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On Nate Silver, the limits of political moneyball, and why Trump may win

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Trump is a weak candidate, but he has the benefit of it being an anti-establishment year at a time when Clinton is the poster child for the establishment.

It’s time to admit it: Trump may win.

schultz portrait
David Schultz

Increasing and begrudgingly, the establishment politicians, pundits, and analysts are beginning to realize that Trump may actually win the presidency. Nate Silver, whom too many people put too much political stock in, is now saying that Clinton is favored 58.8 percent to win, down from dramatically larger percentages even just a couple of weeks ago. It’s nice to see that Silver finally is getting in the range of my assessment, which has said Clinton has a 55 to 60 percent chance of winning. But even then, I may be exaggerating her chances and would put it at 50+ percent — barely break even.

Silver came to fame with applying the logic of moneyball to politics – successfully using his algorithms to call 99 of 100 states in the last two presidential elections. Silver is smart, but it would not have taken an Einstein to call at least 90 of the 100 states. This is what the logic of my book “Presidential Swing States” is all about – showing how because of the Electoral College, partisan voting, and party alignments, the elections were over before they started in all but 10 states. Moreover, in the last two election cycles, one could have also eliminated a couple of other states from the swing-state category, giving one about 94 states that would have been easy to predict. Throw in the relative stability of polling and getting to 99 is not so hard.

Why is all this worth mentioning in connection with Trump and the 2016 elections?  First, despite 2016 being a unique election year, there are still many forces that make it a relatively normal election that again is reducing the outcome to only a handful of swing states. Still in play are the core 10 that have consistently been in play for the last seven election cycles, such as Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Iowa, but additionally a few others such as Michigan and Pennsylvania may now be  flip-able. There is evidence that partisanship is still a factor driving how people vote, with few real swing voters moving from party to party. Voters are coalescing around Clinton to some degree but more so for Trump, thereby producing a normal election pattern that suggests is it still a few swing voters in a few swing counties in a few swing states that will determine who gets to 270 electoral votes and wins the presidency. All this bodes well for the Nate Silvers of the world.

The uniqueness of 2016

Additionally, when one looks at Trump versus Clinton, traditional wisdom hands it to Clinton. Until recently ahead in the polls, she has a better-run campaign, more money, and has insulted far few people than Trump. Yet this is where the uniqueness of 2016 kicks in, and where the limits of political moneyball appear.

First, there is no such thing as an Electoral College lock for the Democrats who think demographics is destiny. Statistically voters may be presupposed to vote a certain way — but you need to get them to vote. Trump supporters are passionate and will show up; Clinton’s are not. She relies on many voters who are mercurial at best when it comes to voting, and she has done little to address the lack of enthusiasm many have for her. She has yet to seal the deal with the Bernie Sanders supporters and liberals, simply assuming that running to the center as a Republican much like her husband did will result in these people having nowhere else to go and therefore they will vote for her. The year 2016 and the millennials are very different from 1992 and the baby boomers. Even African-Americans who loved  Obama in 2008 and 2012 may not come out the same way in 2016.

Second, polling is more complicated now than before. Cellphone technology, polling costs, defining likely voters, and other issues all complicate this year’s predictions. Many media outlets are cutting costs on polls. Take, for example, the Sept. 18 Star Tribune poll, with results from 625 respondents and landlines constituting 69 percent. A good poll should have at least 1,000 respondents and nearly 70 percent cellphones. This is a flawed poll. Silver’s predictions are only as good as the polls and he has blown several predictions this year, consistently overestimating Clinton’s strengths. Face it: Clinton often polls better than she performs, while Trump performs better than he polls.

Third, what political moneyball misses are three important factors: candidate quality, mood of a country, and the “politainment” quality of American politics. No matter how good a campaign, some candidates are simply not good. Clinton is a weak candidate and does not resonate well. Factors such as likablity are missed in political moneyball.  

The anti-establishment benefit

Yes, Trump is also a weak candidate, but he has the benefit of it being an anti-establishment year at a time when Clinton is the poster child for the establishment. And Trump understands the politainment aspect of contemporary politics that is increasing post-truth (candidates do not tell the truth and the public does not expect it), post-rational, post-issues, and simply pop culture sound-bite driven. Image is everything; content is nothing.

Put this all together and the traditional political pundits, politicians, analysts, and Nate Silvers of the world are missing a tremendous amount about politics in 2016. They and traditional political scientists also miss the importance of how politics is moving marginal numbers of swing voters in a few swing counties in a few swing states and therefore the issue is not how Trump or Clinton appeal to large numbers of people but only how to move a few people. Aggregate analysis misses subtle shifts.

Right now logic dictates Clinton still should win, but the reality may be that the public should prepare for a Trump presidency because there are many reasons to think he will win.

David Schultz is a Hamline University professor of political science and the author of “Election Law and Democratic Theory” (Ashgate, 2014) and “American Politics in the Age of Ignorance” (Macmillan, 2013). He blogs at Schultz’s Take, where a version of this piece first appeared.   


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Comments (62)

  1. Submitted by Derek Reise on 09/23/2016 - 08:23 am.

    How many states are there?

