Other Group

FiveThirtyEight

Website:

https://fivethirtyeight.com/

Location:

Online

Formation:

2008

Editor:

Nate Silver

Type:

Statistical predictions website

FiveThirtyEight is an American website founded by statistician Nate Silver. Silver and other analysts make predictions on politics, sports, economics, and other affairs using algorithms and statistical models. As of November 2021, FiveThirtyEight has 41 staff members on its masthead. [1]

FiveThirtyEight is best known for utilizing a unique combination of polling data, demographics, and algorithms based on past elections to make predictions about future elections. The site was extremely accurate from 2008-2012 but has faced more criticism in recent years, especially with its failure to accurately gauge the odds of President Donald Trump’s victories in the Republican presidential primaries and general election in 2016.

Silver described his political views in a 2012 NPR interview as “being somewhere between a liberal and a Libertarian. A fancy way of saying I’m probably fairly centrist on economic policy, but liberal or Libertarian on social policy.” [2] Prior to forming FiveThirtyEight, Silver pseudonymously wrote on the 2008 election at the left-wing blog Daily Kos. [3]

AllSides.com gives FiveThirtyEight a “center” media bias, [4] while Media Bias/Fact Check gives the website a slightly left-leaning bias. [5]

Founding

Nate Silver, a professional poker player and baseball statistician, began analyzing and writing about politics in 2006 after the U.S. Congress banned online poker. Early in the 2008 presidential election, Silver began blogging on the Daily Kos about the election under the pseudonym, Poblano. He notably relied more on demographic data modified by his own algorithms rather than raw polling data to make his predictions. Silver went against mainstream predictions and evaluations on the prospects of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) defeating Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) in the Democratic presidential primaries. Silver soon deanonymized and posted under his real name on his own blog, FiveThirtyEight, named after the number of votes in the Electoral College. [6]

In the 2008 presidential election, Silver accurately predicted 49 out of 50 states. [7] He also correctly called all 35 Senatorial elections. [8] On Election Day, FiveThirtyEight had 5 million page views. [9] In the aftermath, Silver was considered one of the premier American political analysts; he wrote for Esquire, New York Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal. Penguin offered Silver a $700,000 advance on two books. [10]

New York Times

In 2010, FiveThirtyEight was re-launched as a vertical under the New York Times (NYT) and focused more on political forecasting. The website continued to exclusively produce its own content, but was subject to editing overview by the newspaper. The NYT considerably expanded FiveThirtyEight’s resources, and allowed Nate Silver to apply his forecasting models to all U.S. Congressional, U.S. Senatorial, and state governor races. [11]

According to NYT staffer Margaret Sullivan, Silver was known to clash with the culture and outlook of the NYT’s staff, and was described as “disruptive.” Silver focused on statistics-based analyses, and was openly critical of the traditional political punditry the paper engaged in, calling it “fundamentally useless.” Numerous prominent NYT journalists disliked Silver’s work, and resented Silver for consuming an outsized proportion of the paper’s resources. [12]

During the 2012 presidential election, Silver was significantly more confident in President Barack Obama’s reelection than most pollsters. On Joe Scarborough’s “Morning Joe,” Silver gave President Obama a 73.6% chance of winning. Scarborough accused Silver of being greatly overconfident in President Obama (asserting the election was a “coin toss”), of being an “ideologue,” and of letting his left-political bias interfere with his prediction models. Silver replied by offering a $1,000 bet on the election, which Silver subsequently won. Scarborough paid $1,000 to charity and offered a “semi-apology” to Silver. [13]

In the 2012 presidential election, Silver accurately predicted all 50 states. [14]

Silver feuded with the NYT after leaving the newspaper’s orbit. In the aftermath of the 2016 election, Silver wrote a 30,000 word criticism of the NYT’s coverage of the election, accusing it of being overconfident in Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s chances and of systemically downplaying Republican candidate Donald Trump’s electoral strengths. NYT journalist Maggie Haberman criticized Silver for taking unwarranted shots at NYT personnel which seemed personally rather than professionally motivated. Silver continued criticizing NYT headlines and articles throughout the 2018 and 2020 elections. A NYT spokesman told Politico that the paper didn’t always agree with Silver but respected his criticisms. On at least one occasion, the NYT changed a headline after Silver Tweeted about it. [15]

ESPN

In 2013, ESPN purchased FiveThirtyEight. NYT staffer Margaret Sullivan remarked that Nate Silver was likely a better cultural fit for the sports outlet. He expanded the scope of FiveThirtyEight’s work to economics, sports, and various other domains. [16]

ABC News

In 2018, FiveThirtyEight was transferred to ABC News from ESPN within the Disney corporate umbrella. Silver stated that the move allowed FiveThirtyEight to expand its coverage of political affairs. [17]

