For months, just like a good portion of the country, I followed closely our 2012 presidential campaign. Up to the very end, many pollsters and political pundits were saying that the election was too close to call. But, whenever friends and colleagues asked my opinion, I invariably told them to go look at FiveThirtyEight.com, the political polling website and blog created by Nate Silver.
Silver launched the FiveThirtyEight in March of 2008. He gained national attention when he correctly predicted the results of the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primaries. His final forecasts for the 2008 presidential elections predicted the winner in 49 of the 50 states, as well as the winner of every race in the Senate. The FiveThirtyEight has been affiliated with the NY Times since August of 2010.
Political forecasting attracts a variety of people. Many pollsters seem to still be using methodologies that worked well a decade or two ago, but look woefully behind the times in the emerging world of big data and advanced analytics. Most political pundits seem to inhabit a kind-of magical realism world of their own: if you say what you want to be true often enough and loud enough, it will eventually come to pass.
Silver, on the another hand, views information-based predictions, including political forecasting, as a scientific discipline. You use all available information; you analyze and extract insights out of all that information using sophisticated models and algorithms; you apply human judgement to make predictions based on those insights; and you keep evaluating and adjusting your models and predictions based on how well they perform in the real world.