    Is Schultz aware that we currently have 50 states in our union? I didn’t know that we doubled.

    • Submitted by Matt Pogatshnik on 09/23/2016 - 08:49 am.

      “Silver came to fame with applying the logic of moneyball to politics – successfully using his algorithms to call 99 of 100 states in the last TWO presidential elections”

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 09/23/2016 - 09:01 am.

      2 elections

      Each state was predicted twice, thus the 100 states

    • Submitted by Jackson Cage on 09/23/2016 - 09:18 am.

      Read more closely

      He’s talking about the last TWO elections, so it’s double the states.

      I’m a little put off by his condescending dismissal of Silver’s track record. It doesn’t take a lot of courage to do it in hindsight. But then again, I’ve never found the professor very insightful (or correct).

      • Submitted by Derek Reise on 09/23/2016 - 09:37 am.

        I see now

        Ah, I see. Strange way to write that sentence.

        Not a lot of data is used to make his arguments or support his guess of a 55-60% chance of Clinton victory.

        It also repeats a lot of the unexamined assertions going back to the beginning the primaries that people aren’t excited by Clinton and don’t vote. Yet she won the nomination by getting a few million more votes.

  2. Submitted by joe smith on 09/23/2016 - 09:53 am.

    If Trump (weak candidate) beats

    Clinton (weak candidate) it will be solely on the anti-establishment vote. After 16 years of over spending, bail outs, growing Govt, adding Trillions to national debt, directionless foreign policy no shot at a legal immigration policy and lower wages for all but the elite with Bush & Obama, folks want anything different. Hillary promises more of the same (slowest recovery since WWII) and a confusing foreign policy. Not sure what Trump will do, but there is a chance it won’t be an extension of the past 16 years. As a libertarian, I would vote for anyone who will slow down our race towards crony capitalism where only the elites (big business, politicians, lobbyists and those connected enough to pay to play, a Clinton specialty) run the rest of us around like sheep.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 09/23/2016 - 10:47 am.


      According to your definition of “elites”, – “big business, politicians, lobbyists and those connected enough to pay to play” – Trump would certainly qualify, fitting pretty neatly into at least three of the four attributes you’ve listed (and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn he’s dabbled in some lobbying, as well).

      • Submitted by joe smith on 09/23/2016 - 04:41 pm.

        You’re saying Hilary is not in that group?

        At least he made his money in the private sector and didn’t use public money to make his/her millions. I am not a huge Trump fan but at least I can see the difference in how they became multi millionaires. Hillary is an East coast elitist and has lost touch with her mid western roots years ago.

        • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 09/27/2016 - 11:50 am.


          I’m saying your original comment implied that Trump was NOT in that group.

        • Submitted by Chris Farmer-Lies on 09/27/2016 - 02:00 pm.

          Please. In addition to the high probability of Trump being a deadbeat on federal income taxes, he is happy to have taxpayers subsidize his failed projects.

          He can thank his dad’s fortune and connections for him being born on third base, but I’m gonna call you out for claiming he hit a triple.

        • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/27/2016 - 04:29 pm.

          Lots of public money for his businesses!

          The New York Times did an investigation on how Trump applied for and received almost a Billion dollars of public subsidies to his businesses, from grants and low-interest on loans, plus tax abatements and exemptions and on and on. Not to mention the small business people who bellied up when he didn’t pay them for their work for his projects (he brags of not paying them, and of not paying ANY taxes).

          When you look, Trump has been a kind of completely self-interested, scummy sort of businessman.

    • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 09/23/2016 - 11:11 am.

      Well, yes

      But anyone giving any level of consideration to the relevant evidence knows that Trump’s anti-establishment words are pure vapor meant to give the rubes what they want to hear. Because Trump has no set of political relationships to provide an expertise/experience base and no interest in engaging in governance, if he’s elected then we’ll just get the Republican establishment back in executive power again, with a few cabinet positions reserved for an admixture of Trump’s children and malignantly eccentric hangers-on. In other words, GWB redux with an overlay of corrupt megalomaniacal caprice just to ensure that the public wealth is looted even more efficiently and everything domestically and internationally gets a little more unstable.

      And if you think that Clinton is a better exemplar of “crony capitalism” than Trump, my lord I don’t know what to say. Clinton is the establishment par excellence and I’ll be holding my nose very tightly when I pull the lever for her, but I certainly don’t delude myself that Trump is a possible alternative. However when push comes to shove, humans always bends toward moral weakness so there is merit to Professor Schultz’s conjecture.

      • Submitted by joe smith on 09/24/2016 - 04:21 pm.

        Charles the only way crony capitalism works

        is there are loopholes and carve outs for special big money corporations and groups, written in by the law makers, our congress. GWB was no bargain and Obama did more for Wall Street, Big Banking, certain Big Businesses (GE comes to mind) and the 1%’ers than Bush. Obama just did it while telling you he wasn’t. I don’t blame the folks who are using the laws to help themselves, I blame the law makers who wrote the law.

        So in the end it is a classic chicken and the egg situation, you blame Trump types for using the laws, I blame Hillary types for writing the laws. Which came first?

        • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 09/25/2016 - 09:53 am.

          Joe, I’d suggest you’re posing a false dichotomy.

          Government (not in aspirational theory, but in fact) is best understood as one modality (arguably the most consequential) by which those with economic power pursue their interests. Each party has its chief clientele (sectors of the economy), and this differentiation of clientele largely explains why the Democrats are superior on social issues. But both operate in fact foremost to serve powerful economic interests, with the corporate media there chiefly to point to the squirrels that keep the citizenry distracted. The duopoly and the media that serve it constitute the “establishment” that bridges the “partisan” divide. The point being, Congress and the executive don’t act in a vacuum to enact laws that end up having loopholes that the more entrepreneurially inclined among us economically exploit. Legislation, loopholes and the withholding of collective oversight (i.e., the absence of laws where warranted) all are the consequence of who is being served.

          My point is that despite his words to the base, the probability of Trump departing from this model is zero. First, because every moment of Trump’s life history is about the amoral, sociopathic pursuit of mammon and the notion that he has some concept of, or interest in, advancing the cause of the common man is laughable. Second, because no President can operate without a power base and Trump has none apart from the Republican establishment.

          Yes, Clinton will keep us marching to the abyss because her establishment worldview won’t allow her to recognize what is needed to address the fundamental and systemic maldistribution of wealth that is taking us toward it (climate change, militarism, risk of global pandemic and the displacement of the many being the chief consequences of this maldistribution). Trump would do the same, but with the enhanced prospects of race war, ethnic cleansing and nuclear annihilation as the cherries on top. Thems the choices and Clinton is mine.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 09/23/2016 - 11:44 am.

      Joe, I almost always disagree with your views, and I am not

      …a Trump voter, but here you’ve given a plain & simple (though not complete) iteration of the failure of the establishment mindset to pursue the interests of the people or the fundamental interests of the state.

      All the pundits, including MANY here at MinnPost, have been scratching their heads in puzzlement at how stupid ANYONE WITH CONTRARY VIEWS could be !!

      And so rather than trying to understand others, they ridicule them as air-headed crackpots who don’t know the first thing about their own interests. This extends all the way to the top of the Democratic Presidential campaign.

      You could very well add to your list the penchant for foreign adventure brought on by inhaling too much American Exceptionalism, or the failure to take any effective action regarding economic inequality, which many feel is at the root of the new racial segregation.

      So the widespread view here is: let’s turn a blind eye to
      these manifest signs of failure, DOUBLE DOWN on the status quo, and RIDICULE anyone who thinks otherwise.

      Because of the nature of these forums, I find it necessary to repeat that I’m not a Trump supporter – to avoid the jerk of commentators’ knees.

      • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 09/23/2016 - 06:04 pm.


        which MinnPost comments are you referring to? If mine, you’re misreading profoundly.

        • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 09/24/2016 - 05:09 pm.

          I pointed to no particular individual in responding to Joe.

          But there is a small mountain of comments in the vein I describe here on MinnPost. But it’s not just here, and it’s not entirely one-sided, either.

          Here is one consequence I foresee from this campaign’s tone of extreme vilification and acrimony aimed at the other side’s candidate, family, staff, supporters, and even at journalists who dare say a kind or sympathetic word:

          After this election, there won’t be any “let’s make nice, all get along, and support our President”. No matter who wins, about 40% of Americans will LOATHE the President, and won’t be smoith-talked into trying out an open mind.

          This scorched-earth campaigning is terrible for the country. It is the main message of the Clinton campaign and its supporters. It is pervasive.

          • Submitted by Jim Million on 09/26/2016 - 11:29 am.

            In Support Here…

            You pretty much put the ribbon on the parcel here. The same-old-same-old intransigence read nearly daily in these pages proves no point other than refusal by some to allow for any possible modification of view.

            Republicans must decide to get behind Trump as nominee while devoting most energy to Congressional seats. Democrats must abide a campaign that, unlike 1992 or 2008, does not promise new horizons pushed further out by great talkers with excellent messages. Much has been spoken and written about the obvious Republican conundrum, but not so much about the true moral test forced upon traditionally faithful Democrats. I do carefully say “moral test,” because regardless of admission, most of us do feel antipathy toward demonstrated arrogance of position and significant flaws in character. I’m sorry, my friends who are devout Democrats this year of the dumpster race. That your party should be left with its candidate by design, when other viable and more credible candidates certainly were known, must truly be vexing if not demeaning of your faith. Republicans of the old fashion are perhaps less demeaned simply because Trump is a complete outlier, not a party product of traditional genesis. Many voters of independent thought and dedication (myself, to be sure) have nearly no idea what to make of this, now or at the polls.

            Steve, I must ruefully agree with your post-election scenario. When nearly everyone of conscience regardless of philosophy was looking for substantial steps forward on so many critical national paths, we seem to be faced with many more years of excuses rather than resolve. Our society has become seriously fractured, in part allowed and more currently in part promulgated (I believe). When nearly all of us hoped for breakthrough and coherent resolutions, we truly seem left with the disheartening realization that little will change, advance or significantly succeed, regardless of who wins the November betting pool.

