Nate Silver has a computer model. Each day he plugs the data from the various national and swing state polls into that model, numbers are crunched, simulations are run, and he posts the results on his New York Times blog indicating who is more likely to win the presidential election: Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. (As of this posting, Silver's analysis has Obama winning in 74.6 percent of scenarios.) And for this, Silver is coming under attack from pundits who insist that their gut feeling tells them the race is a true toss-up.
"Anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue, they should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops and microphones for the next 10 days, because they're jokes," complained Joe Scarborough on the October 29 Morning Joe.
Complaints like Scarborough's are helped along by publications that have an interest in maintaining the view of a race that is essentially a flip of the coin, and in preserving the importance of their own roles as gatekeepers with access to critical insider information. Politico's Dylan Byers cited Scarborough's criticism along with that of New York Times columnist David Brooks in positing that Silver may be a "one-term celebrity."
"If you tell me you think you can quantify an event that is about to happen that you don't expect, like the 47 percent comment or a debate performance, I think you think you are a wizard. That's not possible," Times columnist David Brooks, a moderate conservative, said on PBS earlier this month. "The pollsters tell us what's happening now. When they start projecting, they're getting into silly land."
It makes sense that pundits like Scarborough and Brooks would have it out for a numbers guy like Silver. Their oeuvre is the intangible. They analyze based on gut feelings and nonspecifics. Their great trick is to transform the utterly unquantifiable into something approaching concrete certainty.