In just under seven months the Baseball Prospectus rockstar (he invented PECOTA!!!) has gone from a beloved baseball stats geek to the buzzed about political projectionist. Having followed him from his days as “Poblano” on his Daily Kos diaries it’s been great to see his site Fivethirtyeight.com grow into what it has and a bit strange to see him make nightly appearances on news shows and especially the Colbert Report. But the accolades are well deserved.
New York Magazine did a profile of Silver, and the most interesting aspect of the article, besides the little details about his life (online poker player making six-figures! loves burritos! seems a bit restless!) is the nuts and bolts of his sabermetric analysis applied to political polls.
Meanwhile, even as his primary model attracted attention, Silver was cooking up another idea. He figured there must be a better way to use the daily tracking polls to predict a candidate’s future, just as he’d once found a better way to use baseball stats to predict how many home runs a player might hit. His simple goal, as he explained on Daily Kos in late February, was to “assess state-by-state general-election polls in a probabilistic manner.” In other words, he wanted to find a way to use all those occasionally erratic, occasionally unreliable, occasionally misleading polls to tell him who would win the election in November, which at that point was over 250 days away.
It’s a tough business, being an oracle. Everyone cheers when you hit a bull’s-eye, but no one’s arrows fly true all the time. “Sometimes being more accurate means you’re getting things right 52 percent of the time instead of 50,” says Silver. “PECOTA is the most accurate projection system in baseball, but it’s the most accurate by half a percent.” That half-percent, though, makes all the difference. Silver’s work, in both baseball and politics, is about finding that slim advantage. “I hate the first 90 percent [of a solution],” he says. “What I want is that last 10 percent.”
Silver and his site (along with Sean Quinn) has become a life raft in a sea of partisan talking heads. Over the past year, Silver has grown from a stats hound into an astute political commentator who remains above the fray despite being an unabashed Democrat. His is the only political site that has felt necessary this election season.
Also, currently Silver has Obama at 94.9% chance to win the election currently racking up an astounding 359.8 electoral votes. Though we’ll have to wait until November 4 to find out if he’s been right all along.