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How I Think About Presidential Elections Forecasts

- April 2, 2012

Nate Silver’s newest critique of presidential election forecasting models has been making the rounds.  He was kind enough to publish my response to his critique late last week while I was traveling, so I want to highlight it now.  The essence of my response is this:

* Undoubtedly these forecasting models could be improved in various ways.  I agree with several of Nate’s specific criticisms.  (Thus, contra Jon Bernstein, I don’t think I’m “giving the models a pass.”)

* The models — despite their limitations — rarely predict the wrong winner, so the lay consumer of these models will not be grossly misled most of the time.  By lay consumer, I mean someone interested enough in politics to care who wins the presidential election, but not much interested in “mean squared error” and other commonplaces of the “nerdfight.”

* Most political science knowledge about the economy’s role in elections, the effect of campaigns, and voter behavior does not come from forecasting models.

* There is no easy way to separate the effects of the economy and the campaign — a point I made previously.

Although I am not a forecaster, I’ve been dabbling with a simple forecasting model as part of the book on the 2012 election.  I will have a bit more to say about this subject in the weeks ahead.

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