Breaking down and predicting the political races with statistics

By AUSTEN GREGERSON

It is midterm election season, with politics becoming our third-largest sport behind football and World Series baseball for next few days.

That being the case, someone looking to cut through the static of cable news channels for hard facts should be refreshing fivethirtyeight.com on their browser daily. The site, operated by former Baseball Prospectus writer Nate Silver, attempts to quantify, predict and analyze recent political trends in the United States. “Attempts” may be too weak a word — at an alarmingly high rate, he’s right.

The contents of FiveThirtyEight mainly consist of a row of blog entries down the bulk of the page, sharing the screen with charts and graphs of how each political party is trending in the state or district they are fighting for. But don’t think of FiveThirtyEight as just some site to look at colored maps of the country. There has been a noted improvement in the analytical side of the website ever since the 2008, going beyond telling us the information and starting to explain why that may be. Silver doesn’t infuse his own ideologies into things like Bill O’Reilly is prone to do, but rather uses the information at his hands to try and understand the situation with the rest of us.

Anything that helps deconstruct the mess that is the political landscape, particularly in an election year, is invaluable to ones research. Politics on news channels have become biased to the point where it’s impossible to believe anyone, even if there information is, in fact, fact. Yes, fivethirtyeight.com is now owned and operated through nytimes.com. But while The New York Times gets a lot of bad publicity for being a “liberal rag,” I find that description to be too broad, completely undervaluing the quality of their fact gathering and reporting.

For what it is worth, we can use FiveThirtyEight as a tool to help clarify things in an unclear and often tumultuous subject. People may lie, but the numbers never will.

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