Nate Silver admits that he committed one of his own cardinal sins last year when he dismissed the chances of a campaign for Scottish independence.
“When I was in Scotland last year on a book tour, a reporter asked me an off-handed question about the referendum and I provided an off-handed answer despite not really having spent any time studying it,” Silver told TPM in an email on Thursday. “That’s not usually my style, and I regret the error of having behaved like a television pundit.”
Anyone familiar with Silver’s media criticism knows that a comparison to a pundit is about the most damning indictment the polling guru can render.
His casual forecast came last August at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, where he said that the data on the referendum was “pretty definitive.”
Barring a “major crisis in England,” Silver said the “yes” side — those in favor of Scotland seceding from the United Kingdom — had “virtually no chance” of winning.
“For the most part it looks like it’s a question of how much the ‘no’ side will win by, not what the outcome might be,” Silver said at the time.
In fairness, the United Kingdom might ultimately be preserved in Thursday’s vote on the referendum. But far from the “definitive” picture Silver painted last summer, the most recent polling data actually points to an extremely close contest.
A survey released on Thursday showed support for the “no” side barely edging the pro-independence faction, 53 percent to 47 percent.