On his New York Times blog, political number cruncher Nate Silver tries to take on the mystery of Herman Cain. Never has there been a candidate for a presidential nomination, this far into the contest, whose poll numbers are so good when every other measure the geniuses use to calculate political potential (organization, fundraising, endorsements by key governors in early primary states, previously demonstrated electability, etc.) scream that this guy has no chance. In typical Nate Silver fashion, he’s managed to reduce all of these to numbers that can be charted and even checked against history.
Silver finds a few cases where the mystery was the opposite of Cain’s — candidates like Phil Gramm in 1996 who had so much money or Lamar Alexander in 2000 who had so much establishment support — that it was hard to explain their poor standings in the polls. But the Cain anomaly in the oppsite direction, says Silver, is unprecedented.
Still, Silver is obviously uncomfortable with the number of pundits who are constantly announcing that Cain has absolutely no chance to be the nominee.
“Frankly, I think it is quite arrogant to say that the man leading in the polls two months before Iowa has no chance, especially given that there is a long history in politics and other fields of experts being overconfident when they make predictions.”
Personally, I appreciate Silver’s humility and I note that Cain’s strong polling has survived — at least at the moment — a round of well-deserved skepticism about Cain’s trademark 9-9-9 tax plan. I covered the Iowa caucuses which featured the late collapse of frontrunner Howard Dean after he had led in the polls for months and I’ve pretty much given up on predicting the future and concentrated on something I know how to do: predicting the past.