How Obama Really Won the Election

Nate Silver

Monday, 20 Apr 2009 at 8:00 pm – Sun Room, Memorial Union

Nate Silver was already celebrated among baseball fans for developing PECOTA, now recognized as the most accurate system for forecasting how athletes and teams will perform in the future. The University of Chicago economics graduate, sold his system to Baseball Prospectus, staying on as a writer and consultant. In 2007, turning to politics, he fed a database with every poll available, along with state demographics and election results from 1952 forward, adjusting for a variety of factors. The model he built simulated elections and outperformed every established pollster in the primary season, and so he launched the political web site FiveThirty Eight.com. By the end of election night, he had predicted the popular vote within one percentage point, predicted 49 of 50 states’ results correctly, and predicted all of the resolved Senate races correctly. In addition to running the political-prediction Web site FiveThirtyEight.com and being an analyst and writer for Baseball Prospectus, he writes an Esquire column called "The Data."
Celebrated baseball, political statistician Nate Silver to present April 20 lecture

AMES, Iowa -- His name may be Silver, but Nate Silver has been pure gold when it comes to accurately forecasting how both baseball players and teams will perform, and how elections will turn out.

A noted American statistician, journalist and founder/editor of the political blog www.fivethirtyeight.com, Silver will speak at Iowa State University on Monday, April 20, at 8 p.m. in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union. His presentation "How Obama Really Won the Election," is free and open to the public.

Silver has been popular among baseball fans for developing the PECOTA system (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm), which has been recognized by baseball analysts as being the most accurate system for forecasting how baseball players and teams will perform in the future. PECOTA projections were first published by Baseball Prospectus in the 2003 edition of its annual book as well as online by www.BaseballProspectus.com. Silver produced the annual PECOTA forecasts for each Major League Baseball season from 2003 through 2009. He eventually sold his system to Baseball Prospectus, staying on as a writer and consultant.

Silver has been an occasional contributor on articles about baseball to ESPN.com, Sports Illustrated, and The New York Times.

While still working for Baseball Prospectus, he began to write about politics, specifically the 2008 U.S. Presidential race. In the process, he developed a database containing every poll available, along with state demographics and election results from 1952 forward. The model he built simulated elections and outperformed every established pollster in the presidential primary season, leading to his launch of the political blog FiveThirtyEight.com. By the end of the Nov. 2008 election night, he had predicted the presidential election popular vote within one percentage point -- predicting 49 of 50 states’ results correctly. He also predicted all of the resolved Senate races correctly.

His polling success brought him exposure in such news outlets as The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, CNN, MSNBC and PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." Last June, he began to cross-post his daily "Today's Polls" updates on "The Plank" in The New Republic. Rasmussen Reports also began to use the FiveThirtyEight.com poll averages for its own tracking of the 2008 state-by-state races.

Silver explained the rationale underlying his statistical success in a New York Post op-ed.

"In baseball, statistics are meaningless without context; hitting 30 home runs in the 1930s is a lot different than hitting 30 today," he wrote. "There is a whole industry in baseball dedicated to the proper understanding and interpretation of statistics. In polling and politics, there is nearly as much data as there is for first basemen. In this year's Democratic primaries, there were statistics for every gender, race, age, occupation and geography -- reasons why Clinton won older women, or Obama took college students. But the understanding has lagged behind."

Silver also writes a regular column in Esquire magazine called "The Data."

Cosponsored By:
  • Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology
  • Economics
  • Graduate and Professional Student Senate
  • Iowa STAT-ers
  • Mathematics
  • Polticial Science
  • Statistics
  • Committee on Lectures (funded by GSB)