If anyone besides Barack Obama emerged as the star of the 2012 presidential election, it’s probably stat guru Nate Silver, author of the New York Times’ fivethirtyeight blog.
Silver’s fascination with numbers at one time reached the same limit of most red-blooded American boys – compiling and analyzing the batting averages of Major League Baseball players.
Now Silver has advanced his numerical powers into superstar status as he ventures into predicting elections. And he might claim the 2012 MVP Award – correctly calling the presidential vote in all 50 states.
But while Silver basks in the limelight, the University at Buffalo’s Jim Campbell has quietly and efficiently compiled his own impressive batting average. Campbell, a distinguished professor of political science at UB, once again plugged in a pile of numbers to a time-tested formula that nailed the election for Obama.
“It’s been tested on every election back to 1948 and used in practice in every election since 1992,” Campbell said a few days ago. “Any error has been under two points, so this will only strengthen the accuracy.”
Campbell’s predictions stem from a formula based on the post-conventions Gallup Poll, the second quarter gross domestic product results and a host of other factors. And all it does is work.
Right after this year’s late conventions, the professor predicted Obama would capture 51.3 percent of the popular vote. A later analysis considering other factors like the presidential debates, the White House response to Hurricane Sandy and other breaking developments resulted in a refined prediction of 52 percent.
The actual result – 51.8 percent for the president – was right in between the two forecasts. Not bad.
Now Campbell has prepared his own analysis of the election for a new book by University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. He will also present the same findings this weekend at a major post-election event at the University of Georgia. In a conversation with the Politics Column last week, Campbell said his reading of pre-election Gallup surveys and national exit polls indicates the American electorate provided a pass to the president on a still languishing economy.
Instead, they blamed it on George W. Bush.
“The key to his re-election was that as a first-term incumbent, he could and did escape a good deal of accountability for the nation’s economic problems,” Campbell said in his latest election analysis. “Voters placed more of the blame on President Obama’s predecessor, President Bush, than on President Obama. Unlike Harry Truman, the ‘buck’ did not stop on President Obama’s Oval Office desk – it was forwarded to President Bush.”
Campbell concluded last week that Mitt Romney could not pin an iota of economic responsibility on Obama. And the Obama campaign’s subtle claims that a Romney presidency would only resurrect Bush policies seemed to hit home.
Indeed, the professor’s analysis only reinforces possibly the most effective sentence of the entire campaign, pronounced by neither of the candidates, but by Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention: “No president – not me, not any of my predecessors – no one could have fully repaired all the damage that [President Obama] found in just four years.”
All of this underscores that while bloggers like Silver suddenly become oh-so-trendy, Buffalo’s own sultan of statistics started his own trend many years ago. For Jim Campbell, his growing stature on the national political scene will only continue.
The Politics Column notes the death on Nov. 20 of former North Council Member David Rutecki, one of the truly insightful figures in Buffalo’s long political history. As Father Duke Zajac and former Mayor Tony Masiello so eloquently noted at his funeral Mass at Assumption Catholic Church last week, Rutecki deservedly earned the title of “Renaissance man” on so many levels.
If Buffalo and Western New York had more Renaissance people like David Rutecki, politics might actually again be viewed as an honorable endeavor.