            No matter how much domestic rhetoric is spewed over the media outlets and through White House press briefings about the bright future of “America,” the progressing self-induced fracturing of Europe and serious Western Pacific developments will very much control the agenda for the U.S. [and, I’m not even considering anything but more of the same Middle East stasis we have come to expect.]

            Too dark a view? Not really. Just a view far broader than ballot choices in this pending American election. Have we perhaps risen to our inevitable level of incompetence? I don’t know, truly. I do know we had darn well try to forecast just where that might be, however. I don’t even know today which current candidate may get us there sooner. Maybe it would be better for all of us to think on that. I believe that is the true direction we face.

            I did take a second degree, one focusing on finance, marketing with international perspectives. After many months of serious consideration, I must caution that the next U.S. President won’t make much of any wave in the continuing rising storm in the international fiscal and monetary sea. I believe those central bank leaders and committed bureaucrats are working very hard to reach solutions, while encumbered by models that no longer work in this new international environment. I believe that with all their diligence and devotion to outcome, they are pretty much making most of this up as we all go along for the ride.

    • Submitted by Rick Prescott on 09/23/2016 - 12:58 pm.


      With respect, most of the deficiencies you cite came from the Congresses and not from the Presidents. If you wish to see change on things like, “…over spending, bail outs, growing Govt, adding Trillions to national debt, directionless foreign policy no shot at a legal immigration policy and lower wages for all…” I suggest you reconsider who you are sending to Congress first.

      • Submitted by joe smith on 09/23/2016 - 04:48 pm.

        Can’t stand 90% of Congress either!

        The system is broken and having the ultimate insider in Hillary won’t fix it… That much I know, Trump may or may not but at least there is a chance. The 10 Trillion in debt over the past 7 3/4 years was Obama driven as was Obamacare, GM bailouts (trend started by Bush) also driven by President… There is much to blame on all of them, including Obama.

        • Submitted by Rick Prescott on 09/24/2016 - 04:44 pm.

          Government 101

          I’m often shocked and dismayed to hear what average citizens think Presidents do or did, and what modern voters think the next President will or won’t “do.” We just don’t get it.

          I suppose that’s because the presidential campaigns love to make grandiose promises that no President would ever be ALLOWED (let alone ABLE) to keep. They are not kings. They are not dictators. They are not even CEOs. They are restrained (for very good reasons) by uniquely specific, Constitutional, separation-of-powers principles and practices.

          Congress passed the bailouts. Congress passed the Affordable Care Act. Congress sets the tax levels. Congress decides how much money gets spent and where. The President “does” none of these things.

          Some still think that the President sets the agenda, but that hasn’t been true since at least 1994 — with certain notable exceptions such as deployment of the military (still vaguely subject to spending oversight by Congress). Executive orders are deeply misunderstood and often overplayed by Presidents and their opponents, each of which is hoping to score points with an uninformed public.

          This is not to say that Presidents don’t have power, but only that they don’t have anywhere near the TYPE or SCOPE or DEPTH of power that presidential campaigns claim over and over. Government is a big dance, with every partner getting its chance to lead now and then, and every partner being forced to follow now and then. For anyone paying attention, this would seem to be the big lesson of the past 20 years.

          Given these undeniable facts, which really represent nothing more than Government 101, you might think that the “ultimate insider” would have the best fighting chance in the Dance (though I do not think that characterization accurately describes Clinton). And an “ultimate outsider” (a characterization which I do think accurately describes Trump) might just find himself confused, frustrated, and ultimately spurned and mocked to the point of irrelevance — a la Jesse Ventura.

          As for blame, it’s not on THEM — those in government. They are our proxies. WE selected them. We have only OURSELVES to blame for the condition of our government. And only wise and carefully-considered votes all the way down the ballot have any hope of fixing things.

          • Submitted by joe smith on 09/25/2016 - 07:34 am.

            Lowell, the President is the third branch of

            Govt, to say he doesn’t have a lot of power and sway is just not accurate. Who pushed through Obamacare? Who pushed through the stimulus package? Who pushed the Iranian deal? The list is long of Presidential influence in our system. I do agree it is our fault for not having term limits and more control of the system.

            • Submitted by Rick Prescott on 09/25/2016 - 03:45 pm.


              From my previous comment: “This is not to say that Presidents don’t have power…”

              And, in answer to your questions, Congress passed the first two, which were then approved by the President, and the third is within the scope of the responsibilities (and “power”) of the Executive Branch.

              All I’m saying is that, if you want to shake up Washington — and who doesn’t? — your vote for President may not be the most important vote you will cast. In the current environment, Congress is setting (or thwarting) the agenda. A clueless and inept President, with no idea how the levers of government actually work, might find himself a lame duck on Day One.

          • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 09/25/2016 - 10:39 pm.

            That is absolutely right!

            Most Americans ignore politics most of the time and wake up only for the presidential election.

            Yet our local, state, and Congressional elected officials have much more effect on our everyday lives than president.

            If I had one message to give to American voters, that would be it.

