I'm not saying Silver's just lucky or shoveling garbage. He's a serious numbers guy. But so are the folks at the University of Colorado's political science department whose own model is based on economic indicators. Its Oct. 4 findings predicted Romney would win, as did many other models.
They couldn't all be right.
What interests me is the way people talk about math as if it's divinely prophetic. It's as if they subscribe to a religion that simply apes the terminology of science. To listen to many of Silver's defenders, questioning his methodology is akin to rejecting evolution or the laws of thermodynamics, as if only his model is sanctified by the god, Reason.
I wonder: What kind of scholarship do we have to look forward to when, in the words of Krugman, "facts really do have a well-known liberal bias" and a difference of opinion over poll-weighting foretells the end of science?
Don't get me wrong; I do understand that math can be ironclad. We know the decay rates of isotopes, how fast things will fall in a vacuum, what compounded interest rates will yield and all that.
But I like to think that people are different, more open to reason, and that the soul -- particularly when multiplied into the complexity of a society -- is not so easily number-crunched. Obviously this is a romantic view out of step with the times. Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism, lamented long ago that the "age of chivalry is gone," replaced by "that of sophisters, economists and calculators."
Still, isn't it possible that the passionate defense Silver arouses from some people on the left has just a bit more to do with the comfort he dispenses than with the sophistication of his analysis? And isn't it also possible that some of the conservatives screaming bloody murder about how his model has to be rigged are paying homage to the same cult of the numbers?