We know why he was wrong. But let's not spoil the fun. Let us look at the reasons he says he blew it.
In a six-part series beginning January 19, Silver told us, “The Real Story Of 2016.”
While data geeks and traditional journalists each made their share of mistakes when assessing Trump’s chances during the campaign, their behavior since the election has been different. After Trump’s victory, the various academics and journalists who’d built models to estimate the election odds engaged in detailed self-assessments of how their forecasts had performed. Not all of these assessments were mea culpas — ours emphatically wasn’t (more about that in a moment) — but they at least grappled with the reality of what the models had said.
By contrast, some traditional reporters and editors have built a revisionist history about how they covered Trump and why he won. Perhaps the biggest myth is when traditional journalists claim they weren’t making predictions about the outcome. That may still largely be true for local reporters, but at the major national news outlets, campaign correspondents rarely stick to just-the-facts reporting (“Hillary Clinton held a rally in Des Moines today”). Instead, it’s increasingly common for articles about the campaign to contain a mix of analysis and reporting and to make plenty of explicit and implicit predictions.He claims that "some traditional reporters and editors have built a revisionist history about how they covered Trump and why he won" -- but is revising his own history of error compounded by error.
However, he ended that piece:
The cognitive biases reflect more deep-seated problems and have more implications for how Trump’s presidency will be covered; they’re also the root cause of some of the technical errors. But they won’t be easy to correct unless journalists’ incentives or the culture of political journalism change.Yep, the same biases and self-interest (many corporations including Disney, owner of ESPN, which owns Silver's site) affect adversely coverage of President Trump just as those prejudices adversely affected coverage of his candidacy.
In Part I, Silver wrote:
FiveThirtyEight’s statistical model, for example, saw the Electoral College as a significant advantage for Trump, and projected that he’d be about even money to win the Electoral College even if he lost the popular vote by 1 to 2 percentage points. Overall, it assigned a 10.5 percent chance to Trump’s winning the Electoral College while losing the popular vote, but less than a 1 percent chance of Hillary Clinton’s doing the same.So his computer model was 89.5% wrong.
It gave Trump's chances of winning without winning the popular vote 10.5%.
Which is what happened.
Imagine a doctor chopping off the correct arm only 10.5% of the time.
And where do these tenths of a percent come from?
If the “emerging Democratic majority” was one pillar of the flawed argument that Hillary Clinton had an Electoral College advantage over Donald Trump, the other was the “blue wall,” the claim that Democrats began with a base of 242 electoral votes because they’d won them in each election since 1992.Yep.
Guess what, in 2000 just about everyone missed West Virginia flipping Republican. Without those five Electoral College votes, it would have been President Gore.
So Silver caught on?
Nope. There is this:
But Clinton faced more headwinds in 2016, trying to win a third consecutive term for her party amid a mediocre economy. Against a “generic” Republican such as John Kasich or Marco Rubio, she might have been in a toss-up race or even a slight underdog, in fact. So she was counting on good economic news — or for Trump to underperform a “generic” Republican because of his unique flaws as a candidate.But a generic candidate -- whom I derided in the campaign as Jebbio McCruzney -- would not have had the appeal in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin that Trump had.
We know this because even with Paul Ryan of Wisconsin on the ticket, Romney failed to carry any one of those states.
But hey, let Silver keep telling himself the Republican Establishment in 2016 would have done better than it did in any election since Reagan was president.
Remember, Reagan was president in 1988. He was the reason Bush 41 won. Trump's 30 states and 304 Electoral College votes were the best Republican showing since 1988.
In Part III, Silver wrote:
The undecideds were a warning sign that Clinton hadn’t sealed the deal with quite a wide enough coalition of voters, conversely — especially in the Midwest where undecideds were plentiful. In the states that were the biggest upsets relative to the polls — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — Clinton met or slightly exceeded her share of the vote in polls, but Trump beat his by more.Yes, that was a warning sign. Ignored. I am curious as to how a computer model misses that. I mean, I can see a human being missing it, but if his much vaunted computer model is so darned scientific, how could it miss that? Hindsight may be 20/20 but foresight also can be 20/20 as well, and is expected of any computer model.