  3. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 09/23/2016 - 10:00 am.

    Strange how Nate Silver is the person everyone like Prof. Schultz seizes on– especially since in this case, the 538 model is actually more bullish on Trump’s chances than others. As of a few days ago, NYT gave Trump a 25% chance, Betfair and other trading markets were in the 30-35% range, Princeton Election Consortium at 18%. So a little weird to feature the one who gives Trump the best odds in a piece that is basically arguing even those are too low. Why not take issue with the NYT model, where the difference between it and Shultz’s prediction is much larger? Also a bit odd to not point out that Silver is currently an outlier, making Shultz’s prediction even more of an outlier.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/23/2016 - 10:31 am.


    “Silver came to fame with applying the logic of moneyball to politics – successfully using his algorithms to call 99 of 100 states in the last two presidential elections.”

    I wondered what Professor Schultz meant by this. What Silver does is try to analyze polls in a dispassionate, objective manner. Nothing Moneyball-ish about that. Where the Moneyball element comes in is that the results of such analysis often conflict conventional wisdom. In the baseball world, scouts will often talk about feelings, hunches, and what not. Long term assumptions such as the value of bunting will go largely unchallenged. Silver brought statistical tools to bear on such issues to determine if those subjective feelings were really correct, often finding that they weren’t.

    I guess it’s that iconoclastic attitude toward pundits and the conventional wisdom that prevails which Schultz is addressing here.

    “Take, for example, the Sept. 18 Star Tribune poll, with results from 625 respondents and landlines constituting 69 percent. A good poll should have at least 1,000 respondents and nearly 70 percent cellphones. This is a flawed poll. Silver’s predictions are only as good as the polls and he has blown several predictions this year, consistently overestimating Clinton’s strengths.”

    To say that Silver’s predictions are only as good as his data, is close to a tautology. Silver’s whole approach is to be objective and data focused. His results in theory, an never be better than the data. But the fact is, the data itself is partially subjective as demonstrated in a recent New York Times article which showed how the pollsters using the same data would come up with different results.

  5. Submitted by Jim Million on 09/23/2016 - 10:48 am.

    A Newer Normal?

    I noticed this week that some national pollsters now have Minnesota in the “leaning Democrat” category.
    If that’s not a very strong signal of significance, I don’t know what is. We’ve been pretty Blue for a long time. One would truly expect most any DNC candidate to be well ahead here, but not HRC. Maybe everyone should look closely at the down ballot contests to determine the reality of sentiment.

    [Oh, and thanks to MinnPost for another good photo here. For some reason it struck me that Trump’s right arm is outstretched, but with palm up and not down.]

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/23/2016 - 10:54 am.

    The conventional wisdom gap

    In baseball, there was a conventional wisdom gap between emotion based analysis and statistic based analysis that had persisted for maybe a hundred years. The gap was fairly large, and incredibly persistent allowing the Moneyball like Billy Beane to take advantage of it. But that gap has been closing for a while now, to such an extent, I believe where problems in statistical analysis itself out weigh problems with emotion based analysis.

    That can happen in politics too. Old time analysts, tired of being shown up by the brash young outsiders, have to an increasing extent accepted the new analytical tools, thereby closing the CW gap. But as that happens, what we will learn that the statistics themselves have their own problems, which will inevitably limit their utility.

  7. Submitted by Jim Million on 09/23/2016 - 11:02 am.

    Thanks for “tautology.”

    Various pollsters and analysts have put this race and its poll reactions in a less than “scientific” category. I agree wholeheartedly with you regarding non-intellectual forces of “feelings, hunches, and what not.” If any Presidential ballot is to be decided in the safe privacy of the voting booth, this one seems to be the one. I find far fewer people talking politics this year, at least in public–even in the barbershop. I’m looking now to turnout counts as very important indicator. I wonder if the early voting numbers will be telling in some way, as well.

  8. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/23/2016 - 11:33 am.


    Every poll stands in absolute contradiction to what you read in every stock prospectus, to the effect that the past is no sure predictor of the future. Every election is different and some, like this one, in my own hunch and opinion, are a lot more different than others. For one thing, we have never in recent memory seen two candidates as unpopular as these, and that’s something that can tremendously skew dynamics.

    Rail as I often do, against subjectivity in analysis, I am helpless in avoiding it myself. We are by nature subjective egos, each cultivating our egos. I talk to a lot of voters and a lot of political types, and my subjective impression is that emotions are running higher than I have ever seen them before. People are more reluctant to talk politics, more hesitant to share their political views. Arguments with neighbors are getting more bitter. Among the more professional types, the election I hear this one compared to most often is the Ventura gubernatorial race and the conclusion from that election than can be drawn is that only the most conventional analysis that is certain to be wrong.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 09/23/2016 - 12:06 pm.

      “subjectivity in analysis”

      Unfortunately, this trend seems to have become status quo, at least regarding the blogosphere, where very many people seem to receive their information/opinion reinforcement.

      One might assume these two candidates, if any, would minimize the forces of subjectivity, given their stark differences and microscopic coverage. Doesn’t appear that way now. Perhaps the final counts will indicate intellectual aversion far more than emotional affinity.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/23/2016 - 02:38 pm.

