John Zogby Isn’t Jealous of Nate Silver

As you may have heard, Nate Silver’s political statistics/projection blog FiveThirtyEight will be moving to the New York Times. This is a huge win for Silver— and for people who haven’t been exposed to his intricate work with polling data—but veteran pollster John Zogby is not pleased. Not. One. Bit. He even said so, in an op-ed at the Huffington Post. Samples from Zogby’s cantankerous rant below:

“You are hot right now—using an aggregate of other people’s work, you got 49 of 50 states right in 2008. I know how it is to feel exhilarated. I get the states right a lot too. But remember that you are one election away from being a mere mortal like the rest of us.”

“Those of us doing this work for decades understand that so much happens in the closing weeks, days, and hours of a campaign. As many as 4% to 10% of likely voters tell us they make up their minds the day of the election. Some of my colleagues suggest that you are being disingenuous when you knowingly use this data; others say you have a personal axe to grind. But repeating these errors over and over will not make them true.”

“You are a statistician—a very good one—but you are not a pollster. You should conduct some polls and learn that the rest of us good pollsters survey people, not statistics. The numbers tell the story; preconceived ideologies and fuzzy-math statistical models do not.”

Nate Silver, never one to shy away from engaging with critics and commenters, responded last night. Here’s some of what he said. The entire response is here.

“Mr. Zogby, I think you may be mistaking me for my Wikipedia page. I don’t really spend a lot of time touting my accomplishments or resting on my laurels—there are no marketing materials of any kind on this site… So when we get something right, we usually just move on with our lives rather than brag about it.”

Along those lines, I think you need to examine the thought process behind your interactive (Internet) polling, which any objective attempt at analysis will demonstrate has achieved vastly inferior results, beyond any shadow of a doubt.”

I knowingly am a bit conceited about is the only thing that I have complete control over: the amount of effort that I put into FiveThirtyEight and my other projects. I work my butt off—80-100 hour weeks have been the norm for about two years here.”

It is true that Nate Silver is not a pollster, but he’s never pretended to be. He is a statistician and an analyst and part of his analysis is seeing what’s wrong with political polls and how they could be made more accurate. Of course that would grate a pollster like Zogby. But in his op-ed, Zogby sounds jealous and insecure about the young whippersnapper with the big NYT deal. A better approach may have been to congratulate Silver. If Silver really is going to fall flat on his face, as Zogby seems to believe, then there’s no harm in being gracious.


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