In November 2021, FiveThirtyEight published a controversial article entitled, “Why White Voters with Racist Views Often Still Support Black Republicans” to explain the election of Winsome Sears (R-VA), the first black female to be elected to statewide office in Virginia, to the state’s Lieutenant Governorship. Republican pundits claimed Sears’s election was proof that she and Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) were not elected due to the stoking of racial fears; FiveThirtyEight countered that past polling data indicated that racist whites tended to especially favor black Republicans, such as Trump administration Housing Secretary Ben Carson when he ran for president in 2016. The authors speculated that racist whites feel assuaged of their guilt when they support Black candidates. [18]

2016 Election

In June 2015, FiveThirtyEight writer Harry Enten published an article entitled, “Why Donald Trump Isn’t a Real Candidate, In One Chart,” which showed that Donald Trump had the lowest net-favorability rating of any presidential candidate since at least 1980. [19] Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight would continue to be derisive of Trump’s odds, both on the website and on Twitter throughout the Republican primaries. The website was particularly criticized for giving Trump extremely low odds of victory despite consistently high polling numbers among Republicans. [20]

In the 2016 presidential election, FiveThirtyEight gave former Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) a 71.4% chance of defeating Trump. Silver gave better odds for Trump than nearly all poll analysts, including the New York Times (15%), the Princeton Election Consortium (7%), and the Huffington Post (2%), [21] though the right-leaning pollsters Trafalgar Group predicted a Trump victory. [22] Silver correctly predicted 45 out of 50 states. [23]

After the election, Silver and the entire pollster industry faced criticisms for failing to predict President Trump’s victory. Nathan Robinson of the left-wing Current Affairs described the election as “a series of spectacular Silver blunders.” Silver’s prediction that Senator Clinton had a 99% chance of winning the Democratic primary in Michigan, which she lost to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). In the Democratic and Republican primaries, Silver’s predictions were outcompeted by Carl Diggler, a fictional pundit created by the New York Times which made predictions based on purposefully random and arbitrary factors. [24]

The left-of-center Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) accused FiveThirtyEight of sacrificing its integrity to hinder Sen. Sanders. FAIR claimed that FiveThirtyEight and Silver in particular consistently downplayed Sen. Sanders’s gains and defended Sen. Clinton’s collusion with the Democratic Party to prevent Sen. Sanders from having a reasonable chance of winning the Democratic primary. [25]

Silver responded by criticizing the media for misunderstanding the nature of statistics and predictions, noting that FiveThirtyEight gave President Trump almost a 30% chance of victory, which constituted an unlikely but not rare occurrence. He also noted that there was “groupthink” in the media which prevented the reasonable consideration of factors which pointed to a Trump victory. [26]

Silver conceded that he had been overly confident in Trump losing the Republican primaries, especially considering Trump’s success in the polls. Silver claimed that polling Donald Trump was difficult because he wasn’t a “data-driven” candidate, and that the Republican presidential primaries were genuinely unprecedented. [27]

Silver considered the general criticisms of polling “irresponsible.” However, Silver stated: [28]

…if you had a forecast that Trump had a 1 percent chance of winning, your reputation should be damaged by that. And if you’re a newspaper like The New York Times that says that Clinton was a sure thing, then your reputation should be damaged by that. People in this day and age want information that confirms their prior beliefs and that they can take comfort from.

2020 Election

In the 2020 presidential election, FiveThirtyEight gave former-Vice President Joe Biden (D-DE) an 89% chance of winning, with President Donald Trump having a 10% chance, and a tie at 1%. Silver’s forecasts favored the winner in 48 states, though he favored Biden in Florida and North Carolina, both of which were won by President Trump. [29] Silver stated that President Trump had the same chance of winning as it raining in downtown Los Angeles on any given day. [30]

