The most unlikely political superstar to emerge from this month’s US presidential election is Nate Silver who predicted, with uncanny accuracy, how Barack Obama would defeat Mitt Romney.
He made his prediction – 90.9 percent certainty of an Obama win – months before an election that most experts were saying was too close to call even on the morning of the vote.
Silver, who is openly gay, also correctly predicted the electoral college results in 50 out of 50 states.
For that, he’s been hailed far and wide with Jon Stewart introducing him as ‘The lord and god of the algorithm’ and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow describing him as the real winner in the election.
‘It does make me nervous. Because I guarantee that we are going to start getting some things wrong,’ Silver tells The Guardian.
Silver, 34, made his predictions on his blog, FiveThirtyEight (named after the 538 electoral college votes) which was founded in 2007 and moved to the website of the New York Times in 2010.
His accuracy has been given even more attention because it is a contrast to the inaccurate calls by such Republican pundits as Dick Morris, Peggy Noonan and Karl Rove who cited things like ‘internal polls’ and hunches and feelings in predicting a Romney victory.
‘Numbers aren’t perfect, but for me, it’s numbers with all their imperfections versus bullshit,’ Silver says. ‘You had people saying, ‘You can’t quantify people’s feelings through numbers!’ But what’s the alternative? Me sitting at my Georgetown cocktail party saying that I know how people in Toledo, Ohio, are going to vote better than the actual people of Toledo, Ohio, who answered a survey? It’s incredibly presumptuous. And truth is an absolute defense. So if they got it right it would be one thing, but they didn’t. They’re consistently quite wrong.’
Silver has been into numbers since he was six years old and was asked what influenced him more, being a geek or being gay.
‘I’ve always felt like something of an outsider,’ he says. ‘I’ve always had friends, but I’ve always come from an outside point of view. I think that’s important. If you grow up gay, or in a household that’s agnostic, when most people are religious, then from the get-go, you are saying that there are things that the majority of society believes that I don’t believe.’