Monday, August 04, 2014

Nate Silver Has Alaska's US Senate Race 50-50

"Meanwhile, in Alaska – which has a track record of inaccurate polling — some models now perceive a slight advantage for the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Mark Begich. We think the polling is too thin and too inconsistent to warrant that prediction, particularly given that the GOP has not yet held its Aug. 19 primary."

This quote comes at the end of a FiveThirtyEight blog overview of US Senate races for November.  Overall, Silver says
". . . we continue to see Republicans as slightly more likely than not to win a net of six seats this November and control of the Senate. A lot of it is simply reversion to the mean.2 This may not be a “wave” election as 2010 was, but Republicans don’t need a wave to take over the Senate.
 But, he's hedging his bets:
However, I also want to advance a cautionary note. It’s still early, and we should not rule out the possibility that one party could win most or all of the competitive races."
Why should we listen to Nate Silver?

For those who can't place the name, Nate Silver was the geeky statistician,  portrayed by Jonah Hill in the movie Moneyball, who helped the money-strapped Oakland A's pick winning ball players.   (The movie was based on Michael Lewis' book Moneyball.)

He took his statistical savvy into politics.  Wikipedia summarizes:
"The accuracy of his November 2008 presidential election predictions—he correctly predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states—won Silver further attention and commendation. The only state he missed was Indiana, which went for Barack Obama by one percentage point. He correctly predicted the winner of all 35 U.S. Senate races that year. . .
In the 2012 United States presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, he correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.[11] That same year, Silver's predictions of U.S. Senate races were correct in 31 of 33 states; he predicted Republican victory in North Dakota and Montana, where Democrats won.
Silver's model includes polling data and a linear regression analysis of other factual data about candidates and voters.  From a FiveThirtyEight post in the New York Times (where Silver worked before moving to ESPN) on the methodology:
  • A state’s Partisan Voting Index
  • The composition of party identification in the state’s electorate (as determined through Gallup polling)
  • The sum of individual contributions received by each candidate as of the last F.E.C. reporting period (this variable is omitted if one or both candidates are new to the race and have yet to complete an FEC filing period)
  • Incumbency status
  • For incumbent Senators, an average of recent approval and favorability ratings
  • A variable representing stature, based on the highest elected office that the candidate has held. It takes on the value of 3 for candidates who have been Senators or Governors in the past; 2 for U.S. Representatives, statewide officeholders like Attorneys General, and mayors of cities of at least 300,000 persons; 1 for state senators, state representatives, and other material elected officeholders (like county commissioners or mayors of small cities), and 0 for candidates who have not held a material elected office before.
Silver's election track record has been damn accurate.  But there are also the intangibles that aren't reflected in measurable factors. 

This prediction on the Alaska race comes before the Republican primary (in two weeks) and so we don't even know who Begich's opponent will be. 

But Sen. Begich is a formidable candidate - details of legislation and people slide effortlessly from his memory banks to his lips; he knows how to put the right spin on things; he grew up in Alaska politics and has strong, long-term relationships with people all over the state; and he's a pragmatic politician who makes decisions based on his sense of the what Alaskans want and what will work.  He's also got a very aggressive campaign going - countering every negative ad as soon as it comes out and he's got an army of volunteers around the state going door-to-door.   

Of his potential opponents, Sullivan has the money, but not the Alaska cred.  Treadwell has the Alaska cred, but not the money.   And Joe Miller?  While this video of him literally blasting bullet holes through the Affordable Care Act will win him votes from the fanatical anti-Obama and pro-gun folks, it will sink his campaign among all other voters. 

If Silver has Begich at 50-50 based on the tangibles, I'd bet the intangibles will tip the scales in his favor.


  1. I think Mark Begich will be reelected to the U.S. Congress in Alaska!

    I've already sent in my primary, absentee ballot.

    There is a huge amount of distaste for the carpetbagger (from Washington D.C.) - R - in Alaska! This is going to be a fun race to watch! Individual voters WILL off set the money - one vote at a time!

  2. Six seats could swing in the US Senate? Good grief.

  3. I don't suppose it's occurred to Nate Silver or anyone else that after he correctly predicted so many election races in 2008 and 2012 based on voting indexes, party identification via Gallup polling, sums of individual contributions to candidates and name-recognition/incumbency/clout, some sneaky GOP strategist has figured out a way to game the system based on those same benchmarks.

    Don't pay any attention to either Nate Silver v. 3.0, or any of the polls.


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