What a long strange journey it’s been….and we’re not even done yet! With more than half of this year’s primaries in the rearview mirror and the next contest over a week away, now is a good time to catch our breaths and take stock of who the winners and losers of 2016 have been so far.
No, I’m not talking about the candidates. I’m talking about election-predicting pundits like yours truly.
The most exciting storyline of the campaign so far has been the cutthroat battle among election forecasters to find out who can predict the results of the primaries with the most accuracy. This year has seen flashy performances from young upstarts like Bing Predicts and Tyler Pedigo, who projected Bernie Sanders’ upset victory in Michigan. But just like the number of Presidential hopefuls is whittled down by each vote, the fight for the crown of Elections King has come down to just two contenders: CAFE’s Carl Diggler and FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver.
Yes, I had some predictions that didn’t turn out last year. I allowed my emotional response to Martin O’Malley’s physical appearance to convince me he was on a fast track to world domination, and he dropped out after Iowa. I persistently waited for Jeb to show the polls were underrating him and his cool alpha swagger, but he dropped out after losing three contests. And it looks like Hillary Clinton’s arrest for e-mail crimes won’t take place at least until the convention, not earlier as I had projected.
But my flubs pale in comparison to the rotten eggs Nate has been laying since last year. Take this FiveThirtyEight headline from July 2015: Bernie Sanders Could Win Iowa And New Hampshire. Then Lose Everywhere Else. Or this one from August: The Bernie Sanders Surge Appears To Be Over. Embarrassingly wrong, right? Now compare with my downright prophetic piece from October, How the “Bernie Baby” Will Ruin Our America, in which I was one of the first pundits to sound the alarm about misogynist Sanders supporters’ harassment of my hypothetical daughter.
Then there’s this Silver article from August 2015, Donald Trump Is Winning The Polls — And Losing The Nomination. While the FiveThirtyEight gang was counting out Trumpmentum, this veteran reporter was reporting on the Donald’s viral strengths. Take my debate report card from November 2015, where I keenly noted how Trump “reiterated that Mexican immigrants are criminals and should be forced out of the U.S. at gunpoint. It was certifiable ROFL after LMAO for Mr. Trump.” And who could forget my in-depth analysis from October, when I had the foresight to explain that “Donald Trump is Lando Calrissian, a ruthless, jive-talking entrepreneur who always says what’s on his mind. Like Lando, Trump is constantly switching allegiances and usually coming out on top.” I was also there on the frontlines, suffering for my reporting and getting my Hellenic Inner Ear Syndrome triggered by The Donald’s ruthless attacks.
Yet the most criminal dereliction of duty committed by the rogue Nate Silver is his cowardly refusal to offer a prediction for over a third of the primary contests so far. His vaunted “polls-plus” primary forecast machine has only tried to guess the outcome of a mere 42 contests. The Dig, meanwhile, has ventured a prediction for fully 69 races so far, getting them right a superhuman 86% of the time (87% if a likely recount changes the Missouri result). I boldly called the Minnesota, Washington, and American Samoa races while Nate Silver and the FiveThirtyEight stat cuckolds threw up their hands and cried because there was no polling. It was a crucible of fire and blood. I passed with flying colors.
Truly, Nate Silver’s cravenness runs deeper than his failure to call fully 27 of the tough races that I have called. He has gone so far as to tout the supposed accuracy of his website’s “polls-only” forecasts:
The favorite in the FiveThirtyEight “polls-only” forecast has gone 38-4 so far. Misses: MI-Dem; IA, OK, KS-GOP. https://t.co/7NpJj1N4ln
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) March 23, 2016
Haha, you read that right — he said “polls-only,” not “polls-plus.” What Nate leaves out is that “polls-only” is just a weighted average of polls. Any idiot nerd with a slide rule and pocket protector can do that (and indeed they do, on his website (by which I mean, they are the nerds)). Instead FiveThirtyEight’s record rests on its vaunted “polls-plus” forecast, a faulty statistical model which has done even worse than just averaging the polls. Either way, both methods completely failed to predict such stunning upsets as Ted Cruz winning the Iowa and Kansas caucuses and Bernie Sanders coming in on top in Oklahoma — which I called. To get those results, you don’t need numbers. You need gut.
It’s halftime in the primaries, and the race between The Dig and pathetic empty suit Nate Silver is virtually tied (if you go only by batting average, and ignore my singular courage to actually call every race). But it has not been an even match so far. Here I have been slaving away at my desk surrounded by empty cups of Sanka, tirelessly poring over birth records and racial science journals, all so I can give my readers the best damn prediction in every single race from Guam to Georgia. Meanwhile, little Nate Silver has been lounging around, leaving the office early to go to model train conventions or calculator button expos or whatever it is he does on his days off. It just isn’t a fair fight if only one side is actually fighting.
I have a challenge for Mr. Silver: call every single race from here on out. No slacking on Wyoming, Rhode Island, Delaware, or North Dakota. No hiding behind the “statistical modeling.” Use your gut for once in your life and call these states without polls, and we’ll see who’s the man and who’s the coward.
And no more hiding behind probabilities either, Nate. When you make calls like “Hillary has a 51% chance of winning,” you shamefully weasel out of having to make a real decision, and everyone can see it. At times when I have been right and you have been wrong, I have suffered the FiveThirtyEightheads coming into my mentions to spout nonsense like “well actually, Nate said there was a 21% chance of this happening, therefore he’s right no matter what happens blah blah.”
You are welcome to keep disrespecting your readers, Nate, but the Digheads won’t be fooled. Pick exactly one candidate to win each contest, publish it on Twitter or your site, and I’ll do the same.
This is for the crown, Nate. It is time for you to man up and respect the process. Have some honor and accept my duel. The North Dakota Republican convention is this weekend. The Wisconsin primaries are Tuesday. I’ll be calling them. Will you?
Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years, and is the author of “Think-ocracy: The Rise Of The Brainy Congressman”. Got a question for the Dig? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet to @carl_diggler.
To try CAFE’s Morning Shot email, sign up here.