By Dan Hodges
Last updated: October 26th, 2012When Charles Foster Kane takes one final look back at his tumultuous
life, he encapsulates it in a single, immortal word: “Rosebud”. In years
to come, when Mitt Romney
takes a look back at this tumultuous election campaign, I suspect he
may very well do the same. Except he will not speak of a cherished
object, but a person: “Poblano”.
Poblano is the pseudonym of Nate Silver,
the sabermetrician and political psephologist who has done more to
influence the 2012 presidential election than other political analysts
and commentator. Silver is behind The New York Times' FiveThirtyEight blog,
which conducts a complex statistical analysis of the state of the race,
and boils it down to daily estimate of the two candidates chances in
the form of a mathematical percentage. Where most political commentators
output is the product of briefings, gossip and personal perception,
Silver deals in cold, hard facts. And at the moment, Silver’s facts are
being fired like bullets into the heart of the Romney campaign.
Over the past week Romney has had a clear strategy; give the
impression of momentum. Demonstrate the post-debate surge is continuing.
Get people talking about how the race is his to lose.
This strategy has taken various forms. In the wake of the final
presidential debate – which Obama won by a country mile – an army of
Romney strategists were dispatched to spread the word that the debate
didn’t matter, it was all too late, and Romney’s “momentum” was carrying
him to victory. “President Obama regained some lost ground,”
said CNN contributor William Bennett, a former official in the George H
W Bush administration, “but the damage had already been done. Mitt
Romney now carries the momentum into the home stretch.”
Friendly media outlets were primed to push the same message: “Brand new polls are proving Governor Romney continues to gain momentum,”
Fox New’s independently minded analyst Sean Hannity gushed breathlessly
yesterday, citing a Gallup poll that actually showed Romney’s lead
We’ve even had the spectacle of Romney campaign officials starting to
brief reporters on their transition plans and possible cabinet
appointments. Picking members of your new administration; you don’t get
much bigger mo than that.
And then, slap bang in the middle of all this surging and sprinting, up pops that geeky killjoy Silver. “In polls, Romney’s momentum seems to have stopped,”
he announced in a blog yesterday. Coolly and calmly, Silver set about
dismantling the Romney bandwagon. According to his model's “Nowcast” –
the chance of either candidate prevailing if the election was held on
that particular day – the trend was slightly favourable to Obama:
Mr. Romney’s position peaked in the 'now-cast' on Friday,
Oct. 12, at which point it estimated a virtual tie in the popular vote
(Mr. Obama was the projected “winner” by 0.3 percentage points). As of
Wednesday, however, Mr. Obama was 1.4 percentage points ahead in the
“now-cast,” meaning that he may have regained about 1 percentage point
of the 4 points or so that he lost after Denver. Mr Obama’s chances of
winning the Electoral College were up in the FiveThirtyEight forecast to
71 per cent on Wednesday from 68.1 per cent on Tuesday.
Nate Silver is Mitt Romney’s nemesis. Not intentionally; although he
admits to being an Obama supporter, his whole career is predicated on
getting his predictions right. Like he did in 2008, when "Poblano"
accurately predicted the result of 49 of the 50 states, and all 35
And it is that reputation for accuracy that is so damaging to the
Romney campaign’s attempt to sustain their precious “momentum”
narrative. People listen to Silver. And over the past 48 hours, the
narrative is starting to shift. “Mitt-mentum? Not so fast” – US News & World report. “Romney’s Momentum Seems To Have Stopped” – Political Wire. “The momentum myth” – Washington Post.
In fact, Silver is proving so damaging to their chances that Republican’s are drawing up a strategy for countering him. “Nate Silver continues to lead the Democrat Graveyard whistling choir”, Republican blogger Robert Stacy McCain wrote on Tuesday. National Review decried “Nate Silver’s Flawed Model”. “Everyone but Nate Silver thinks Obama’s lead is evaporating fast”, said Business Insider.
But the truth is we don’t. And the Romney camp knows it.
Here’s a prediction. As the election clock continues to tick down,
and the momentum narrative continues to melt away, the attacks on Silver
will intensify. We should expect a Fox News feature. More negative
blogs. Maybe even a smear or two.
But the number’s don’t lie. At the start of this week, Barack Obama’s
chances of winning Ohio were 70 per cent. Today they’re at 75.
Wisconsin has moved up to 86 per cent, Nevada 78, Iowa 68, New Hampshire
69, Colorado 57, Virginia 54. Overall, his chance of wining is now put
at 73 per cent, his highest for 18 days. That's not momentum; that's
Barack Obama is holding a steady course to the presidency. But don’t take my word for it. Ask Poblano.
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