Nate Silver Picks Mitt Romney To Beat Obama Handily

Yes you read that correctly. Five Thirty Eight’s Nate Silver put the probability of Mitt Romney of beating President Obama just one year ago at 83% based on three quantifiable criteria, approval ratings in the year before the election, G.D.P. growth during the election year itself and the ideology score of the opposition candidate. In Silver’s model, Romney scores 49 on a 100 point conservative ideology scale.

Obama approval rating in November 2011: 43%
G.D.P. growth in 2012: 0%
Probability of winning the popular vote: Romney: 83%, Obama: 17%

We begin with the worst of these situations for Obama: Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee, and economic growth, rather than continuing along sluggishly, comes to a halt (perhaps the debt dominoes have fallen in Europe). Under these assumptions, Obama would only have a 17 percent chance — about one in six — of winning a majority of the popular vote.

His chances are slim enough in this case that if I woke up next November to discover that we would have four more years of Obama, I might ask whether there was some sort of October surprise: “Mitt in Torrid Affair With Filipina Housekeeper.” Subhead: “Illegal Immigrant Got Free Romneycare.” Then I might ask if Sarah Palin had run on the Tea Party ballot line and taken 6 percent of the vote.

In a more normal election, an Obama victory would have resulted from some combination of three factors. The first two are arguments that we might expect to see as part of Obama’s campaign, and which are viable even under this worst-case scenario. The third is simply an observation.

First, Obama may have some untapped potential in highlighting his foreign-policy wins. The killing of Osama bin Laden did not produce a lasting bounce in the polls. But — sorry to be so gauche — killing the world’s most wanted terrorist will make for a nice sound bite. Meanwhile, the NATO intervention in Libya reached a successful if bloody outcome, and the troops are coming home from Iraq. The White House has not done a good job of turning the discussion to foreign policy, and it has to be careful that in doing so it does not appear to be ignoring the economy. But foreign policy matters to voters, and Obama will have a marketing budget of hundreds of millions of dollars to get the message right.

Second, the overall unpopularity of the Republican Party could rub off on Romney, who will have to endorse most of its platform. Only 35 or 40 percent of voters take a favorable view of the G.O.P., which has not improved at all from 2006 or 2008. The Republicans in Congress are less popular still and have an agenda with some prickly bits — like Paul Ryan’s plans to privatize Social Security — that Romney could have a hard time distancing himself from.

All of this, probably, would not be enough to save Obama. Romney is a skilled debater, a cautious candidate and a smart man — exactly what you want when the fundamentals otherwise favor you. Under these conditions, in fact, Obama would be as likely to lose by double digits as to win the popular vote.

Still, the White House would be able to make some credible arguments and Obama might have an outside chance at an upset. But how does it get around the problem of the economy?

The observation: even if the economy goes into recession again, voters might not care much about the difference between slow growth and no growth. Some 80 percent of voters already think we’re in a recession. They are not happy about it, but expectations are so low that a sort of fatigue may have set in about further bad news.

In practice, voters may think about the economy as falling into one of three basic categories — Good, Bad and Getting Better — rather than along a continuum. Obama would benefit if he could make a credible case for Getting Better, something he would not be able to do in this situation. But since he’s already unable to make that case now — remember “Recovery Summer”? — it’s plausible that a deterioration in the numbers would not hurt him as much as an acceleration of growth might help him. Beating Romney with 0 percent growth would not be easy, but it might not be that much more difficult than beating him with 2 percent growth (also no piece of cake, of course).

In the case that GDP was growing at a 4% annual rate Silver gives Obama a 60% to 40% edge, but GDP is not growing at anywhere near that rate. Right now it’s somewhere between 1% and 2% annual growth rate, and aligns more closely with the first scenario, as Silver admits at the end of the scenario.

Given that GDP isn’t growing at 0% one would suspect that Silver’s 83% probability would be a bit lower. It would probably be in the 70% probability range, which coincidentally is Silver’s current probability of an Obama victory.

Did we all miss something? Did the fundamental issues Silver discussed last year change?

Yeah, I didn’t think so…

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The death of 'hope and change': young skulls full of mush edition
  • Nate Silver > James Carville > Trash bucket for head-cover

  • All the polling reminds me of an old scam I heard of – I think it was in the 1920s or so, during the runup to the crash of 1929…

    A guy mailed out a couple thousand letters with stock tips in them. Half were that a particular stock would go up, the other that it’d go down. If the stock moved in the direction he was predicting, the person who got the letter was supposed to send him $10, otherwise, the recipient didn’t have to pay.

    The stock moved – he got about $10k, (In the 1920s that was enough, if you were careful, to get by on for a decade or more) and requests for more tips. So he did it again to the folks he’d gotten right the first time – 500 letters out that a particular stock would go up, 500 that it’d go down. Only this time, if he was right they’d pay him $25 – if not, then he’d get nothing.

    About $12k later, he had 500 convinced he was a stock-picking wizard. So he sent out another round of letters, again, half up and half down – and if the stock moved in the direction he predicted, the person who got the letter would send him $50.

    He got $12k from that round – and a visit from the cops. Seems there were two guys in the same office who were subscribers to this guy – and one got a letter saying the stock was going to go up while the other got a letter saying it’d go down. They realized what he was doing – and called in the fraud squad.

    It almost seems the same with pollsters – they’ll toss out all sorts of predictions, and when the election’s over they’ll point at the ones they got right to prove how accurate they are, and spin that into a good stipend for the next election’s predictions.

    And looking this over – man, I’ve heard about a lot of weird shit over the years…

  • Carl

    That was the Romney of a year ago.

    That was before he shape-sifted in every direction possible – and he began the campaign of lie after lie after lie.

    “Five Thirty Eight’s Nate Silver put the probability of Mitt Romney of beating President Obama just one year ago
    at 83% based on three quantifiable criteria, approval ratings in the
    year before the election, G.D.P. growth during the election year itself
    and the ideology score of the opposition candidate. In Silver’s model,
    Romney scores 49 on a 100 point conservative ideology scale.”

    Glad you finally approve of Silver’s methodology. Now all you have to do is wake up and smell the coffee.

    • GarandFan

      But Obama’s “shape-shifting’ is different, right Carl?

    • retired.military

      Romney will be better than Obama no matter what.

      ” Now all you have to do is wake up and smell the coffee.”

      Smells like a Romney win 320-218 EV.

      • Carl

        Glad we bet $100 on the outcome of the Presidential election.

        You’re not going to try to wiggle out of the bet, are you?

    • retired.military

      Obama – No to Gay marriage
      Obama – Yes to Gay marriage
      Obama – Economy is too fragile to tax increases
      Obama – Yes to tax increases
      Obama – Relgious exemptions from Obamacare
      Obama – No religous exemptions from Obamacare
      Obama – No man left behind
      Obama – Benghazi

    • Already done. First time I’ve done early voting…

      I voted for the guy that’d wreck the country. No, not him, the other one.


  • 914

    Ha! Minnesota is up for grabs for cripes sake.

    Good riddance to Barry.

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  • liz

    wait, but if you go to nate silver’s column he has Obama’s chance of winning the election at 83%. The only way he see’s Romney winning is if every single poll out there is statistically biased towards Obama, which they aren’t.

  • Jamie Deveaux

    LMAO…how stupid do you think people are. Obama has already won, Fast Forward to the inaguration.