Trump: The Data

Nate Silver told me Donald Trump can’t win.

You remember Brother Nate, who called the last election which Mitt Romney thought he was gonna win and Karl Rove couldn’t believe he lost. Silver got it exactly right in the “New York Times,” which unlike a winning sports team didn’t give him what he wanted, so Silver decamped to ESPN, where he’s been marginalized.

But he’s still right.

It’s weird to see the old guard bumping up against the new, the baby boomers and aged Gen-X’ers being flummoxed by the digitally-savvy youngsters. MP3s were not embraced by oldsters until the iTunes Store. Hell, Adele just sold a boatload of CDs to the aged, and you’ve got an oldster-controlled media which believes what they say matters, when the truth is the data doesn’t lie,

Oh yes it does, you say! Numbers can be manipulated to say whatever you want them too, you can’t trust polls!

Which is why Silver aggregates them, and we can argue with interpretation, but raw data counts. And what the data says is Donald Trump has high unfavorables. He might have 20+% of the electorate today, but when the losers drop out are their followers going to decamp to Trump? Not according to the data. Which also tells us this far out the polls are nearly meaningless.

So you can ignore the Trump show. It’s gonna get canceled.

But you’ve got the aged media reporting on what he says like it counts, which it doesn’t. Why does the sideshow always become the main show in America?

Not that Mr. Silver always comes down on the side of the Democrats, data is neutral, Silver said the Republicans were gonna clean up in 2014 and they did.

If anything, Silver’s predictive abilities are scary. The deflate us. They illustrate what we thought was exciting is not, that what we thought was up for grabs is not. And people like Silver can actually eviscerate hope and make it so people don’t vote.

But you shouldn’t argue with the data.

That’s the war in the music business right now. The youngsters cannot understand why they cannot get an honest accounting. Since everything’s sold and streamed online, shouldn’t the numbers be easily discernible, quickly, shouldn’t royalty splits be locked in stone? Of course not, because the record company model is based on theft, from the artist. There you have it.

But this won’t be forever. Because systems are getting too good. And young people won’t stand for it!

Remember when records were number one for eons?

That was back before SoundScan, when the charts were manipulated, when Tommy Noonan was the most powerful person in the record business. You’ve never heard of him, but no one seems to know the people who truly count.

Like Nate Silver.

His predictions should be on the front page of every newspaper.

But then what would the bloviators on 24 hour news channels have to say?

But the truth is that’s a dying paradigm. TV news ratings are already anemic. News is an on demand item. The only question is where are you going to get it?

Right now we’ve got chaos, with too many sources, but what we’re gonna see is consolidation. Just like there were six major labels and now there are three. Lucian Grainge is way more powerful than Walter Yetnikoff or Mo Ostin ever were, never mind Clive Davis. Clive Davis did a good job of creating his myth, but the data said he wasn’t making much money, which is why he was blown out at Arista.

It always comes down to the numbers.

But now there are more of them. And we’ve got better interpreters.

You see these are teachable skills. Statistics is known as one of the hardest subjects in college, to be avoided at all costs, but those who take it and build upon it end up ruling the universe. That’s what Facebook is based upon, data. Do you think Mark Zuckerberg cares where you went on vacation, what you ate for dinner? No, he just wants to be able to slice and dice this data ever so finely so he can sell it to advertisers. Zuckerberg is selling efficiency. Targeting consumers directly. And the more outlets he owns, the more Facebook and Instagram, et al, can’t be ignored.

Meanwhile, the hoi polloi are fixated on nitwit entertainers, whether they be Justin Bieber or Donald Trump. Bieber’s got power but he’s not exercising it for good, because he’s a know-nothing, and Trump is smarter but is pretty powerless himself. It’s artists who touch hearts and change minds. He or she who wrote that song that saved you from committing suicide…they’re the ones you’re gonna listen to. But today they’re not saying anything.

Which is why the techies are the new heroes. Because when emotion is fake, you fall back upon facts. And if you don’t believe in facts, if you can’t recognize the power of data, you’re doomed to be whipsawed by a culture wherein self-evident truths are more important than spin.

Nate Silver made a bad career move. He gave up his pulpit and sold his entire enterprise to ESPN. He thought he was gaining freedom, but really he was building his own prison. In a world where it’s nearly impossible to reach everybody, where most people can’t sing two Taylor Swift songs, why would you abdicate your perch overseeing the land? Why would you marginalize yourself?

And why would the “New York Times” let him go? It was the established players who wouldn’t let him write about sports, his passion, they pushed him out the door, to the detriment of both Silver and the paper. Nobody won.

And personalities count. The “Times” has new data reporters but they’re faceless and untrustworthy. It takes years to win people over.

