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Election 2012: Has Nate Silver destroyed punditry?

Some pundits were woefully inaccurate in their Election 2012 predictions, but those who relied on data – like Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog – did well. 'Moneyball' has come to punditry.

By Staff writer / November 7, 2012

TV announcers do live shots from President Obama's victory party at McCormick Place in Chicago Tuesday.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor


Has Nate Silver destroyed punditry? This question arises due to New York Times poll analyst Mr. Silver’s accuracy in predicting the 2012 election results and the media context in which that occurred.

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For weeks now, some in the traditional punditocracy – the folks who look at a poll, call a campaign official, then consult their gut feelings over lunch – have hammered Silver for his statistics-heavy approach. He gave a false appearance of certainty, they said. He was way too bullish on President Obama’s chances, they said. His numbers were skewed, they said.

The classic exposition of these views was “Nate Silver: One-term celebrity?” a piece by Politico’s Dylan Byers published on October 29.

Then came the actual voting. Silver got all 50 states right, down to his last-minute prediction that Florida would be a virtual tie.

Traditional pundit George Will of The Washington Post opinion section? He forecast that Mitt Romney would win with 321 electoral votes. Wrong!

New York Post pundit Dick Morris? He said Romney would win with 325 electoral votes. Wrong again!

CNBC pundit/host Jim Cramer? He thought Obama would roll up 440 electoral votes. We’ve gone over the states several times and we don’t see how that’s even mathematically possible.

Given this disparity, has the venerable art form of political punditry been discredited beyond redemption?

We’ve got some thoughts on that, surprise, surprise. The first is that it’s easy to make pundits look like witch doctors. All you have to do is cherry-pick the worst predictions, which we’ve done above, and suddenly a whole class of cable news analysts appears foolish.

Some pundits were right, or at least more right than Mr. Morris. Ron Brownstein of the National Journal had Obama to win, but a low predicted total of 288 electoral votes, for example. Donna Brazile of the Democratic National Committee said Obama would get 313 electoral votes, which was pretty close to what happened.

Slate has a fun dart-board graphic of pundit hits and misses, which you can peruse here.


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