I became a big Nate Silver fan in 2008 when I was working on a video art project called, Election Diary. I started the project before the Conventions knowing that, regardless of who won, it would be an historic election.
Nate is a statistician who started in sportsball and went on to politics. In the 2008 election, he successfully picked which way 49 of 50 states would vote. At the time, I lived in the DC area and loved getting super geeked out on the minutiae of politics—and followed a lot of wonky political forecasters and commenters. Nate was the Uber Wonk in this world. His data and reporting were very reliable. His forecasts were consistently on the money.
So in 2016, I turned to his reporting again. What were the odds? What was he forecasting? In 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014, he was so accurate. If he forecast it, you could count on it.
Except something different happened this time.
In the lead up to the 2016 election, I was very nervous, but not completely terrified. Nate’s reporting showed Clinton holding a substantial lead in the polls. One or two polls that were outliers calling for her opponent, but Nate continued to be confident—and as Nate went, so did I. I was confident. Any other choice than her seemed like a non-starter. So I sent money into the Clinton’s campaign. I thought a lot about phone banking, but always seemed busy so I didn’t ever volunteer. I wrote social media posts urging my like-minded friends to vote. I was addicted to his 538.com website and kept pressing “refresh” to stay up to date as election day drew near, but I took comfort in the 87% chance of winning that Nate predicted. And, well, her opponent won.
I had many thoughts and feelings in the aftermath of November 8, 2016, and among them were: “Nate?! What happened? How could you be so wrong?” It turns out Nate had those same thoughts. In the time since, he’s said in the lead up to the 2016 election he stopped operating like a statistician, and started thinking like a political commentator and it made him miss some important points of data.
So this time, I’m not looking at polls. It’s too scary. I still follow Nate on Twitter, but I don’t read the articles; I don’t go to his website. I see comments and move on. I’ve been more active this time—volunteering every week since late summer with Americans of Conscience Checklist. I’ve mailed Postcards to Vote. I have conversations with friends and family—encouraging people to vote and to help others vote. I hope it’s enough.
But right now, I’m uncertain.