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Why It's So Hard to Understand 2016 With Numbers Alone

There's more to the art of predicting the outcome of a primary election than simply relying on polls.
Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015.

Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The new breed of cool analytical election observers—from Nate Silver at 538 to the folks at the Upshot or Monkey Cage—roll their eyes and sigh deeply at the frenzy of coverage about Donald Trump, the media scrum about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and the speculation about whether Joe Biden will enter the presidential race. Instead, they argue, one should simply pay attention to the fundamentals and not worry about campaigns, debates, events, or even, seemingly, the identities of the candidates.

I’m all for models based on objective and quantifiable data like the state of the economy or the likely demographics of the electorate. They force analysts and observers to be precise and transparent about their assumptions. One can disagree with those assumptions, but at least one knows exactly what those assumptions are.