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Nate Silver tells Stephen Colbert election is 'not a coin toss'

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November 06, 2012|By Meredith Blake

As you might have heard, Tuesday is election day, when Americans will finally decide whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will serve as president for the next four years.

But there’s also a less critical subplot in this year’s election: the battle between New York Times poll wizard Nate Silver and the rest of the pundit class.

Silver, who oversees the political forecasting website FiveThirtyEight, has come under scrutiny in recent weeks because of his confidence in an Obama victory. (As of Tuesday morning, FiveThirtyEight gives the president a 92% chance of winning re-election.)

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In a Monday night visit to “The Colbert Report,” Silver defended his methodology and dismissed the idea that the race is a coin toss.

Naturally, Colbert -- the man who invented the word “truthiness” --  is not a fan of Silver and his "math." “You’re taking bread out of my kids’ mouths because I’m a pundit. Those of us in the punditocracy make our bread and butter by telling people what the truth is as we see it from our gut,” he said.

Apparently the feeling is mutual. Pressed by Colbert, Silver admitted that he’s “not very pro-pundit” and that he would even consider voting for the deadly disease Ebola over pundits in some kind of nightmarish election scenario.  

As for his critics, like MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, Silver argued that his methodology is really quite simple. “People treat it like it's Galileo, something heretical,” he said. “There are many things that are much more complicated than looking at the polls and taking an average and counting to 270, right?”

Silver also rejected the conventional wisdom that the race was tied. “It’s not a coin toss. It’s close, but you’d have to have a case where the polls are off across the board,” he said. “It could happen, but if anything the race has broken toward President Obama in the last 48 hours or so.”

There was at least one prognosticator who disagreed with Silver on Monday night --Jimmy Fallon’s pet dog, Gary. Presented with two otherwise identical bowls of kibble, Gary went straight for the one labeled “Romney.”

So who do you trust: Gary or Nate?

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