A big winner from last night’s presidential election: Nate Silver and the world of advanced statistical analysis in sports.
Silver’s career and rise into a renowned predictor of political results is pretty amazing. His claim to fame was developing a forecasting system for baseball players called PECOTA, an advanced Sabermetric evaluation system which he sold and managed for Baseball Prospectus.
In 2007, Silver moved his analytical mind towards politics, and started publishing his own blog — FiveThirtyEight — correctly predicting the winner of 49 of 50 states from the 2008 presidential election. He also used his model to correctly predict the winner of all 35 Senate races that year.
The transition from sports to politics is significant, not only because putting the two side by side, sports is still considered just a game, it’s statistical advances giving a broader view for our understanding and knowledge of the sport, where the arena of politics and the ability to assess and predict results espouses a sense of power, an ability to see through the layers of misinformation and bias.
Last week, Silver caused a stir by predicting that Obama was an overwhelming favorite to win the election. Yesterday morning, he put Obama’s chances of winning at 92%. Many of Romney’s supporters fired back, accusing him of having a political agenda, even promptly some to claim that he’s too effeminate to analyze polls.
As the votes were coming in last night, Silver tweeted: On The Wall, The Writing.
For someone who received so much unnecessary criticism in the last week, victory must’ve felt sweet.
But this is less about the fact that Silver was indeed correct — his models, whether sports or politics — have already established a proven track record.
But it’s the fact that statistical models, ones that provide the transparency that politics usually lack has proven to be reliable. It renders the people who run their mouths without discretion irrelevant. This ability to predict, and to assess information in a coherent manner is both important and dangerous.
As for how sports figures into all of this: The New Republic published a great piece this week describing the enlightened world of sports. While the world of politics remains skeptical and ignorant of the power of statistical models and prognostication, it’s something that’s already been widely accepted in sports.
It doesn’t mean that sports and politics can be viewed all the same just because of the numbers — it’s never that easy — but it means that there’s an acknowledgement that sports is not just a bunch of jocks cheering the violence and ignorance that sometimes permeates the athletic forum; that we’re actually willing to strive to make sports more advanced than its long held stereotypes, which also means to make it more complicated.
Those who want to be static and keep the status quo prefer it to be more simpler than that. But given the progress we’ve seen, maybe politics can indeed learn a few things from sports.
And on that basis, that gives us — the sports crowd — the higher ground.
We’ll gladly take it.