FiveThirtyEight’s Prediction Model Is Failing in the Clinton-Trump Race — That’s According to Its Guru, Nate Silver

Trump’s path is precarious and not one other professional election handicapper records the seismic shift in Trump’s chances that FiveThirtyEight does.


Author:Arun Gupta/Raw Story

Emphasis Mine

Telling political junkies to stop obsessively is likely to be met by the same hollow-eyed stare from a lab rat that spends its day clicking a lever for bumps of cocaine.

(N.B.: that’s me)

The internet venerates the website’s founder, Nate Silver, as “America’s Chief Wizard” after his statistical polling model correctly predicted the results of the 2012 presidential contest in every state and the District of Columbia. But Silver’s fans are freaking out as Trump’s chance of winning has tripled in two weeks.

However, the wild swings toward Trump are more a sign that an orange-furred monkey wrench has jammed FiveThirtyEight’s soothsaying machine than a candidate who is detested by nearly 60 percent of voters is suddenly floating to the top of the 2016 shitshow. Trump can win and possible hacking of the electoral process increase unpredictability, but his path is still precarious and not one other professional election handicapper records the seismic shift in Trump’s chances that FiveThirtyEight does.

To Silver’s credit, he’s cast doubts on his poll-based forecasting this year. He mentions the lag time in how polls react to dramatic news such as the FBI’s email bombshell. He highlighted a survey showing little movement in voter preferences since January 2016. FiveThirtyEight also notes, “Trump supporters are more likely than Clinton voters to make it through the likely voter screens, indicating they are more vocal and enthusiastic in their support.” In other words, it’s likely Comey’s ill-advised letter about Clinton’s emails has depressed pro-Clinton respondents in polling more than it will at the voting booth. On the flip side, after Clinton’s average lead stretched to 7.1 percent in mid-October, this was likely affected by Trump supporters shunning pollsters, particularly after Trump’s rants about a rigged media, rigged polls, and a rigged election.

If you’re hell-bent on checking FiveThirtyEight constantly (as I still do), then it’s worth keeping in mind reasons why a Clinton victory is likelier than Silver’s model predicts.

The main issue is FiveThirtyEight works best when electoral coalitions are well-defined and change slowly as they have been since Bill Clinton was in office. Trump has scrambled all that, however, and analyzing polls cannot account for rapid demographic shifts. Trump’s bastion of working-class white men includes significant numbers of Democrats who’ve crossed over since 2012. But he’s alienated typically Republican college-educated whites and spurred LatinosAsians, and Muslims to mobilize in record numbers to defeat him. And the gender gap is wider than ever, with women favoring Clinton over Trump by an average of 16 points in October polls. The focus on Trump’s working-class support also misses one crucial aspecta majority of the white working class is female, and they began rejecting Trump after the Access Hollywood tape scandal. This overlaps with remarkable geographic shift in which Democrats are quickly gaining ground in Sunbelt states that were a redoubt of Reagan conservatism, while traditional Democratic strongholds are crumbling in Midwest regions that are older, white and working class.

These groups are huge at a national scale, but fine-grained detail disappears in polls of a thousand respondents. FiveThirtyEight apparently doesn’t include polls that could clarify the picture by zeroing in on groups such as Latino voters, who favor Clinton by an astonishing 48-point gap. Most public polls are marked by shoddier methodology that amplify small swings as opposed to internal campaign polling that show more stability.

Two other significant reasons why FiveThirtyEight overestimates Trump’s chances is early voting and get out the vote. More than 35 million Americans have already voted, which is 28 percent of the total vote in 2012. In nearly every battleground state early voting is outpacing last election, meaning Clinton banked millions of votes when her numbers were peaking. One poll of early voters indicates Clinton is ahead by enough 5 points, which is enough to tack on a 1.3 percent advantage in the final election results.

