There seems to be some discontent brewing among political reporters about the success of Nate Silver and the accuracy of his presidential election prediction. And really, can you blame them? Two elections, and both times Silver was essentially perfect, he correctly predicted 49 out of 50 states in 2008 and 50 out of 50 states in 2012. That’s eerily good, like, “burn him, he’s a witch” good. Compare that to Dick Morris, who mistakenly predicted the race would go to Romney in a huge blowout, “On Sunday, we changed our clocks. On Tuesday, we’ll change our president,” he said. Silver’s predictions made Morris look like the village idiot.
Silver’s scary accuracy has made some people livid. The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson had this to say about the methods employed by Silver, “The main problem with this approach to politics is not that it is pseudo-scientific but that it is trivial.” He goes on about how Silver and 538 have made the focus of election coverage frivolous., “And so, at the election’s close, we talk of Silver’s statistical model and the likely turnout in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and relatively little about poverty, social mobility or unsustainable debt.”
Gerson isn’t the only person to take a swing at Silver. Frank Newport of Gallup also had something to say about Silvers, methods, essentially saying that he was taking the easy way out with his aggregation method, leaving the hard work to actual pollsters.
So has Silver and his team at 538 changed the face of political reporting forever?
Nope. No they did not. Although sometimes I wish it were true, we exist in a media universe that thrives on the horserace, a universe that thrives on the “show” of it all, and the performance that is presidential campaigning. There are two reasons that this is true, first the market dictates reporting, and secondly the reporters enjoy the “show”.
The market dictates what news organizations are successful. And despite the reporters apparent dedication to the messages inherent in political campaigns (according to Gerson that is) they have to adhere to the wants of the market, and boy, does the market love horserace journalism.
It may be an article from a bygone era, but Joan Dideon’s “Insider Baseball” fits this situation like a glove. The presidential election and the coverage of that election are filled with these “showy” incidents, Dukakis tossing a baseball with an aid, the multimedia nightmare that was the DNC. Dideon argues that the reporters play along with this “show,” despite knowing it’s all a façade, because they enjoy the status it gives them, they enjoy being at center stage in the most important race on the planet. The horserace political coverage gives them feeling, people look to them for a hint at the possible future of their country, it gives them a thrill.
And that’s why political reporting won’t change for the foreseeable future.