New Delhi: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has an 80.3% chance of winning the US presidential election, prominent polling analyst Nate Silver has said. Silver gives Republican candidate Donald Trump a 19.7% chance of becoming the next US president.
Silver, editor-in-chief of opinion poll analysis website FiveThirtyEight, rose to prominence when he predicted perfectly the results of the 2012 US presidential election, with accurate readings for all 50 states. According to The Guardian, while many pundits saw a tight race between President Barack Obama and then Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, it was Silver who accurately estimated a 332-206 electoral college result. Not a one-hit wonder, Silver had also successfully predicted the results of the 2008 election, getting 49 of the 50 states right and anticipating the popular vote margin to within one percentage point.
His calculations are based on polling data, with state polls more favoured than national ones. His ‘polls-only’ model uses polling data exclusively and assumes that current results reflect the best forecast for November, albeit with a large dose of uncertainty.
Silver has two other polling models; the ‘polls-plus’, which includes the economic index and probabilities arrived at from the historical accuracy of election polls, and the ‘now-cast’, which predicts what would happen if the election were held now. The ‘polls-plus’ method narrows the odds to 73.5%-26.5% for Clinton, with the ‘now-cast’ method giving Clinton a runaway victory at 85.5%-14.5%.
For this election cycle, Silver posits in his ‘polls-only’ model that Clinton will win 353.8 electoral votes to Trump’s 183.4, and win the popular vote with 49.1%, while Trump will get 41.8%. Third-party Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson will receive only 0.8 votes from the electoral college and 7.8% of the popular vote. A candidate needs at least 270 electoral votes to take the White House.
“Trump has never been ahead of Clinton in the general election campaign,” Silver said in an appearance on ABC News. “He did a great job of appealing to the 40% of the GOP he had to win the election, the primary — a lot different than winning 51% of 100%.”
The model also shows interesting state trends. According to the model, Arizona and North Carolina, in the past reliably Republican states, will vote blue.
It also includes a bunch of “crazy and not-so-crazy” scenarios, with the chances of Johnson winning even a single electoral vote being pegged at a measly 5.7%, and a Trump landslide victory getting a 1.9%.
Western news outlets have jumped on the story, with many taking this big-name data analysis to be a confirmation of a Clinton presidency – or, more importantly, a humiliating Trump loss.
Pinch of salt
However, despite Silver’s successes in the last two elections, many – such as New York Magazine‘s Ed Kilgore – are skeptical about his predictions. This is in large part because of a slew of huge misses in the last two years. Salon reported some “high-profile” upsets for Silver after the 2014 midterm elections, both in senate and gubernatorial results. He had abjectly failed to anticipate the decisive influx of Republicans, and his models consistently portrayed an uncertainty driven by an assumed close race. In response, Silver published a piece in his defence that detailed ways in which the polls on which he based his models were skewed towards Democrats.
Even more damningly, Silver severely underestimated the allure of Trump, and in August 2015 gave him a 2% chance to win the Republican nomination. It was only by mid-February that his FiveThirtyEight foretold a 45-50% likelihood of a Trump nomination. In a piece titled ‘How I Acted Like a Pundit and Screwed Up on Donald Trump‘, Silver attempts to explain the miss by citing a lack of statistical models to track Trump due to there being no precedent for his rise, and an over-reliance on gut feelings and pundit-esque “subjective odds”. “When Trump came around, I’d turn out to be the overconfident expert,” he said, “making pretty much exactly the mistakes I’d accused my critics of four years earlier”.
But this professed ‘unforeseeability’ of the Trump phenomenon doesn’t explain why, this primary season, he predicted a 99% chance of Clinton winning the North Carolina Democratic primary, which senator Bernie Sanders won by half a point, or a 90% chance of winning Indiana which, again, Sanders won. Clinton is the archetypal establishment candidate for the democratic party and there should have been no dearth of data to build an analysis model on.
However, while projections must not be taken as set-in-stone predictions, Silver’s forecast models are made more tenable by the fact that they are largely in line with recent polls on the matter.