And Silver has faceless writers on 538 who’ve earned no trust either.

But he’s free to do what he wants in obscurity.

But you’re free to inform yourself, you’re free to look at the world dispassionately and navigate it to your advantage.

Pay attention to the numbers. Interpreted by people who know the game and can make sense of them.

I used to be very afraid of Donald Trump.

Then I read Nate Silver.

Who hasn’t been wrong yet.

Are you gonna bet against Pixar?

Then don’t discount Nate Silver.

The world is run by a small coterie of people who truly know and understand the game.

Be one of them.


• “Donald Trump Is The Nickelback Of GOP Candidates” (fivethirtyeight)

• “Dear Media, Stop Freaking Out About Donald Trump’s Polls” (fivethirtyeight)

• Masters in Business: Nate Silver (TBP)


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What's been said:

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  1. Jordan commented on Dec 6

    Nate Silver got it wrong in his 2015 election predictions for the UK. He’s got a better handle on American politics but his prediction that Trump is essentially unelectable isn’t novel; it’s the same prediction most of the “bloviating” media have been making.

    Trump is going to be a hard sell, but the Democrats aren’t doing themselves any favors by fielding Hillary.

    • Low Budget Dave commented on Dec 7

      Very few people believe Trump will be elected President, but we fear the ideas he is introducing will become mainstream. He defends his opinions about Muslims celebrating 9-11, and his core supporters accept it with fanatic disdain for the truth. When he speaks of the effectiveness and necessity of torture, his fringe ideas are somehow considered to be less revolting.

      Jordan reveals how well the strategy works. Hillary is a middle-of-the-road everything. She is barely a Democrat by traditional definitions. But the conversation has been pushed so far to the right that Hillary can’t even talk about Social Security without being called a Socialist.

  2. DonQuixote commented on Dec 6

    There is a reference to Donald Trump being a “nickelback of GOP candidates”. Is this the Canadian rock band or the fifth defensive back on an NFL football team? Given the noise Trump makes I vote for the band.

  3. A commented on Dec 6

    It seems the author is trying to be rational about some irrational things.

    Trump has a fighting chance (slim as it may be), because for too many people, voting is an emotional (hence irrational) process. These are the same people who are wasting so much of their lives posting worthless shit on Facebook pages, instead of actually thinking about what they are voting for…if they do.

    Oh well, Mark Twain was right…history is simply repeating itself. Remember, George W. was put in place for two terms. Anything is possible.

    Well, except for any changes in the gun laws.

  4. bigsteve commented on Dec 6

    In my career I used statistic to measure lab accuracy and precision. And for control within complex chemical and biological matrices. I did industrial and domestic water, waste water treatment and lab analysis. This is one useful branch of mathematics used in many fields. You still have to be able to write real world situations into mathematical statements that can be solved. And be able to disregard the endless noise, useless data , picking out the relative data to solve the problem which Nate excels in. That takes insight and creativity which has always been in short supply.

  5. Thalamusless commented on Dec 6

    It’s not that we like Donald, who is an entertainer, but his in the governments face attitude of we’re sick of being controlled by progressive corporate bankers bent on destroying our country. I think Donald will win the republican nomination, but the system won’t allow him to have it, either by creating a smear campaign against him or tragic accident.

    • DeDude commented on Dec 6

      “progressive corporate bankers” that would seem like an oxymoron.

  6. bonderman commented on Dec 6

    When watching The Donald I’m reminded of that know-it-all German circa 1933 with the swastika arm band who spouted hate and raised fear mongering to an art form.

    • rhkaplan commented on Dec 7

      bonderman, I thought you were referring to Barack Obama.

  7. intlacct commented on Dec 7

    Mr. Lefsetz was so insightful when he defied us to find any flaws in Mr. Oliver’s recent programs – one of which was a pitch for immigrating middle eastern refugees. No evidence of terrorists in the mix Mr. Oliver said while prominently interviewing a handicapped girl. What a silly argument. How tragic to be uninformed about the unique challenges of immigration from this region.

  8. traderdc commented on Dec 7

    very confused by this article. The front page of 538 today has a story on what the republicans will need to do to stop Trump…he clearly believe the Donald can win the nomination. The two linked articles at the end are weeks old. But hey, we get it – you have a crush on Nate…who is one of many good statistical analysts around today.

    • Ralph commented on Dec 7

      It might be a little premature to declare the end of Nate Silver’s authority.

      1) There has yet to be a single vote cast;
      2) Neither Iowa nor New Hampshire are representative of the nation;
      3) Winners of Iowa/NH the past few years did not win the national election;

      I suggest you revisit this in 6 months

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