I was going to let this analysis of the 2012 election go until I saw it was on the COVER of this week's New York Times Magazine. Since nobody else has had at it yet, I figure I could start, and then people who know more about statistics than I do (I teach American history, not something with numbers) have at it, but I think Nate Silver has gone over to the Friedman/Brooks school of interpreting American politics the way they want it to be rather than it is.
Okay. It's a long article, as cover stories of the Times Magazine go, and the actual title is "Is Obama Toast? Handicapping the 2012 Election" -- the straw man is set up. Why would he be toast? The debt-ceiling debates, the Anthony Weiner seat (Obama's Jewish problem), Obama's Black problem, and it all sounds a little concern-trollish, and then we get the three main problems:
• First, many of us understand that Barack Obama inherited a terrible predicament. We have a degree of sympathy for the man. But we have concerns, which have been growing over time, about whether he’s up to the job.
• Second, most of us are gravely concerned about the economy. We’re not certain what should be done about it, but we’re frustrated.
• Third, enough of us are prepared to vote against Obama that he could easily lose. It doesn’t mean we will, but we might if the Republican represents a credible alternative and fits within the broad political mainstream.
#2, maybe. But #1? Compared to George W. Bush? Is he kidding? And I threw up my hands at #3, as you know if you've been following my comments. Really. Which Republican? The centrist the Republicans will never nominate?
Then follows pages and pages of comparing Obama's performance in the polls with everyone from JFK on: approval ratings (beginning of term, end of third year, inconclusive), economic performance ("good news and bad news for Obama"), opponent's ideology (you can guess here). Nate then presents two models, the referendum model (will this be a referendum on the incumbent?) and the median voter model (the Third Way yet again), but, surprise, evidence suggests referendum. ANY history or political science teacher could tell you that (think the 1932 election and the 1980 election).
our view of the fundamentals focuses on two performance-based indicators for the incumbent president — approval ratings and economic growth — but only one variable related to the opposition candidate.
The variable for the opposition? Extremism. See 1972 for that. Then, we get four case studies. Romney and stagnant economy (Romney wins the popular vote with 83% probability), Romney and improving economy (Obama, 60% probablility), Perry and stagnant economy (Perry, 59%), and Perry and improving economy (Obama, 83% probability.
I won't bother with his conclusion, in which he defends the idea Obama has a 50/50 chance (we needed six pages of statistical analysis for this?). I's actually all fine and predictable until the four scenarios, which I read with increasing amazement. Seriously, dude, the popular vote? Gore would have been president in 2000 if the popular vote counted for anything.
Come back when you understand how the Electoral College works, Nate, and when you've done all the state-by-state work that would reflect you understood it. If this was a Procrustes Bed situation with your editors, I apologize if some of this sounded snarky, but I don't think that's what this was here.