References

  1. “Masthead.” FiveThirtyEight. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://fivethirtyeight.com/masthead/. ^
  2. “’Signal’ and ‘Noise’: Prediction as Art and Science.” NPR. October 10, 2012. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://www.npr.org/transcripts/162594751. ^
  3. Edgecliffe-Johnson, Andrew. “Nate Silver, data guru returns to sport.” Financial Times. July 26, 2013. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://www.ft.com/content/285f77a0-f518-11e2-94e9-00144feabdc0. ^
  4. “FiveThirtyEight.” AllSides. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://www.allsides.com/news-source/fivethirtyeight-0. ^
  5.  “FiveThirtyEight.” Media Bias/Fact Check. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/fivethirtyeight/. ^
  6. Edgecliffe-Johnson, Andrew. “Nate Silver, data guru returns to sport.” Financial Times. July 26, 2013. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://www.ft.com/content/285f77a0-f518-11e2-94e9-00144feabdc0. ^
  7. Covel, Michael. “The Predictions of Nate Silver.” Trend Following. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://www.trendfollowing.com/nate-silver/. ^
  8. “’Signal’ and ‘Noise’: Prediction as Art and Science.” NPR. October 10, 2012. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://www.npr.org/transcripts/162594751. ^
  9. Clifford, Stephanie. “Finding Fame With a Prescient Call for Obama.” New York Times. November 9, 2008. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/10/business/media/10silver.html. ^
  10. Neyfakh, Leon. “Nate Silver Signs with Penguin in Two Book Deal Worth About $700,000 [Update].” New York Observer. November 14, 2008. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://web.archive.org/web/20081202033617/http://www.observer.com/2008/media/nate-silver-signs-penguin-two-book-deal-worth-sum-high-six-figures. ^
  11. “About FiveThirtyEight.” New York Times. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://web.archive.org/web/20140318085522/http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/about-fivethirtyeight/. ^
  12. Sullivan, Margaret. “Nate Silver Went Against the Grain for Some at The Times.” New York Times. July 22, 2013. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/22/nate-silver-went-against-the-grain-for-some-at-the-times/?smid=tw-share. ^
  13. Scarborough, Joe. “My (semi) apology to Nate Silver.” Politico. November 20, 2012. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://www.politico.com/story/2012/11/my-semi-apology-to-nate-silver-084115. ^
  14. Covel, Michael. “The Predictions of Nate Silver.” Trend Following. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://www.trendfollowing.com/nate-silver/. ^
  15. Calderone, Michael. “Behind Nate Silver’s war with the New York Times.” Politico. August 15, 2019. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://www.politico.com/story/2019/08/15/nate-silver-new-york-times-1461666. ^
  16. Sullivan, Margaret. “Nate Silver Went Against the Grain for Some at The Times.” New York Times. July 22, 2013. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/22/nate-silver-went-against-the-grain-for-some-at-the-times/?smid=tw-share. ^
  17. “FiveThirtyEight joins ABC News.” ABC News. April 17, 2018. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://abcnews.go.com/US/fivethirtyeight-joins-abc-news/story?id=54531745. ^
  18.  Jefferson, Hakeem; Tesler, Michael. “Why White Voters With Racist Views Often Still Support Black Republicans.” FiveThirtyEight. November 10, 2021. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/why-racist-white-voters-often-favor-black-republicans/. ^
  19. Enten, Harry. “Why Donald Trump Isn’t a Real Candidate, In One Chart.” June 16, 2015. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/why-donald-trump-isnt-a-real-candidate-in-one-chart/. ^
  20. Robinson, Nathan J. “Why You Should Never, Ever Listen to Nathan Silver.” Current Affairs. December 29, 2016. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://www.currentaffairs.org/2016/12/why-you-should-never-ever-listen-to-nate-silver. ^
  21. Graham, David A. “What does Nate Silver Know?” The Atlantic. March 2020. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/can-you-still-trust-nate-silver/605521/. ^
  22. “The Trafalgar Group.” Twitter. November 8, 2016. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://twitter.com/trafalgar_group/status/796118715309899776. ^
  23. Robinson, Nathan J. “Why You Should Never, Ever Listen to Nathan Silver.” Current Affairs. December 29, 2016. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://www.currentaffairs.org/2016/12/why-you-should-never-ever-listen-to-nate-silver. ^
  24. [1] Robinson, Nathan J. “Why You Should Never, Ever Listen to Nathan Silver.” Current Affairs. December 29, 2016. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://www.currentaffairs.org/2016/12/why-you-should-never-ever-listen-to-nate-silver. ^
  25. Naureckas, Jim. “538 Sacrifices Integrity to Go After Sanders on Independents.” Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. May 29, 2016. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://fair.org/home/538-sacrifices-integrity-to-go-after-sanders-on-independents/. ^
  26. Pazzanese, Christina. “The puzzle in politics and polling.” The Harvard Gazette. March 30, 2017. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/03/nate-silver-says-conventional-wisdom-not-data-killed-2016-election-forecasts/. ^
  27. Pazzanese, Christina. “The puzzle in politics and polling.” The Harvard Gazette. March 30, 2017. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/03/nate-silver-says-conventional-wisdom-not-data-killed-2016-election-forecasts/. ^
  28. Pazzanese, Christina. “The puzzle in politics and polling.” The Harvard Gazette. March 30, 2017. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/03/nate-silver-says-conventional-wisdom-not-data-killed-2016-election-forecasts/. ^
  29. “Biden is favored to win the election.” FiveThirtyEight. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2020-election-forecast/. ^
  30. Kim, Soo. “What Nate Silver Has Said About Trump’s Chances One Day Until Election.” Newsweek. November 2, 2020. Accessed November 14, 2021. https://www.newsweek.com/2020-election-polls-predictions-joe-biden-donald-trump-chances-winning-nate-silver-1544036. ^
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