Nate Silver on Herman Cain
October 27th, 2011

Silver makes a point that I really, really wish political analysts would take under advisement:

But I do know what an analyst should not do: he should not use terms like “never” and “no chance” when applied to Mr. Cain’s chances of winning the nomination, as many analysts have.

There is simply no precedent for a candidate like Mr. Cain, one with such strong polling but such weak fundamentals. We do have some basic sense that both categories are important. This evidence is probably persuasive enough to say that Mr. Cain’s chances are much less than implied by his polling alone. They may, in fact, be fairly slim.

But slim (say, positing Mr. Cain’s odds at 50-to-1 against) is much different thannone (infinity-to-1 against). We don’t know enough about the way these factors interact, and we can’t be sure enough that the way they’ve interacted in the past will continue on into the future, to say that Mr. Cain has no chance or effectively no chance.

Frankly, I think it is quite arrogant to say that the man leading in the polls two months before Iowa has no chance, especially given that there is a long history in politics and other fields of experts being overconfident when they make predictions.

One reason that experts make overconfident predictions is because they often aren’t held accountable when they are wrong.

I don’t mean this point specifically about Cain, but about political analysis in general.

  1. GFAW October 28, 2011 at 11:02 am

    “There is simply no precedent for a candidate like Mr. Cain, one with such strong polling but such weak fundamentals.”

    I don’t mean to be glib, but there is a precedent, and he’s living in the White House right now.

  2. REPLY
  3. In Defense of Nate Silver — Jonathan Last Online October 29, 2012 at 4:57 pm

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