Nate Silver might not be a household name, but he is receiving much attention this election season given his astoundingly accurate prediction in the 2008 election.
Silver, who began his career calculating political statistics blogging for the Daily Kos and now is blogging for The New York Times, accurately predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states in 2008. So it's no wonder pundits are eager to see Silver's election forecast this year.
His predictions for this election come with some surprises, including that the 2008 voter make-up – strongly non-white and young – will again come out to the polls in similar numbers, and that President Obama has a 77.4 percent chance of winning the election. Some data, however, have predicted that young, non-white voter turnout will drop this year and that President Obama is tied with Republican contender Mitt Romney.
"Prediction is the name of Silver's game, the basis for his celebrity," wrote Dylan Byers in his Monday column in Politico. "So should Mitt Romney win on Nov. 6, it's difficult to see how people can continue to put faith in the predictions of someone who has never given that candidate anything higher than a 41 percent chance of winning (way back on June 2) and – one week from the election – gives him a one-in-four chance, even as the polls have him almost neck-and-neck with the incumbent."
Silver responded to Byers comments, attempting to explain his methodology using another of his favorite pastimes: sports.
"Romney, clearly, could still win," Silver told Politico. "If the Giants lead the Redskins 24-21 in the fourth quarter, it's a close game that either team could win. But it's also not a 'toss-up': The Giants are favored. It's the same principle here: Obama is ahead in the polling averages in states like Ohio that would suffice for him to win the Electoral College. Hence, he's the favorite," Silver said.
Despite the criticisms Silver is receiving – and they are mounting as the election nears – he is standing by his latest projections (updated at noon on 10/31) that Obama will win 299 electoral votes to Romney's 239. He is also predicting that Obama will receive 50.4 percent of the popular vote to Romney's 48.5 percent.
"Mr. Obama's lead in the Electoral College is modest, but also quite consistent across the different methods," wrote Silver in his first post on Wednesday. "The states in which every site has Mr. Obama leading make up 271 electoral votes – one more than the president needs to clinch victory. The states in which everyone has Mr. Romney ahead represent 206 electoral votes. That leaves five states, and 61 electoral votes, unaccounted for – but Mr. Obama would not need them if he prevails in the states where he is leading in the polls."
Some pundits are coming to Silver's defense, including Ezra Klein of The Washington Post. Klein does not think that Silver's analysis is out of line with the numbers others are giving Obama.
"As of this writing, Silver thinks Obama has a 75 percent chance of winning the election," Klein wrote in his column on Tuesday. "That might seem a bit high, but note that the BetFair markets give him a 67.8 percent chance, the InTrade markets give him a 61.7 percent chance and the Iowa Electronic Markets give him a 61.8 percent chance. And we know from past research that political betting markets are biased toward believing elections are more volatile in their final weeks than they actually are. So Silver's estimate doesn't sound so off."
But regardless of what people are saying, if Obama wins it will likely give Silver an even larger platform from which to call future political races. But if Romney wins, then Silver can just say that the underdog came from behind in the fourth quarter.
"I'm sure that I have a lot riding on the outcome. I'm also sure I'll get too much credit if the prediction is right and too much blame if it is wrong," Silver told BuzzFeed on Tuesday.