“Nate Silver says this is a 73.6 percent chance that the president’s going to win. Nobody in that campaign thinks they have a 73.6 percent — they think they have a 50.1 percent chance of winning.
…. Anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue [that] they should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops, and microphones for the next ten days, because they’re jokes.” – Joe Scarborough
If you don’t know who Nate Silver is, you’re not alone. He doesn’t spend nearly as much time with a microphone as Scarborough does. What he isn’t, is an “ideologue.” He’s a statistician, and he’s no joke; he correctly predicted how 49 out of the 50 states would vote in the 2008 presidential election, as well as all 35 senate races. He’s also the mind behind PECOTA, a very successful sabermetric, employed to predict player performance in Major League Baseball.
And in his FiveThirtyEight blog for the New York Times, he does indeed say that Obama has a 73.8% chance of winning the 2012 presidential election. And he’s willing to put up $1,000 to back his claims. Here’s his Twitter challenge to Joe Scarborough:
Why is Scarborough so angry about Silver’s prediction? Probably because it renders Joe Scarborough and the rest of the cable news ranters irrelevant for the remaining days leading up to the election. In a way, it threatens the legitimacy of his entire profession. Or at least, what it’s become. Cable news ratings are calculated and analyzed at a furious pace. Grabbing your attention is now their primary goal; it’s become much more important than providing a cohesive, accurate account of the day’s news. That’s why so much of cable news is based on speculation, or just plain hyperbole. It’s a dramatic reading of the days events, and dramatic tension is a better product than a foregone conclusion.
It’s obvious that discussing the presidential race as a foregone conclusion is not in the best interest of Fox, CNN or MSNBC; and certainly not in Joe Scarborough’s best interest. What if 73% of Americans didn’t have to worry every minute of the day about the outcome of the election? What if they didn’t tune in?
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt a bit of a disconnect after the first presidential debate; Obama may have been ‘flat,’ but Mitt Romney was clearly, demonstrably lying his ass off. But the media went crazy, crowning him the victor. Romney interrupting the moderator and pointing his finger may have provided better soundbites, but it had little to do with showing he was a legitimate candidate.
I feel as though the media has been selling us Romney as strong competitor, in spite of his deep flaws and poor outings on the national stage. Because a close race is simply better for them. Just as most fans turn off Monday Night Football when the score is 40-3 at halftime, most of us would relax a little bit and not pay so much attention if the presidential race was a foregone conclusion. And less people would be watching Joe Scarborough, and watching commercials for the Franklin Mint and (staunchly conservative) Papa John’s Pizza.
Math isn’t dramatic, and it doesn’t have an agenda. Neither does Silver. But Scarborough does have an agenda, and that’s keeping us tuned in.