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Quantitative Reflections: Nate Silver Does It Again

September 9, 2011

This is why I love Nate Silver. I hope the White House is paying attention. One can be intellectually consistent and still use terminology with broader appeal. It’s not deception, it’s attention to style.

This is also why I loved Sarah Igo’s last book, The Averaged American. Igo breaks down polling culturally and socially. She also revealed how, at times, we want to be average—that it is an attractive spot. We care about perceptions and our fellow citizens, sometimes superficially and sometimes in a deeper way that approaches community and camaraderie.

The point here is that we, as Americans, sometimes like to think about ourselves quantitatively. But that thinking depends on framing, as well as time and place. There is more nuance involved than is normally suspected. Polls are taken at face value, and usually reflect some negative point about American culture.

I hope that present and future historians will attend to the nuances of poll construction. Nate Silver is doing it. Igo did it. If we’re careful, we can learn a lot about what we want to be, as well as who we are. – TL

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