Nate Silver ponders the Cain dilemma

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.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/27/2011 - 10:26 am.

    I think that Herman Cain is ‘none of the above’.
    Polls are relative; his high standing says more about the weakness of the Republican field than it does about him.

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/27/2011 - 10:30 am.

    There has always been a deep divide between the Republican Party’s establishment and it’s base. Historically, when the they are in conflict, the establishment has won. But lately, in the last election cycle, the base has started winning. And in this presidential nominating process, the establishment has come up with a candidate not even the establishment likes very much in Mitt Romney. Will the Republican Party base be able to extend the successes they have had locally, to the national level? I don’t know. But it would be a mistake disregard Cain’s support just because the national media doesn’t take him as seriously as they could. The national media itself, is a representative of the establishment, and the embodiment of establishment thinking. Once they leave the beltway, they are way to often without a clue.

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/27/2011 - 11:27 am.

    Hiram–
    What evidence do you have that more than a quarter of likely Republican voters (I assume this is the ‘base’ that you are referring to) favor Cain?

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/27/2011 - 12:57 pm.

    “But lately, in the last election cycle, the base has started winning.”

    Huh? Sorry, but the base saw John McCain as Jerry Ford, Bob Dole, GHW Bush redux and we vowed it wouldn’t happen again.

    Herman Cain is doing so well because of all the exposure he’s received during the many debates, interviews on the cable news shows and because of the internet … things that weren’t available to other candidates historically.

    He’s seen as a friendly, outgoing conservative with private sector experience, a record of problem solving, and an actual plan that people understand. Message really does matter more than money.

  5. Submitted by Susan Rego on 10/28/2011 - 09:40 am.

    Dennis Tester says of Herman Cain:

    “He’s seen as a friendly, outgoing conservative with private sector experience, a record of problem solving, and an actual plan that people understand. Message really does matter more than money.”

    And best of all, he’s pro-choice!

    “So what I’m saying is, it ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make. Not me as president. Not some politician. Not a bureaucrat. It gets down to that family. And whatever they decide, they decide. I shouldn’t try to tell them what decision to make for such a sensitive decision.”

    ~ Herman Cain to Piers Morgan

  6. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/28/2011 - 12:11 pm.

    So I guess you’ll be voting for him then?

    I hate to disappoint you Susan, but the question Morgan asked him (if you’ll check the video) is “whether you would want her (the raped relative) to bring up that baby as her own.”

    Herman’s answer was about whether the relative would “raise the child as her own,” whether the family would raise it, or whether the child would be put up for adoption. Neither Morgan nor Cain ever mentioned abortion as an option in that scenario.

    BTW, I loved the movie “Juno.” You should see it sometime.

  7. Submitted by Thomas Eckhardt on 10/28/2011 - 04:23 pm.

    The polls have been all over the place for the Repub candidates, Donald Trump, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Cain and Romney have all led at one point or another. I think one of the problems here is that many, in the party and in the media, pretend to think that winning things like the Ames Straw Poll actually means something.

    We’re not going to know where this will end up until somebody starts building a lead in delegates. And I think I heard that most of the Repub primaries will be proportional, not winner take all like McCain profited from, so this may take a while to shake out.

  8. Submitted by Susan Rego on 10/28/2011 - 09:40 pm.

    Sorry, Dennis, but Mr. Cain himself sent a clarification. He explained what he saw as the “thrust” of the question, and it was not abort vs. adopt.

    “Yesterday in an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN, I was asked questions about abortion policy and the role of the President. I understood the thrust of the question to ask whether that I, as president, would simply ‘order’ people to not seek an abortion. My answer was focused on the role of the President. The President has no constitutional authority to order any such action by anyone. That was the point I was trying to convey. As to my political policy view on abortion, I am 100% pro-life. End of story.”

    His interview with Morgan was Oct. 19. In an Oct. 11 interview with John Stossel on Fox News, he also called himself pro-life but then, when asked if a raped woman should be allowed to end a pregnancy, he said, “That’s her choice. That’s not the government’s choice.”

    Mr. Cain is a very confused man.

    Juno is a pro-choice movie. Juno chose to continue the pregnancy.

  9. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/29/2011 - 07:53 am.

    Cain is just the flavor of the month for the Republicans. Like Bachmann and Perry, his frontrunner status will recede.

    So long as we fund our elections by open bribery, the tax system is going to stay as it is, and the tax code will only grow larger as favors to contributors accumulate. If Reagan had to scrap the idea of starting from scratch, does anyone imagine that Cain – or any other candidate of either party – would have the power to do it?

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