Is FiveThirtyEight Biased?

Photo: ABC News

The political poll analysis site, FiveThirtyEight, has recently come under fire for its alleged bias toward certain candidates during this election season. Amongst the complaints: unfairly reporting on Donald Trump, inaccurate polls during the 2016 primary season, and an unfair bias and support toward Hillary Clinton.

FiveThirtyEight is the child project of Nathaniel Silver, a statistician who writes and analyses baseball and elections. In 2013, it was sold to ESPN, and Nate Silver remained on as Editor-In-Chief of the site. He also serves as “Special Correspondent” for ABC News. In the eight years the blog has existed, it has been no stranger to controversy.

In 2010, Nate Silver received criticism for the polling database used for the 2008 Presidential Election between Barack Obama and John McCain. He claimed that he did not know whether he had a legal right to do so, although did release his pollster ratings for 1998-2012 for U.S. Elections. Mark Blumental, writing in the National Journal, claimed that there were discrepancies in Silver’s reporting and a specific polling source.

In 2014, FiveThirtyEight again received controversy by providing statistical analysis of climate research on its blog. The Guardian criticised it for hiring Robert Pielke, Jr., a known climate change skeptic, for his previous history of faulty statistical analysis. The criticisms were as follows: “Hiding the Incline in Extreme Weather Damages”, “Pielke Misrepresents His Own Research”, “Neglected Research Contradicts Pielke”, and that scientists were better at providing statistical analysis to better account for variables that come with analysis.

The current election has no less controversy. As emotions run high, so do the doubt in the media from the supporters of the insurgent candidates. For Donald Trump, FiveThirtyEight famously claimed in August: “Our emphatic prediction is simply that Trump will not win the nomination.” Nate Silver later came to regret his predictions of The Donald, writing of his mistakes in “How I Acted Like A Pundit And Screwed Up On Donald Trump”, claiming “Trump’s nomination shows the need for a more rigorous approach”.

For the Democrats, he has been accused of partiality toward Hillary Clinton. Many of the predictions it has released for the Democratic Primaries turned out to be inaccurate, such as Michigan, which failed to expect the historic Sanders upset. Another one of these complaints from Sanders Progressives and those against Mrs. Clinton is FiveThirtyEight’s former affiliation with the New York Times from 2010-2015. The New York Times announced their support for Hillary Clinton on January 31, 2016, a full 5 months and 28 days before the end of the Democratic National Convention.

Sanders Progressives and anti-Clintons also criticise the continual theme of “Sanders dismissiveness” in their articles, and contradicting itself in its articles. In “What To Make Of The Bernie Sanders Surge”, Harry Enten claims that Bernie Sanders had little chance of taking the Democratic Nomination, and that the establishment would “rush in to try to squash Sanders”. That article was published in June of last year, and that the attacks to try to “squash” Sanders have not worked.

Mr. Enten also claimed, on May 25, that “Sanders Isn’t Doing Well With True Independents”. In his article, he claims that “there is no sign that true independents disproportionately like Sanders”. To further his argument, he claims that Sanders has a favorability of 35 percent versus Clinton’s 34 percent (according to a Gallup Poll).

However, the article fails to highlight Mrs. Clinton’s most pressing issue: unfavorability. According to Accuracy & Fairness in Reporting, “For Sanders, it’s 28 percent; for Clinton, it’s 49 percent”. Therefore, evidence would suggest that non-leaning independents (those not aligned with a party nor have a propensity to vote for a particular party) would support Sanders over Clinton, but unfavorability is not even mentioned once in Enten’s admittedly anti-Sanders article.

Is FiveThirtyEight biased? Many Sanders Progressives and anti-Clintons seem to think so. Perhaps the most telling: Nate Silver’s own twitter, @NateSilver538, has nearly half of his tweets as pro-Clinton or anti-Sanders in his last 20 tweets. Given the personal opinions of its editor-in-chief, and the continual inaccuracy and accusations of bias in its articles- it is not hard to see why many Sanders Progressives, Donald Trump Supporters, and anti-Clintons choose to think so.

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  • irish1919

    Nate silver is pro democrat and is biased in his polls. He is a Hillary hack like Main Street media. Trump is under polled and more democrats make up majority of the polls. Media is disgraceful in its non coverage of Hillarys lies and corruption.

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