        I think subjectivity is inescapable. I am fond of saying that the only entity without perspective is God. A lot of people think polls are objective, and advocates of the Silver view of things often proceed on that assumption. But as someone who has done a lot of canvassing myself, I can say result are dependent on lots of factors. Cell phones v. land lines is one factor, but I can also tell you canvassing with a pretty girl makes a world of difference in getting responses.

        I have a lot of problems with polling but one big one is that for the most part political polls usually do not have any effective control group. We can take a poll in September, but how do you know if it’s accurate? There is no definitive control group to compare it to. What pollsters cite as margin of error is a statistical artifact which has nothing to do with how much any given poll might be in error.

  9. Submitted by Rick Prescott on 09/23/2016 - 12:10 pm.

    Thin, but depressing

    This is a surprisingly thin post from Mr. Schultz.

    It seems fair game to criticize Nate Silver (or anyone else who tries to predict the outcome of this election), but there’s no meat on Schultz’s criticisms. It’s not enough to say “Silver’s predictions are only as good as the polls” or “Silver is smart, but it would not have taken an Einstein to call at least 90 of the 100 states.” If Schultz wants to offer meaningful criticism, he’ll need to dig into Silver’s methodology. I really would love to read something like that.

    Schultz also misses the mark significantly when assessing Clinton voters based only on their lukewarm support for her, and suggesting they might not come out to the polls. That certainly is possible, but this cycle seems to contain an even larger than usual collection of anti-voters — those who will come out heartily to vote AGAINST someone. How this might play into turnout, and the down-ballot races, is another subject on which I would love to hear Schultz’s analysis.

    But he hits a couple of things which are simultaneously salient, perceptive and depressing. One is his succinct description of modern politics as “…post-truth…, post-rational, post-issues, and simply pop culture sound-bite driven.” Any electorate which has ceased to care about truth, rationality, and issues DESERVES a candidate like Trump, along with all of the consequences of both his candidacy and possible win.

    Second, Schultz hints at, while not explicitly stating, another reality: Modern politics is more than ever about team sports. This is really the only way to explain how 40 states are not even competitive anymore.

    Using that frame, Trump and Clinton are both seen as just the (flawed) coaches of our favorite teams, and we vote according to who we’ve always rooted for. That has the ring of truth about it, but it also begs analysis of whether a coach like Trump can bring out the hold-your-nose fans and actually keep the Red Team together long enough to win the game. Blue Team seems to have the advantage there, even though their coach isn’t exactly Vince Lombardi.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/23/2016 - 01:42 pm.

      Team sports?

      The reasons for Trump’s possible win lay in the fact that so many voters are refusing play for either team. This has nothing to do with sports.

      • Submitted by Rick Prescott on 09/23/2016 - 04:26 pm.

        Not so.

        That is the narrative that some would have you believe, but it just isn’t so.

        The reality is that, if Trump were running as an independent, he would be polling down in Ross Perot territory. And, as further evidence of the “team” mentality, the same is likely true for Clinton.

        The only reason Trump is a viable candidate with a chance to actually win is that he’s fronting a party (the Red Team) that a lot of people have pledged allegiance to, whether they openly acknowledge it or not. You hear all the time that, for many Republicans, he’s the ultimate hold-your-nose candidate — which is coded language for, “I’m a Republican, so I have to vote for our nominee regardless of what I actually feel about him.”

        It’s even to the point that there is great gnashing of teeth among the loyalists over those who openly refuse to drink the koolaid. In our current climate, especially on the Red Team, loyalty trumps everything else (if you’ll pardon the expression). If he wins, that’s the reason, and nothing more.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/25/2016 - 11:14 am.

          Yes so

          The problem with sports analogies is that they are always as simplistic as the sports they’re based on. Money Ball turned out to be little more than fun with numbers, beyond common sense it hasn’t created the perfect sport or the perfect team.

          As for “team” analogies, in fact Trump IS an independent candidate that captured the republican nomination. Sanders as well was best viewed as an independent running for the democratic nomination. The difference is that the republicans were less successful at suppressing their insurgency than were the democrats. Both Clinton and Trump are driving away voters rather than bringing them into the fold, even thought they will get the majority of votes. As to why people will vote for them, simple team analogies don’t even begin to explain voter rationals’

  10. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/23/2016 - 12:13 pm.

    One of the little nuggets of note in Prof. Schultz’s piece is the criticism of the non-representativeness of the recent Star Tribune “poll” on the presidential race. Not enough peoplepolled in the sample, and too many land-line phones. Skews Republican and older and whiter.

    Not to mention the awful design of the questions in that poll, which were juuuuust this side of push-polling, and very superficial, to boot.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/23/2016 - 01:25 pm.

    Yes, Trump is a weak candidate, but…

    Hillary Clinton is also an incredibly weak candidate. If Trump wins we can thank the democrats who for some reason decided that they could nominate a candidate tens of millions of American’s don’t want to vote for… and still get their votes.

    Clinton is and has always struggled to project a compelling and concise campaign message and even if she does come up with such a message at this late stage, millions of Americans won’t trust her to follow through.

