent years telling people that, although polls are often wrong — indeed, inevitably wrong to some degree — it’s hard to predict the direction of polling error. Biden could easily overachieve his current polls — but it’s roughly as likely that he’ll underachieve them instead. It’s sort of a myth that Democrats outperformed their polls in 2022, but they certainly performed better than the conventional wisdom held. But Trump substantially outperformed his polls in 2016 and 2020. Going by the polls, perhaps along with some reasonable priors about things like the economy, is a lot better than going by the number of yard signs in your neighborhood or by what your friends think — or especially by what you hope will happen.

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At the end of the day, no one knows what will happen with any certainty, but Silver takes a variety of data and feeds it into a model that doesn't take into account vibes and feelings. Had he massaged things to give Democrats the outcome they wanted, he would have indeed become a hack. Maybe every poll is systematically overestimating Trump and underestimating Biden, but for now, those are the numbers we have. In short, if you have to claim without evidence that almost every other data point is wrong, you're probably losing.

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