Many of these factors are evident in Nevada. FiveThirtyEight shows Trump neck and neck with Clinton, but Silver says early voting shows a six-point gap favoring Democratic voters. This discrepancy is consistent with FiveThirtyEight’s failure to predict Harry Reid’s 2010 Senate re-election and its underestimate of Obama’s 2012 victory margin. Six years ago Reid edged out Tea Party kook, Sharron Angle, thanks to an extraordinary turnout machine he’s built after more than 30 years in public office. Nevada also has its own election oracle in reporter John Ralston, who correctly called the two races Silver flubbed. Ralston’s dive into 622,000 votes already cast, which already accounts for 61 percent of 2012 totals, bears grim tidings for Trump even in best-case scenarios.

If Trump loses Nevada, Silver says he wins in only 9 percent of scenarios. That’s a far cry from the 35 percent mark Trump just touched. Trump’s campaign looks to be treating Nevada as a lost cause as he eyes richer electoral prizes like Michigan and Wisconsin that are even further out of his grasp. Even if Trump wins Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Arizona, North Carolina, and New Hampshire, he still loses the election. So he needs to wrestle a Midwestern state away from Clinton.

That’s unlikely as Trump is paying the price for outsourcing get-out-the-vote operations. GOTV is warfare through electoral means and requires a command staff, hundreds of offices, tens of thousands of paid staff and volunteers, and coordination both strategic and minute with the campaign. Trump has none of that. A month before the election, FiveThirtyEight counted 2.5 Clinton field offices for every one of Trump’s. His campaign is also plagued by chaotic websites and offices listed in demolished buildings. Field offices can’t be thrown up like lawn signs, and in battleground states a ground game could add as much as three to five points.

Clinton’s GOTV is robust enough to target strongly Democratic but low-propensity voters. Silver points out polls can’t factor this in. For example, one organization in Florida has dispatched 500 paid canvassers to the field for months to activate a pool of 384,000 Latino voters. Trump is also outmuscled by unions spending hundreds of millions of dollars and deploying thousands of full-time canvassers for Democrats. These efforts are yielding dividends among Latinos in Arizona and Asian-Americans in Nevada. And Michigan’s Arab-American and Muslim-American firewall will easily keep Trump at bay there.

Democrats are hand-wringing over declining African-American turnout, and this has put North Carolina and Ohio in peril, but the surge from women, college-educated, and racial minorities from Virginia to Nevada will offset this deficit. Republicans are already embroiled in civil war, which is damaging Trump in Wisconsin and Utah. Democrats are united and feature a stellar array of surrogates on the hustings, such as the Obamas, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Tim Kaine, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and an A-list of celebrities. Donald Trump has the Pharma Bro, an underwear model, a disgraced baseball star, and a felonious “Real Housewife.”

There is also no evidence of “shy” Trump voters that polls allegedly fail to register. And Trump’s attempts to activate whites who normally don’t vote looks to be a dud as well. An analysis of newly registered and “missing” voters favoring Clinton. Even if there is a hidden upsurge for Trump, it’s unlikely to overcome all these obstacles.

Silver cautions as well that the history of presidential elections and scientific polling is so scanty in terms of data that it’s dicey to draw any broad-based conclusions. For instance, conventional wisdom says as goes Ohio, so goes the nation. But Trump looks set to win Ohio and lose the general election, a first in 14 straight presidential races.

(N.B.: not so fast – our ground game may win Ohio)

FiveThirtyEight’s model worked fantastically well when the sailing was smooth, but it is foundering in the violent seas of 2016. The Cook Political Report, the brainchild of  the dean of election forecasting, Charles Cook, observes that despite Clinton’s eleventh-hour woes, “The race has tightened to its ‘natural resting place’ with a 2-4 point lead for Clinton,” while Trump’s “path to 270 electoral votes remains decidedly and almost impossibly narrow.”

The best prediction of how the 2016 campaign ends is likelier to be a metaphor than math: Hillary Clinton’s near-collapse at the September 11 memorial where her entire team mobilized to shield her and carry her over the finish line. And no statistical model can predict a moment like that.

