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Nate Silver on midterm elections

by Policy in Practice on August 31, 2010

Nate Silver, the mastermind behind the famed political website fivethirtyeight.com that accurately projected the outcome of the 2008 presidential election–and a bevy of the Congressional races that year, as well–has taken his expertise to the New York Times.

His latest post considers the hurdles Democrats are facing in November, and how they got to this point over the past few months:

There is reason to be skeptical of two types of analyses: those that claim that Factor X definitely isn’t contributing to the Democrats’ troubles, and those that assert that it definitely is. For instance, I’d urge some caution in reading this article at Real Clear Politics by Jay Cost — which rightly critiques those who have entirely dismissed the role that health care played in the Democrats’ decline, but probably goes too far in trying to argue the contrary. Mr. Cost is right, for instance, that the Democrats’ polling decline was steepest during last summer, when health care began to be debated — but when one delves in a little deeper, the timing of the sharpest periods of decline do not line up very well with specific events in the health care debate.

Does that mean Mr. Cost is wrong? Not at all. Health care dominated the political discourse for about nine months; it seems implausible that it hasn’t played some role. But he hasn’t offered much in the way of proof — nor is there much of it to be had: overdetermined phenomena usually beget underdetermined attempts to explain them.