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What the [Bleep] Do We Know?

I have an interview up with The Economist magazine, which might still be the first periodical I’ll pick up at an airport newsstand. Here’s my favorite question-and-answer:

DIA: I’ve heard you say that baseball analysts put too much emphasis on what just happened. Is the same true of political analysts?

Mr Silver: For sure. And in baseball, at least, they’re playing every year, whereas you only have a presidential election once every four years. The McCain campaign operated under the assumption that the political world hadn’t changed since 2004—that Mr Obama couldn’t turn out black voters or young voters, that swift-boating would work, that Mr Obama couldn’t possibly win states like North Carolina and Indiana—and they paid a price for it. On the other hand, I think some Democrats might be a little bit complacent right now. There are a lot of things that can go wrong—both known unknowns and unknown unknowns. What if Afghanistan turns into the next Iraq? What if swine flu winds up killing several hundred thousand Americans? What if there’s a nuclear exchange in Kashmir? What if there’s a significant, unpredicted increase in the crime rate? Some of those things might hurt the Democrats and others might not, but there’s a pretty decent chance that the core issues in 2012 will be things that we haven’t even thought about yet.

The rest of the interview is here.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.


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