On election night, Nate Silver was right about nearly everything, says Stephanie Clifford in The New York Times. Silver, a 30-year-old statistics geek, is the Chicago-based creator of FiveThirtyEight.com, a blog on which he used a sophisticated blend of every poll available to forecast much of the 2008 election with uncanny accuracy. Silver correctly predicted that Barack Obama would win the popular vote over John McCain, 52 percent to 46 percent; he also called 49 of the 50 states’ results correctly. “From a marketing standpoint, I’d rather hedge a little bit more,” he says, “but we’re the ones who are bold enough to say what the polls translate into.” More than 5 million people visited his site on election night. Silver, a numbers wizard since he was a kid, started off using his talents to predict the performance of baseball teams and players. Silver turned to politics late last year after growing frustrated by prevailing poll analysis. “There is so much hyperventilation when a poll moves in one way or another,” he says. “People tend to look at polls that are outliers.” His methodology weights polls based on past accuracy and whether they tend to favor Republicans or Democrats. “It’s only when you take the polls into context,” he says, “that they tell you a story.”
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The nerd who called the election
November 14, 2008
of The Week magazine.