Nate Silver vs. the Mittmentum Mountaineers

As Election Day approaches and the nation continues to whip itself into a collective frenzy, there sometimes seems to be only one guy in all of our national media who hasn’t succumbed to the wild swing of emotions that has captured everyone else.

Nate Silver, of the New York TimesFiveThirtyEight blog, has been posting daily with updates from swing-state polls. And even while most of the media have gleefully jumped aboard the “momentum is shifting to Mitt Romney” train, Silver has calmly continued to insist on using real data, instead of relying on phantasmic predilections of victory based on rally turnouts in random Ohio towns. This latter course is essentially what national campaign reporters, always desperate for a more sensational story, have been doing, and it’s quite possible that the collective content of their coverage actually will help make the race closer. But if that happens, it will be due, ironically enough, to their own misreading (or woeful ignorance) of existing polls, not because they were right in the first place.

According to Silver, as of yesterday Barack Obama was leading in Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, was leading in Florida and North Carolina. If the races end up exactly that way in the end (see interactive map here), Obama will win with 303 electoral votes to Mitt Romney’s 235, easily surpassing the requisite 270 to win reelection. In fact, Obama could even lose the three additional states in which Nate Silver’s model gives him the smallest leads: Colorado (58% probability of winning), Virginia (60%), and New Hampshire (70%). (Remember, these figures represent the likelihood that Obama will win these states, not the percentage he’s receiving in head-to-head polls. Example: Obama is expected to win 58% of the actual vote in Massachusetts, but Silver estimates his probability of winning the state at 100% because there is virtually no possibility that the polls will shift significantly enough before the election to cause him to lose there.) In other words, even if Romney took those three states — Colorado, Virginia, and New Hampshire — as well as Florida and North Carolina, the final electoral vote count would nevertheless give 277 to Obama and 261 to Romney, thereby granting the president a second term. The media may be intent on creating a wild photo-finish, but Silver’s analysis suggests Obama’s still in a fairly good spot.

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