Silver has a new article up critiquing an over-reliance on economic models in predicting Presidential elections. While this is in general good work, I’m starting to note a trend in his narrative. To wit:
“But I also got a few replies wondering how to reconcile these findings against the claims, made with some frequency by political scientists, that presidential elections can be forecast with pinpoint accuracy provided that you know the economic fundamentals.”
This could be passed off as being attributed to some comments, but I’ve noticed this tendency in other articles as well. It seems to me that his discussion of political scientists and our models etc. is increasingly becoming rather straw-esque (though I might be wrong and am quite open to being told so). As I’ve said often, I’ve always respected his work since the days of BP, so this new approach seems unworthy of him. Speaking as a political scientist who does electoral behavior, I would never use the the phrase “pinpoint accuracy” about any of my work. I’m quite aware of the limitations of my models and methods, and likewise convey this awareness when teaching methods. I strongly suspect that I’m not rare in this understanding and approach.
One thing I like about Silver is that he doesn’t have an apparent axe to grind beyond evidence-based analysis. That said, while he’s examining the extant knowledge of political science, lately he’s doing so using rather unsophisticated bivariate analyses. I share his appreciation for parsimony in modelling, but bivariate analyses don’t really tell us much at all, especially when attempting to confirm or critique existing sophisticated multivariate models. As he’s well aware. (That said I like what he did in exploring retro-predictive ability of the the Hibbs “Bread and Peace” model).
If I had the time this weekend I’d do a more thorough read of his latest article, but I typically play singe dad on weekends, and my four and a half year old daughter requires near constant attention, so we’re left with the above somewhat superficial analysis.