    Meanwhile Trump is telling people he’s for America, He’s for Americans, and he’ll always put America and Americans first. It’s simple, short, and if you believe him, very compelling, especially when Clinton shows up and starts bragging about how she’s for the Import Export Bank. Whatever.

    Yes, Trump could win, and I’m so angry with the democrats I could just spit! 🙂

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 09/23/2016 - 03:47 pm.

      Debbie Wasserman-Schultz

      I lay this squarely at the feet of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. We already know how she sabotaged the primaries against Bernie. But in general, I’m sure we would have had a deeper and more substantive bench to choose were it not for what I’m sure was the very forceful message being put out to party insiders that “It’s Hillary’s turn!” and no one better mess that up!

      It’s on her if we end up with a President Trump.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 09/23/2016 - 04:54 pm.


        Clinton won by millions of votes. Nothing DWS did was going to change that.

        And there was nothing stopping other candidates from running. A few did, and one even put up a decent fight.

        Sorry you don’t like who won. Move on. Or go vote third party. Whatever.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/25/2016 - 11:21 am.

        Sabotage or rigged it’s the same outcome

        I don’t think we lay this all on Wasserman-Schultz’s shoulder when the entire democratic party elite clearly decided that it was Hillary’s turn. From financing to super delegates, to media bias it’s amazing Sanders got as much traction as he did.

        Sure what’s done is done and we’ll move on, let’s just hope we’re not moving on to President Trump. The fact is if Sanders had been the nominee he’d stomping Trump right now for a variety of reasons so Clinton supporters can sit smugly behind their nomination victory but the question is whether or not they’re blind devotion to a schlocky candidate has handed us yet another disastrous republican president.

        • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 09/26/2016 - 09:29 am.

          I don’t think it’s at all a given that Bernie would be stomping Trump right now, frankly. I think this race would be a similar position, for different reasons. Bernie’s “socialism” would drive Republicans home to Trump the way Clinton hatred is doing today.

          • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/26/2016 - 12:34 pm.

            Facts get in the way of ideology

            One of the most surprising things about Bernie was the fact that his “socialism” didn’t bother anyone other than pundits and right wing extremists. For one thing, Bernie is actually a New Deal Democrat, not much of a socialist anyways. Clinton’s the one driving people back into their respective corners, not Bernie. We know that a significant percentage of Trump supporters were actually breaking for Bernie when they had the chance, (i.e. open primaries etc.) Bernie would have gotten all Clinton voters, plus the millennials, AND other independents that were on the fence with Trump.

            Bernie would never have made attacking Trump the focus of his campaign, and he had a clear and unambiguous populist campaign message that clearly resonated with a majority of Americans, voters felt like they were voting FOR something Bernie rather than against something. Throw in the fact that he was the most popular and trusted of ALL the candidates and you’re looking a stomp.

      • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 09/26/2016 - 12:51 pm.


        Debbie is a turd for a number of reasons. She definitely had a finger on the scale. But she is NOT to blame for Bernie losing the nomination. The results are clear, even if you consider the fudged bits. No, the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of people who love Bernie but believe that a petition on or a forwarding a post on Facebook is sufficient enough engagement to make a difference. Sorry, kids, but when it comes to politics, no one cares about your opinion. They only care about your vote.

        • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 09/26/2016 - 02:02 pm.

          That’s not what I said

          I said I blame her for the fact that “It’s Hillary’s turn!” appeared to be a strong driving factor in the fact that we didn’t get a deeper bench of candidates. Sure, she then did what she could to sabotage Bernie – the lone survivor. But I fully believe we would have had more choices, and that this did not HAVE to be “Trump v.s. Hillary”.

          But that’s what it is, and I lay the blame at her feet if he wins.

          • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 09/27/2016 - 09:54 am.

            It was supposed to be her turn in 2008, too

            But a smart and determined first-term Senator beat her out. The real problem is that the Democratic bench has been dramatically weakened by all the down-ballot losses over the last few cycles.

    • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/23/2016 - 04:32 pm.

      Hillary Clinton is prepared to be our President, although she is not a media performer as Candidate for President.

      That’s her problem: She’s spent her life with complex policy issues, trying to sort out ways to make all our lives better, and she knows so much about so many issues that are controversial and sensitive, that she just cannot do Sound Bite Solutions and Slogans. She’s boring, especially because she watches what she says (the spot-on “deplorables” adjective notwithstanding).

      I guess that in our country today focusing on poolicy uances is a failing, when the media profoundly prefer “Breaking News Outrages” from Trump over statements from Clinton about how she would get big corporations to pay their due taxes or incentivize anti-global warming behaviors or get our kids better educations.

      Me? I’m not going to blame the Democratic Party if Hillary doesn’t win the Presidency. I’m going to blame the shallow, let’s-follow-the-circus-show infotainment media, who gave Trump so huge an amount of free TV time, for instance, because he’s so outrageous. Meanwhile, half of America has no idea of the policy debate there should be and wrongly think that political debate has no substance!

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/24/2016 - 09:33 am.

