Revenge of the nerds

We learned several things about political consultants on election day. Neither bodes well for Karl Rove and his generation of consultants.

First, the statistical math nerds beat the old-school consultants. Viciously.

Nate Silver, Sam Wang, Drew Linzer, and a new generation of analysts took to the Internet with election forecasts based on polling and other data. When their predictions showed Obama winning the electoral college with over 300 electors they faced a storm of attacks from old school political talking heads. MSNBC on-air personality Joe Scarborough insisted the race was too close to call and proclaimed: “Anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue, they should be kept away from typewriters … because they’re jokes.”  Former Clinton pollster Dick Morris predicted a landslide in favor of Romney and Senate Republicans. Peggy Noonan made a similar prediction. Election night as vote totals were matching the predictions of Silver and company, Rove was melting down on live television as he tried to get Fox News to reverse their call of Ohio for Obama.Sam Wang even offered to eat a bug if his prediction was wrong. We’ll see if the people who were proven wrong offer anything similar.

The game has changed. Today there is a huge array of data that can be put to work it you know how to corral it. The consultants who tried to pick the race on their “gut” instincts were left looking foolish. As Jeff Greenfield conceded, “the ability of the Obama campaign to target supporters and lure them to the polls and the ability of analysts like the New York Times’ Nate Silver to predict the outcome of a race with near precision, means that those of us who got into politics because we were told there’d be no math have got to get a clue.”

Real political experts will need to understand politics and probability. And, students need to understand that this new world of “big data” will apply to politics, business, and a host of other endeavors. The tools needed to understand the modern world will include knowing how to pull together and analyze the data available. Arm yourself with those skills now or resign yourself to serving in a supporting role.

You can see some of the bad predictions become the laughing stock in this highlight reel of election night humor.



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