Best year in Washington: Nate Silver

December 28, 2012

Congrats — or something — to Chris Cillizza’s winners and losers of 2012. 

Worst year in Washington: The tea party

Bad year: Mitt Romney

Bad year: David Petraeus

Good year: The Clintons


For being the political prognosticator who proved the pundits wrong, Nate Silver had the best year in Washington. (Nam Y. Huh/ASSOCIATED PRESS/AP)

Good year: D.C. sports teams

Best year in Washington: Nate Silver

When the Fix was just a nerdy middle-schooler getting bullied by the usual local degenerates, we always comforted ourselves with the sure knowledge that one day the geeks would inherit the Earth. Little did we know that all these years later, Nate Silver — the decidedly dorky baseball nut turned political prognosticator — would become the electoral word made flesh.

Every election cycle turns out its stars — likely and unlikely — and there’s no question that Silver and his FiveThirtyEight blog for the New York Times shone the brightest in 2012.

For most of the campaign, Silver toiled, if not in obscurity, than in the insular world of political addicts that the Fix also calls home. Then summer turned to fall, and Republicans insisted that the presidential race was tightening, even as Silver’s model — based on a weighting of the public polls available in each swing state — continued to suggest that the incumbent was a strong favorite.

Republicans reacted with outrage as Silver’s model kept pumping out predictions that Obama had an 80 percent (or higher) chance of winning. A columnist for the Examiner chain critiqued Silver’s appearance and voice. Others questioned how anyone could predict to the percentage point the likelihood of Obama winning or losing. Even the mighty David Brooks — himself a columnist for the Gray Lady — scoffed at the idea of making calculations accurate to the decimal point: “If there’s one thing we know, it’s that even experts with fancy computer models are terrible at predicting human behavior.”

The net effect was that Silver — a shy guy by nature — turned into a political football. He became a household name nationwide and, by some reports, accounted for 20 percentor more of the Times’ overall Web traffic as the election approached.

If Silver was big before the election, he turned huge — like Jay-Z/Beyonce huge — after it. Jon Stewart called him the “God of the algorithm.” President Obama referenced Silver when talking about the annual turkey pardon. Silver was named Out Magazine’s person of the year. He even sat down with Fix hero Bill Simmons (a.k.a. the Sports Guy) for an hour-long podcast. (And, yes, we are VERY jealous.)

For Nate Silver — and political nerds, statisticians and number-crunchers everywhere — it was a very good year.

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