        This is how democrats put Trump in the White House

        Just because some democrats are willing to ignore major problems with Clinton doesn’t mean a majority voters will minimize legitimate concerns and vote for her anyways. This was predictable and it WAS predicted. I don’t see how we blame the media for this when the vast majority of media coverage of Trump has been hostile and critical.

        The idea that Clinton will be a better president than she is a campaigner simply acknowledges the fact that she’s a crappy candidate. Claiming that Clinton is “prepared” is just about the weakest claim you could make as far as attracting voters is concerned, I’m not even sure what that actually means.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/23/2016 - 01:39 pm.

    The money-ball is silly

    Wasn’t that a book that celebrated the genius of the Twin’s management and their ability to bring in a winning team despite lower revenues? Didn’t Twins play in a virtually empty taxpayer subsidized stadium yesterday? This idea that some sport analogy can always explain anything is frequently annoying.

  13. Submitted by Pat Terry on 09/23/2016 - 02:59 pm.


    If Schultz thinks Trump can win, I’ll take that as evidence that he can’t.

  14. Submitted by Brent Stahl on 09/23/2016 - 03:03 pm.

    Weak Effort

    This was a very weak effort by the professor. He congratulates himself several times and claims to offer a superior alternative to Nate Silver and his imitators. But Schultz really doesn’t lay a glove on Silver because he doesn’t appear to understand what Silver is doing. But Schultz is very interested in selling his book.

    He poo-poo’s Silver’s record in picking state results (50 or 50 in 2012 is mentioned; not mentioned is 49 of 50 in 2008), saying that it isn’t that hard, which is nonsense. Silver missed a handful of primary election results this year, as he has before, but these are inherently much more difficult because primary voting participation is much lower than in general elections. This is not news.

    Silver has developed several complex models based on polling and other data in an effort to predict state-level and national results. He is not relying on individual polls but rather on every available poll, and then he weights each one depending on their quality by objective indicators, their historical accuracy, and their timing. In short, even weaker polls can contribute useful information to the overall model. How 538 does this is spelled out on their website.

    Silver also is tracking the trajectory of political opinion through the course of campaigns. Schultz appears not to be interested in this, but future historians will be.

    I did not detect any insights in Schultz’s article that cannot be obtained from analytic approaches such as Silver’s. Schultz says that Trump may well win. Silver would say, of course, but he probably is not quite there yet.

    What is really different about this campaign is that for much of it traditional media were stymied by Donald Trump’s style of campaigning (including flooding the information zone and not following previous rules of discourse) plus the decentralization of news sources. The Washington Post and NY Times have regained their footing to a large extent, but most other news organizations still seem to be at Trump’s mercy. James Fallows at has been documenting this at some length, and his work is very much worth reading. These factors and their actual influence on vote choice need to be documented with actual survey respondents rather than by making armchair assumptions or talking to a few focus group respondents..

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 09/23/2016 - 04:36 pm.

      Well Said…

      Very cogent and coherent here…thanks. Your WaPo/NYT observation is most remarkable. Both pushed their preferred leads for far too long, finally realizing they were losing much of their remaining credibility in many sectors. Since returning to following events and campaign stories, they have recaptured some lost status as major news organizations. We will have to read how they report the coming national debate.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/23/2016 - 05:00 pm.


    If you’re not worried you’re ether a Trump supporter or you’re not paying attention. Shultz is right, Trump could win.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 09/26/2016 - 11:51 am.


      One is far too fixated on all of this television “drama.” Our Nation will not dissolve, regardless of outcome.
      As in many previous election cycles, we will undoubtedly find that our demise is not imminent, that mechanical functions of our system will not permit extreme outcomes, and that most citizens will continue to grumble amidst their personal passions.

      It’s now time for everyone to settle down a bit and listen carefully to the words spoken by all candidates, not those written in response (or anticipation) by far too many interpreters.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/26/2016 - 12:38 pm.


        Trump will just be one our many bad presidents, but we’ll survive. Trump will end the republican party as we know it, and if he wins that will actually smash the elite that’s been running the democratic party for decades as well. Those two outcomes may well be far more important than the results of this particular presidential election cycle. I still wouldn’t vote for Trump because win or lose I think the parties are imploding, but we’ve been at this for over 200 years, bad presidents come and go.

  16. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 09/26/2016 - 12:59 pm.

    Silver might be wrong

    But not for the reasons Schultz believes. I believe that this election is so different that Silver can’t rely on previous models. He was right in the past because he had the right tools. But, while past elections might be different enough to be the equivalent of switching from English to metric units when determining which tools to use, this one is switching to nonsense units. Good luck with that.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 09/26/2016 - 08:08 pm.

      Well deduced…

      I like “nonsense units” very much. If I may, I wish to add one other enhancement of this election–the greatly elevated presence of “news” analysts and other political translators in helping us all “understand” who the players really are and what they really represent. They decided we needed much more help from them this year. Much of this has been fed to us in “nanny seconds.”

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/27/2016 - 09:45 am.


      Fun with numbers has it’s limits. Prediction is always a fickle mistress models tend to work… until the don’t.

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