Whenever I’m asked to name my favorite political journalist, I always say Bill James, the baseball stats guru.
By DAVE HELLING
For those who read James’ work closely, it’s fairly clear he isn’t just talking about baseball, even when he’s talking about baseball.
His work tells us this about politics: Don’t trust your instincts alone. What you believe to be true, probably isn’t. Almost all of politics is counter-intuitive. Luck can be as relevant as skill.
Nate Silver is a stats guy.
You may have heard that Silver is leaving the New York Times, taking his invaluable 538 blog with him.
In a column Monday, the Times’ public editor said she believed Silver had made a few enemies during his tenure as a Times writer.
“His entire probability-based way of looking at politics ran against the kind of political journalism that The Times specializes in: polling, the horse race, campaign coverage, analysis based on campaign-trail observation, and opinion writing, or ‘punditry,’ as he put it, famously describing it as ‘fundamentally useless,’” writes Margaret Sullivan.
I’d put it another way.
Anyone who followed Silver’s work last year noticed something pretty interesting: except for a bobble around the first debate, Barack Obama led Mitt Romney in Silver’s compilation of polls for almost the entire year.
And that margin, around three or four percent, remained constant through election day.
If that analysis is correct, it means all the acres of political reporting — the fact checks, stories from campaign stops, the conventions, the analysis, all of it — has virtually no impact on the outcome.
That’s what would make political reporters useless: A graphic illustration that no matter what gets said or written, voters have already made up their minds.
That’s what 538 provided, almost daily — a picture of an electorate that wasn’t paying much attention to what was said or done. And that, for a political reporter, is pretty scary sight.
Now baseball players can be afraid.