What do you do when the polls uniformly start moving against your favorite candidate? Obviously, make a silly attack attempting to undermine one of the most sophisticated (and popular) polling analysts (no offense to the folks at DailyKos Elections). Moe Lane of RedState must be straddling the "denial" and "anger" stages of the Five Stages of Grief because he laid out a fairly incompetent attack on Nate Silver and his "Five Thirty Eight" blog. This is all in support of the conspiracy theory that bad polling data is just a liberal plot to destroy conservative enthusiasm. I am not making that up.
I'm not going to ask to you actually visit RedState. So I'll just review the "argument" below.
Moe Lane starts:
Nate Silver is a political blogger – specialty; polls and polling – with both a devoted following and a sweet gig doing poll matters for the New York Times.I first became a fan of Nate Silver when he was writing for Baseball Prospectus, where for years his PECOTA player projection system was easily the most accurate forecasting system for baseball player performance. So, sorry Moe, Silver's predictive abilities are not largely due to his performance in the 2008 election cycle.
Silver has both because he enjoys a reputation as having a keen insight into the polling process, and an enviable track record at predicting results.
If you drill down on that, you quickly realize that Silver’s predictive abilities are largely due to his performance in the 2008 election cycle; during the 2010 cycle his earliest predictions about Congress (and his insights about how Republicans were thinking about the issues) first turned out to be laughably bad, then became extremely low-key until it became clear to EVERYBODY that the Republicans were going to win big. Still, getting 2008 right is good, yes?
That aside, the real incompetence is in his choice of links. His links for "... 2010 cycle his earliest predictions about Congress ..." and "... turned out to be laughably bad ..." refer to two posts from January 2009. Not only was this 21 months before the election, but it wasn't even a prediction - it was simply a criticism of Republican tactics. In fact, he finished with this observation:
Thus the Republicans, arguably, are in something of a death spiral. The more conservative, partisan, and strident their message becomes, the more they alienate non-base Republicans. But the more they alienate non-base Republicans, the fewer of them are left to worry about appeasing. Thus, their message becomes continually more appealing to the base -- but more conservative, partisan, and strident to the rest of us. And the process loops back upon itself.Maybe it shouldn't surprise Moe Lane that Congressional Republicans have had historically bad approval ratings.
The other link, " ... his insights about how Republicans were thinking about the issues ..." also doesn't really support his point. This post came after Obamacare passed. Silver's point was that, even Republicans would admit, the Democrats were better of passing the bill rather than investing all the effort with no result. So, Silver wasn't offering any insight into Republican thinking - he was only making the point that once you invest yourself in Health Care reform, you'd better have something to show for it.
So, as you can see, Moe is struggling to find evidence in support of his point that Nate Silver sucks at forecasting elections. But then he gets to his central thesis that Nate Silver only got 2008 right because he got proprietary information from the Obama campaign - and therefore he's an unethical hack.
While it is true that Silver received polling information from the Obama campaign. There are two hilarious facts Moe totally fails to reveal.
First, if Moe were being honest he'd mention why the Obama campaign contacted Silver:
Obama's polling analysts, Issenberg writes, wanted to test their internal polls against Silver's model. And so — in an unusual step for the closely-held campaign, and for the analyst, who was then running his own website, FiveThirtyEight.com — the Obama campaign offered Silver access to thousands of its own internal polls, on the condition Silver sign a confidentiality agreement, which he did. (Silver, who now writes a widely-read blog for the New York Times declined to comment on the arrangement.)Kinda blows a hole in two of Moe's points. If Silver is such a hack, why did the Obama campaign come to him for validation? Second, if this is all a big conspiracy to undermine conservative enthusiasm - why was Silver's projection so accurate?
"We wanted a little external validation that what we were seeing is what was actually going on," Michael Simon, a former Obama aide, told Issenberg.
Which lead to the second fact which Moe fails to note. Implicit in this whole "Obama gave Silver his proprietary polling data so that Silver could make predictions that undermined conservative enthusiasm" argument is that Obama's polling data was super accurate. Hey, Moe, you know what the Obama campaign could've done that would have made this a whole lot easier? They could've just released their own polling data! That way you avoid the elaborate conspiracy.
Now, what's Moe's main point here? As best I can discern, it means that we should all ignore Silver because ... I'm not sure. Nate's real strength isn't his forecasting system as much as it's his gift for explaining what the data is, and isn't, telling us. All his analysis derives from publicly available data. So, to for Moe Lane, Silver once had contact with the Obama campaign and that means he's a partisan who's ideas can safely be ignored.
I think one lesson here (other than conservatives are stupid and Mitt is clearly loosing and they know it), is that conservatives tend to see the world in a "for-us-or-against-us" paradigm. There is the explicitly conservative media, and everyone else is essentially liberal because they're not conservative. There is no room or "non-partisan" or "objective" in this formulation. Therefore, any inconvenient news can be written off and they can be safe in their little echo-chamber.
Of course, even the most non-partisan and objective sources will stumble on unconscious biases. But the point is, just because someone isn't on your side does not mean he's working against you. Let's be careful not to make the same mistake, and avoid sounding as stupid Moe Lane.