Lichtman says of polls, “they are snapshots; they’re not predictors. They were abused as predictors.” That’s half trivial and half right. Obviously, they are snapshots, like his 13 keys. So they cannot speak to make predictions. But just as he uses his keys to predict, so we can use polls.

The problem lies, not with the polls, but with the predictors who abuse them. I took graduate-level stats, so here’s how not to abuse them.

First, any meaningful prediction should not say Biden will win, or Trump will win. No one can know that. An honest prediction says something like Clinton has a 75% chance of winning. The same goes for Lichtman and his 13 keys developed with a Russian earthquake expert. As much as I would love for him to be an all-seeing guru, he’s just like any other predictor. There’s some chance he’ll be right and some chance he won’t.

If you are going to play dice, there’s no use in being told: “it will come up 1 or 2” No one knows. But you will make better bets if you know: “there's one chance in 3 it will come up 1 or 2.” The problem is: how to get from the polling results to Biden’s chance of winning.

It’s possible to find that chance pretty accurately — with a lot of hard work. Lichtman fails to note this possibility. He’s right that the reported accuracy of single polls fails to account for various biases. Many of them can be taken into account by looking at the pollster’s past performance. And then you need to take account of the electoral college … and the chance that if polls are too optimistic in one state they will also be too optimistic in a similar state. I could go on, but that’s what Nate Silver does, and he does it brilliantly.

But even then, he tells you there are some things the polls can’t capture, but human judgment can. So yes, Nate Silver knows that Lichtman’s judgment and that of others should be factored it. Everyone has their favorite guru, but how can we aggregate their combined intelligence. As Nate and many others will tell you — look to the betting markets. When I bet $100 on Biden, as much as I want him to win, I wouldn’t do that if I thought he’d lose. Same with all the other bettors. Well, it’s a bit more complicated. We also take account of the odds. And because of that, the odds end up reflecting the collective wisdom, such as it is, of the bettors.

Right now one betting market (Predictit.org) gives Biden about a 65% chance. And Nate has said if he himself were predicting (and not just using his 10,000 polls) he would factor that in. I personally think the prediction from Nate’s 10,00 polls is more accurate by, perhaps, twice. And the weighted average of Nate’s polls (giving Biden 89%) and the betting market’s 65% is that Biden has an 81% chance of winning. Scary. So don’t think it’s a sure thing and stay home.

Now please note, that is NOT a prediction that Biden will win. It is a statement that he has a 19% chance of losing. It’s too bad Lichtman hasn’t figured out the odds that he will be right. Then we could make use of his obviously excellent intuition.

If Persuasion is going to argue for the ideals of the Enlightenment, science, and all that, perhaps we should look to experts like Nate Silver rather than “experts” who abandon all the math and science in the field they are discussing.

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Thank god!

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