Nate Silver Disses Gallup Poll That 'Turned Out Badly' in 2008, Missing by 4...But So Did the NYT's Poll

Tarnished Silver? The New York Times's young star pollster Nate Silver got some guff last week for dismissing Mitt Romney's large leads in the Gallup tracking poll.

In an October 18 post on his FiveThirtyEight blog at, "Gallup vs. the World" (it also appeared, heavily edited, in print) Silver claimed the Gallup poll was overrated and "its results turn out badly" when it's an outlier, noting that in 2008 it "had a four-point miss," predicting an 11-point win by Obama that turned out to be a seven-point margin.

Guess what other big-time poll had Obama pegged as an 11-point winner in 2008? The New York Times-CBS News poll. Though to be fair, in 2008 Silver was not with the Times but writing for his own blog after cutting his political teeth at the left-wing blog Daily Kos (Silver calls himself a "rational progressive.")

Silver wrote October 18:

Usually, when a poll is an outlier relative to the consensus, its results turn out badly.

You do not need to look any further than Gallup’s track record over the past two election cycles to find a demonstration of this.

In 2008, the Gallup poll put Mr. Obama 11 points ahead of John McCain on the eve of that November’s election.

The average of the 15 or so national polls released just before the election put Mr. Obama up by about seven points.

The average did a good job; Mr. Obama won the popular vote by seven points. The Gallup poll had a four-point miss, however.

Follow the link above, scroll past the first 15 polls, and you'll spy another one not included in the RCP headline tally, perhaps since it was completed too early: The final CBS/New York Times poll of 2008, showing Obama up by 11 points, exactly the same as the Gallup poll that Silver warned "turned out badly."

Silver continued to boost the hopes of Obama boosters in Tuesday's "Cutting to the Chase: What Are The Odds?" (The linked post is much longer than the one that made it into print Tuesday morning.)

Saying that the race “could go either way” is an obviously correct statement -- but also one devoid of insight. We dare to pose a more difficult question, the one that a gambler or an investor might naturally ask: What are the odds?

We calculate Mr. Obama’s odds of re-election as being about two chances out of three.

Silver concluded:

While we can stipulate that the race is very close, however, the central reason we see Mr. Obama as the modest favorite is simple: he seems to hold a slight advantage right now in enough states to carry 270 electoral votes.

TimesWatch 2012 Presidential 2008 Presidential Bias by Omission Polling New York Times Nate Silver
Clay Waters's picture