Unless that computer model is garbage, which in this case, Silver's is.
In Part IV, Silver wrote: "Ohio Was A Bellwether After All."
In the past century, Ohio missed it but one time. And my readers know that I was among the few who still said So Goes Ohio, So Goes the Country.
In Part V, Silver wrote: "Why Early Voting Was Overhyped."
There did seem to be a last minute swing toward The Donald (as there usually is for the underdog in the presidential race) that overcame that early edge.
Finally, in Part VI, Silver wrote:
Error no. 1: Clinton focused too much on close states rather than tipping-point states. On average from Sept. 1 through Nov. 7, the closest states in our polls-only model were Ohio, Nevada, North Carolina, Iowa and Florida. And yet Clinton spent more time in these states than she should have. A combined 54 percent of Clinton’s events (and 47 percent of Trump’s) were held in these states, whereas there was only a 39 percent chance that one of them would be the tipping-point state.And later:
Error no. 2: Clinton was overconfident and campaigned in too narrow a range of states.His distinction between close states and "tipping-point states" is a puzzler.
But it made sense for the candidates to battle it out in battleground states, with Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania being the primary ones.
However, once Trump sewed up Iowa and Ohio, he could campaign in the others. He seemed to write off Nevada and New Hampshire, favoring Michigan and Wisconsin.
I do not really fault Hillary for where she campaigned. Had she taken Florida and North Carolina, she would be president, even without Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Her plan was fine. But plans are the first thing lost in a war. She failed to turn her Titanic around when things closed late in Michigan and Wisconsin.
While Silver called the series "The Real Story Of 2016," in the prologue and first five-and-a-half parts, he avoided the true story, which was if not unholy, then unhealthy alliance of the press and the Clinton campaign.
Coverage of her campaign was too soft -- often little more than an in-kind campaign contributions by three major corporations -- Comcast (owner of NBC/MSNBC), Disney (ABC), and Time-Warner (CNN) -- and the lesser ones that own newspapers.
All the positive press on her, and all the negative on her opponent gave her a false sense of security.
Silver finally got around to this:
To some extent, the media’s misconceptions about Electoral College strategy and Clinton’s errors may have reinforced one another. For the most part, decisions about where to allocate resources should be determined by where states line up relative to one another. Typically, news events produce similar changes in lots of states at once, so even a major shock (say, Comey’s letter or the release of Trump’s “Access Hollywood” tape) won’t change the correct Electoral College approach all that much.It's just a slight acknowledgement that maybe a steady diet of media cotton candy coverage is not the best thing for a dull candidate slogging her way to victory.
But he misses the Real Story of 2016, which simply was a rebellion by voters against the Establishment in Washington. It was a trouble brewing since Reagan left office that had led to the Perot candidacy in 1992, the Gingrich Revolution in 1994, the Obama presidency in 2008, and the Tea Party in 2010.
The press missed three of the four.
What does that tell you about the worthiness of the media?
By refusing to admit his computer model was wrong -- he gave only a 10.5% chance to the scenario that actually occurred (a Clinton plurality, a Trump victory) -- Nate Silver is not helping himself repair his tattered reputation.
"Trump the Establishment" is an account on how the Establishment used the media to stop the Trump Train in the general election by constantly badgering him on personal issues, often petty. But Trump prevailed based on his abilities as a CEO, and his stances on the real issues of the economy and national security, which I also delve into.
The book is available in paperback Create Space, or if you prefer, or (via Instapundit) Amazon as a paperback.
Kindle will be available March 1.
This is the sequel to "Trump the Press," which covered the nomination. It is available on Kindle, or in paperback on Create Space.