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Late Night: Sam Wang, the KRS-One of Election Prediction

By now everyone has heard it hundreds of times over the past few months, coming from all the respectable, A-list poll analyzers and professional electorate massagers like Charlie Cook, Nate “538” Silver, Real Clear Politics, and the rest: The Republicans are going to take the Senate this year, it’s pretty much guaranteed.

Meanwhile, all but unheeded, a Princeton professor named Sam Wang — whose predictive accuracy over the past few election cycles leaves the Kool Kidz in the dust — has, pretty much from the time he first started predicting the 2014 Senate results in May of this year, held that the Democrats have a better than 50% chance of holding the Senate, and if anything the odds have over recent weeks and months gone more firmly in the Democrats’ favor (currently he gives them a 93% chance if the election were held today, and a 70% chance come November).

Why the big difference? One reason is that Professor Wang and his associates don’t place nearly as much importance on national polls as do the Kool Kidz, and they heed “fundamentals” or “secret sauce” not at all. For them, the gold standard for data is found in the local polling done of each race. How the numbers are handled varies according to the type of polling used; Professor Wang is very open about how it’s done, and has offered up his source code and his methodology so you can try it yourself.

Now, as the 2014 election season nears its final stages and there are multitudes of local polls out there to be used as data, the fundamentalists are abandoning their secret sauce and their predictions are starting to edge towards Sam Wang’s numbers, even as they still snipe at him.

Professor Wang is the KRS-One of election prediction. In a just world, he would have already been allowed to end the careers of the various hacks out there. But since the hacks are getting good money for telling stories their patrons like to hear, the hacks will still be hacking long after the 2014 election is done.

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