Arun Gupta is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York and has written for dozens of publications including the Washington Post, the Nation, The Progressive, Telesur English, and the Guardian. He is the author of the upcoming Bacon as a Weapon of Mass Destruction: A Junk-Food-Loving Chef’s Inquiry into Taste (The New Press).


What Hillary Clinton Should Say about Islam and the “War on Terror”

The following is part of a speech that I think Hillary Clinton should deliver between now and November. Its purpose is to prevent a swing toward Trump by voters who find Clinton’s political correctness on the topic of Islam and jihadism a cause for concern, especially in the aftermath of any future terrorist attacks in the U.S. or Europe.

Source and Author: Sam Harris

Emphasis Mine

The following is part of a speech that I think Hillary Clinton should deliver between now and November. Its purpose is to prevent a swing toward Trump by voters who find Clinton’s political correctness on the topic of Islam and jihadism a cause for concern, especially in the aftermath of any future terrorist attacks in the U.S. or Europe.—SH

Today, I want to talk about one of the most important and divisive issues of our time—the link between the religion of Islam and terrorism. I want you to know how I view it and how I will think about it as President. I also want you to understand the difference between how I approach this topic and how my opponent in this presidential race does.

The underlying issue—and really the most important issue of this or any time—is human cooperation. What prevents it, and what makes it possible? In November, you will be electing a president, not an emperor of the world. The job of the president of the United States, even with all the power at her or his disposal, is to get people, both at home and abroad, to cooperate to solve a wide range of complex problems. Your job is to pick the person who seems most capable of doing that.

In the past, I’ve said that groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda have nothing to do with Islam. And President Obama has said the same. This way of speaking has been guided by the belief that if we said anything that could be spun as confirming the narrative of groups like ISIS—suggesting that the West is hostile to the religion of Islam, if only to its most radical strands—we would drive more Muslims into the arms of the jihadists and the theocrats, preventing the very cooperation we need to win a war of ideas against radical Islam. I now see this situation differently. I now believe that we have been selling most Muslims short. And I think we are all paying an unacceptable price for not speaking clearly about the link between specific religious ideas and the sectarian hatred that is dividing the Muslim world.

All of us, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, must oppose the specific ideas within the Islamic tradition that inspire groups like ISIS and the so-called “lone-wolf” attacks we’ve now seen in dozens of countries, as well as the social attitudes that are at odds with our fundamental values—values like human rights, and women’s rights, and gay rights, and freedom of speech. These values are non-negotiable.

But I want to be very clear about something: Bigotry against Muslims, or any other group of people, is unacceptable. It is contrary to the values that have made our society a beacon of freedom and tolerance for the rest of the world. It is also totally counterproductive from a security point of view. However, talking about the consequences of ideas is not bigotry. Muslims are people—and most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims simply want to live in peace like the rest of us. Islam, however, is a set of ideas. And all ideas are fit to be discussed and criticized in the 21st century.

Every religious community must interpret its scripture and adjust its traditions to conform to the modern world. Western Christians used to murder people they believed were witches. They did this for centuries. It’s hard to exaggerate the depths of moral and intellectual confusion this history represents. But it is also true that we have largely outgrown such confusion in the West. The texts themselves haven’t changed. The Bible still suggests that witchcraft is real. It isn’t. And we now know that a belief in witches was the product of ancient ignorance and fear. Criticizing a belief in witchcraft, and noticing its connection to specific atrocities—atrocities that are still committed by certain groups of Christians in Africa—isn’t a form of bigotry against Christians. It’s the only basis for moral and political progress.

One thing is undeniable: Islam today is in desperate need of reform. We live in a world where little girls are shot in the head or have acid thrown in their faces for the crime of learning to read. We live in a world where a mere rumor that a book has been defaced can start riots in a dozen countries. We live in a world in which people reliably get murdered over cartoons, and blog posts, and beauty pageants—even the mere naming of a teddy bear. I’m now convinced that we have to talk about this with less hesitancy and more candor than we’ve shown in the past. Muslims everywhere who love freedom must honestly grapple with the challenges that a politicized strand of their religion poses to free societies. And we must support them in doing so. Otherwise, our silence will only further empower bigots and xenophobes. That is dangerous. We are already seeing the rise of the far right in Europe. And we are witnessing the coalescence of everything that’s still wrong with America in the candidacy of Donald Trump.

