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November 11, 2008

Nate the Great

A couple of months ago I mentioned the Votemaster site being back (I hear, incidentally, that the British web rules of style include the word "the" in the hyperlink--BUT I DIGRESS), and a commenter pointed out FiveThirtyEight, which I immediately became addicted to. It turns out that a bunch of other people also became addicted to it, and now Nate Silver, the brains behind the site, is getting props from respected old-media places.

Now, in this instance, calling the election at 9:46 was not an indicator of being 74 minutes smarter than the big news stations; I made the same call in email nine minutes earlier, based on taking the already called Obama states, adding in Washington/Oregon/California/Hawaii, and coming up with the magic 271. The news sites were merely being polite and waiting until the polls closed on the West Coast (as evidence by the fact that they DID finally call the election for Obama at around 8:00:00.37 PM, with exactly 0% of precincts reporting from the newly-closed polls). In fact somebody on CNN had done an exercise, on their nifty touch-screen, of going through every state except WA/OR/CA/HI and assigning them to McCain, pointing out that the total was below 270, explaining that no reasonable person would predict WA/OR/CA/HI going to McCain...and then stopping short of the obvious conclusion, which was that the election could be called for Obama (WA/OR/CA/HI, I will remind you, is an abbreviation of the four states, not the-thing-you-say-when-a-killer-whale-jumps-in-your-fishing-boat).

Still it is nice for propellorheads everywhere to see Nate getting some recognition (recall that the Votemaster is a Computer Science professor). The article points out the connection with Bill James's work on baseball, and now that the election is over and there aren't polls to worry about, Nate has begun diving deeper into "saprmetrics", such as his ongoing analysis and simulation of the Minnesota recount. Here is a brief taste of the nittiness and grittiness of the information he is pawing through:

Among our 2,217 reclassified ballots, the description of the marks were as follows:
746 Arrow/oval filled
442 Arrow/oval marked other than fill (circled, X, ?, checked, scribble)
418 Other mark near arrow/oval
263 Other mark on or near party name
227 Other mark on or near candidate name
89 Circled party name
32 Circled candidate name

I love it!!

Posted by AdamBa at November 11, 2008 12:06 PM


Did you ever confirm that Silver really did post that at 9:46 PM EST, not at 8:46 as is listed at the FiveThirtyEight.com site? (I tend to believe he did and that there was a time zone issue affecting the time stamp - because 8:46 does seem too early for him to have been that sure - but I don't know.)

Posted by: Becky at November 17, 2008 06:32 AM