Listening Post

Predicting the next president

During the 2012 US election, statistician Nate Silver cut through the barrage of polls and forecast Barack Obama's win.

Last Modified: 13 May 2013 14:43
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The US presidential election was one of the biggest stories of 2012, and when it came to predictions, there was only one winner, statistician Nate Silver.

Throughout last year, American voters were blitzed by political ads, targeted by countless robo-calls by the campaigns and hit with a barrage of polls: national polls, state-by-state polls, approval rating polls, polls of every possible description.

Then the campaigns and journalists argued over what those polls meant, which ones were accurate and which ones were not.

But most everyone seemed to agree on one thing: the election was a horse race, too close to confidently call. Except Silver. And he was right.

The statistician cut through the ads and polls to do what the mainstream media struggled to do - predict a simple win for President Barack Obama.

And Silver, who runs the numbers blog Five Thirty Eight, did not just predict the win – he accurately predicted the result in all 50 states.

Silver's blog, named after the number of voters in the Electoral College, was one of the biggest draws in the run up to voting day. The blog is hosted on New York Times' website and by the end of the year, the paper said his analysis had been one of the top five drivers of web traffic to the site.

Five Thirty Eight was a mini-revolution in the world of political reporting and analysis.

In a digital, hyper-connected world with 24-hour streams of news and information, Silver says his secret is to zero in on the information that actually matters - separating the signal from the noise.

This week, the Listening Post’s Meenakshi Ravi sat down for an extended interview with Nate Silver to talk about the horserace that wasn’t.

Listening Post can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Saturday: 0830, 1930; Sunday: 1430; Monday: 0430.

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