Now, it is true that this politicized strain of Islam is a source of much of the world’s chaos and intolerance at this moment. But it is also true that no one suffers more from this chaos and intolerance than Muslims themselves. Most victims of terrorism are Muslim; the women who are forced to wear burkhas or are murdered in so-called “honor killings” are Muslim; the men who are thrown from rooftops for being born gay are Muslim. Most of the people the world over who can’t even dream of speaking or writing freely are Muslim. And modern, reform-minded Muslims, most of all, want to uproot the causes of this needless misery and conflict.

In response to terrorist atrocities of the sort that we witnessed in Paris, Nice, and Orlando, we need to honestly acknowledge that we are fighting not generic terrorism but a global jihadist insurgency. The first line of defense against this evil is and always will be members of the Muslim community who refuse to put up with it. We need to empower them in every way we can. Only cooperation between Muslims and non-Muslims can solve these problems. If you are concerned about terrorism, if you are concerned about homeland security, if you are concerned about not fighting unnecessary wars and winning necessary ones, if you are concerned about human rights globally, in November you must elect a president who can get people in a hundred countries to cooperate to solve an extraordinarily difficult and polarizing problem—the spread of Islamic extremism. This is not a job that a president can do on Twitter.

I want to say a few words on the topics of immigration and the resettlement of refugees: The idea of keeping all Muslims out of the United States, which my opponent has been proposing for months, is both impractical and unwise. It’s one of those simple ideas—like building a wall and deporting 11 million undocumented workers—that doesn’t survive even a moment’s scrutiny. More important, if you think about this purely from the point of view of American security, you realize that we want Muslims in our society who are committed to our values. Muslims like Captain Humayun Khan, who died protecting his fellow American soldiers from a suicide bomber in Iraq. Or his father, Khizr Khan, who spoke so eloquently in defense of American values at the Democratic National Convention. Muslims who share our values are, and always will be, the best defense against Islamists and jihadists who do not.

That’s one reason why the United States is faring so much better than Europe is. We have done a much better job of integrating our Muslim community and honoring its religious life. Muslims in America are disproportionately productive and prosperous members of our society. They love this country—with good reason. Very few of them have any sympathy for the ideology of our enemies. We want secular, enlightened, liberal Muslims in America. They are as much a part of the fabric of this society as anyone else. And given the challenges we now face, they are an indispensable part.

Despite the counsel of fear you hear from my opponent, security isn’t our only concern. We also have an obligation to maintain our way of life and our core values, even in the face of threats. One of our values is to help people in need. And few people on earth are in greater need at this moment than those who are fleeing the cauldron of violence in Iraq and Syria—where, through no fault of their own, they have had to watch their societies be destroyed by sectarian hatred. Women and girls by the tens of thousands have been raped, in a systematic campaign of sexual violence and slavery. Parents have seen their children crucified. The suffering of these people is unimaginable, and we should help them—whether they are Yazidi, or Christian, or Muslim. But here is my pledge to you: No one will be brought into this country without proper screening. No one will be brought in who seems unlikely to embrace the values of freedom and tolerance that we hold dear.  Is any screening process perfect? Of course not. But I can tell you that the only way to actually win the war on terror will be to empower the people who most need our help in the Muslim world.

The irony is that my opponent in this race, who imagines that he is talking tough about terrorism and ISIS and Islam, has done nothing but voice inflammatory and incoherent ideas that, if uttered by a U.S. president, would immediately make the world a more dangerous place. Being “politically incorrect” isn’t the same as being right, or informed, or even sane. It isn’t a substitute for actually caring about other people or about the consequences of one’s actions in the world. It isn’t a policy. And it isn’t a strategy for winning the war against jihadism, or a war of ideas against radical Islam…