Nate Silver’s Seven Most Memorable Predictions

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Polling guru, statistician and Politico adversary Nate Silver may be best known for his political predictions, but he has also made some bold forecasts in other realms of American culture in recent years.

Now, as Silver ditches the New York Times for a new perch with ABC News and ESPN, he will reportedly have the chance to apply his wizardry more regularly to some of those areas, including the worlds of sports, film and weather.

With that in mind, it’s worth looking back at some of Silver’s biggest predictions in recent years from the Academy Awards to college football to the 2012 elections, and reviewing what he got right — and what he didn’t.

Here, in no particular order, and compiled with no statistical analysis, are Silver’s seven most memorable predictions:

2008 Presidential Election

Prediction: Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) will win comfortably over Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

Outcome: Obama won big.

In the forecast that put him on the political map, Silver applied the statistical analysis that made him a hero to baseball fanatics during his career to horse-race politics in predicting a resounding victory for Obama in 2008.

Silver correctly forecasted the outcome in 49 out of 50 states in the presidential race that year. He only whiffed on Indiana, a traditional Republican stronghold that Obama improbably carried. Silver’s analysis in the 2008 election cycle vaulted him to prominence, showing off his number crunching on television with the likes of Stephen Colbert and Dan Rather during the campaign. Two years later, he moved his FiveThirtyEight blog over to the New York Times.

2013 College Football Championship

Prediction: Notre Dame will beat the spread against Alabama in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.

Outcome: Alabama won in a landslide 42-14.

On Jan. 7, the day of the big game, Silver published an extensive breakdown of the matchup between the two college football powerhouses. Along with the article, Silver appeared in a video in which he said that, although he isn’t paid to dispense gambling advice, “Notre Dame might almost be a good pick against the spread,” which most oddsmakers placed at 10 points in favor of Alabama.

In his write-up, Silver suggested that the “game should be remembered as a classic” if “Notre Dame is able to keep pace with Alabama.” They couldn’t, and Alabama had essentially sealed the title by the second quarter.

2013 College Basketball Tournament

Prediction: Louisville, Florida, Indiana and Gonzaga will advance to the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four.

Outcome: Of the four predictions, only Louisville was right.

Silver’s pre-tournament analysis gave eventual champion Louisville the best chance of cutting down the nets, but he was failed by his other three Final Four picks. Gonzaga, Silver’s pick to emerge from the West region, was bounced in the second round. The team that upset them, Wichita State, made an improbable run to the Final Four, despite Silver giving them a mere 1.3 percent chance of advancing that far.

Silver’s other two Final Four teams fared better, but still fell short of the final weekend. Indiana was two wins short of making it to the Final Four, while Florida fell only one win short.

2010 Midterm Elections

Prediction: Republicans will pick up 54-55 seats in taking back the U.S. House; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will be unseated.

Outcome: The GOP gained 63 House seats; Reid survived in Nevada

Silver was rightly high on the GOP’s prospects to take back control of the House of Representatives in 2010, writing in his final forecast that the party was poised to gain 54-55 seats in the chamber. Republicans ended up pulling in what was the largest midterm gain for since World War II.

But Silver may have been too bullish on the Republicans’ chances of taking back control of the Senate. His forecast made Republicans Ken Buck and Sharron Angle the clear favorites in Colorado and Nevada respectively. Buck was ultimately nipped by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), while Majority Leader Harry Reid won with breathing room over Angle.

2013 Academy Awards

Prediction: ‘Argo’ for Best Picture; Daniel Day-Lewis for Best Actor; Jennifer Lawrence for Best Actress; Steven Spielberg for Best Director

Outcome: He got three of four right.

Silver’s new job will reportedly include a spot on ABC’s coverage of the Academy Awards. In something of a foreshadowing of this role, Silver took a stab at the 2013 Oscars, correctly predicting three out of the four major categories using a model that took into account 16 other awards leading up to the Academy Awards. Silver’s pick for Best Director was his lone miss, with director Ang Lee taking the prize.

2013 NFL Playoffs And Super Bowl

Prediction: Before playoffs, he picked the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots to advance to the Super Bowl. Before the game he picked the San Francisco 49ers to win the championship.

Outcome: None of those things happened.

Before the NFL playoffs kicked off earlier this year, Silver picked a bi-coastal clash in the Super Bowl, with the Seattle Seahawks emerging from the NFC and the New England Patriots coming out of the AFC. The game ultimately pitted a West Coast squad against an East Coast team, but not the matchup Silver envisioned.

Hoping to redeem himself before the Super Bowl, Silver pegged the San Francisco 49ers as the favorites over the Baltimore Ravens. In a classic game, the 49ers fell five yards short of claiming the title — and of giving Silver more bragging rights.

2012 Presidential Election

Prediction: Obama, the consistent favorite, will win in an electoral college landslide.

Outcome: Obama held consistent leads in the polls en route to an electoral college landslide.

If the 2008 election was Silver’s “Meet The Beatles!,” then 2012 was his “Revolver.” It was during the most recent cycle that Silver asserted himself as both an authority of polling analysis and a seminal figure in American political coverage.

His consistently favorable forecasts for Obama drew the ire of many on the right who insisted that Silver had a bias against Mitt Romney. But he was ultimately vindicated on Election Day and even improved upon his stellar showing in 2008, correctly forecasting the electoral college outcome in all 50 states.

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