Skip to main content
ABC News
Reads and Reactions

In this edition: presidential forecasting models, toast, surges and more.


In The Times’s Sunday Magazine a couple of weeks ago, Nate analyzed four possible ways the 2012 general election might play out. The article, “Is Obama Toast? Handicapping the 2012 Election,” and the model it was based on, which used three inputs — the president’s approval rating a year before the election, gross domestic product and the ideology of the Republican nominee — elicited a lot of responses from around the Web and was quickly swept up in a flurry of sharp-elbowed articles about the efficacy of forecasting presidential elections.

In the discussion of forecasting generally, Sean Trende at RealClearPolitics took a skeptical view of the practice. And The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky predicted “economic-determinist political scientists” will be “going back to the drawing board in 2013.”

Seth Masket, at the blog Enik Rising, pushed back at Mr. Trende’s article. Harry Enten, at Margin of Error, offered an opinion. Brendan Nyhan, an assistant professor in the department of government at Dartmouth College, accused many of the forecasting takedowns of relying on straw men. And John Sides — who has strolled down the FiveThirtyEight red carpet — wrote a very smart take on the whole discussion.

Regarding “Is Obama Toast?” specifically, Nate already responded to a critique by Bloomberg’s Ron Klain. But Mr. Klain has written a thoughtful response to Nate’s response. (For all the back and forth, Nate and Mr. Klain seem to agree on much.)

New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait thought Nate’s article was too pessimistic about President Obama’s re-election chances. Mr. Chait posited that a president’s approval rating is relative, so that once a Republican opponent is selected and steps onto the national stage, Mr. Obama’s numbers may get bumped up by the comparison. “In other words, incumbent approval rating isn’t something that’s independent of the opposing candidate,” Mr. Chait wrote.

At Hot Air, Karl was not happy with Nate’s model. Neither were Mr. Nyhan and Jacob Montgomery. Writing at Mr. Nyhan’s blog, their main criticism was with the inclusion of the opposing candidate’s ideology as a factor in determining the incumbent’s re-election chances.

Perhaps the most imaginative interpretation of Nate’s magazine article came from Jim Messina, President Obama’s 2012 campaign manager. USA Today’s Aamer Madhani reported that, in an e-mail to supporters, Mr. Messina wrote that the article “uses a mathematical formula to conclude who will win this race. In other words, it says neither you nor Barack Obama has a role to play in this election, because the outcome is essentially predetermined.” Of course, that is not exactly what Nate’s article said.

In the past few weeks, President Obama was not the only 2012 candidate to be juxtaposed with toast. After Rick Perry’s “oops” moment, FiveThirtyEight asked “Is Perry Toast?” Brad Knickerbocker, at The Christian Science Monitor, wrote an interesting and in-depth analysis of the moment and what it might mean for the Perry campaign.

And some lively debate centered around a 2012 contender who already is toast: Tim Pawlenty. FiveThirtyEight disputed the notion that Tim Pawlenty would have been the likely beneficiary of the “Surge Theory” (his poll numbers would have quickly shot up) had he not dropped out of the Republican nominating contest in mid August. At The New Republic, Isaac Chotiner — who wrote one of the original articles that FiveThirtyEight responded to — was not persuaded by FiveThirtyEight’s arguments. Mr. Pawlenty “wouldn’t need a magical surge; he would instead just need the time for voters to focus on him again,” Mr. Chotiner wrote.


Jon Bruner, at Forbes’ Data Driven blog, used Internal Revenue Service returns to track the migration of Americans over the last several years with a cool interactive graphic.

YouGov BrandIndex, a consumer research firm, found that Herman Cain’s run for the Republican presidential nomination may be leading to partisanship in perceptions of Godfather’s Pizza.

iWatch News and the Center for Responsive Politics looked at the campaign donations being amassed by freshman members of Congress’s Tea Party Caucus.

And USA Today utilized Pew data to map religious beliefs in the United States state-by-state.

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.