Nate Silver, the data whiz of American elections (or "math rock star" as Trevor Noah put it), stopped by The Daily Show Wednesday. He shed some serious light on Donald Trump, what on earth Republicans are thinking, and whether you should start looking at apartments in Toronto. Silver, the editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight, knows the poll numbers. His site has successfully predicted 52 of the 57 primary races this election season. But Trump's success has been taking him by surprise:
We thought the Republicans had fun — they would have a dance with the Gingrich, for example, or the Herman Cain — but in the end they would come back to their senses and pick some relatively sensible right-wing candidate. And they were way crazier than I imagined.
If you remember, in 2012, similarly beyond-the-pale candidates Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain were easily defeated by establishment fave Mitt Romney. Many thought Trump would be similarly held at bay in this election. Silver admitted that he and his team were skeptical of Trump's chances for most of 2015, but they were in good company, far from the only news outlet to write off his candidacy. But Silver says that's because Trump is a whole new phenomenon. There's a difference between a toss-up race you get wrong and something "really kind of crazy and unusual":
We haven't seen something like the Trump nomination — I'm 38 — at least in my lifetime. You kind of have to harken back to the 60s almost. But everything we thought we knew about politics was kind of wrong this cycle.
The numbers give no clear explanation for Trump's rise, but Silver said that the biggest correlation with Trump's popularity that FiveThirtyEight has found is racist Google searches in an area. Not exactly a Republican or Democratic ideology.
That could explain why Republican voters don't seem to mind that Trump ignores the GOP's core stances. Silver called it a three-legged stool: fiscal conservatism, family values, and America's role as leader of the free world. "Trump doesn't care about that stool; he just cares about enraging people," Silver said.
Another interesting data point Silver brought up was that it's not the poor or working class who are supporting Trump. His median voter makes about $72,000 a year. "They're upper middle class and feel as though their moment is passing them by," Silver said. "What is their moment? The apocalypse?" Noah asked.
Trevor then pressed Silver on what the polls are saying about the general election. Reports in recent weeks have pointed to an easy win for Hillary Clinton, while others guarantee a Trump sweep of swing states. "You look terrified," Noah said. "You are literally terrified. You are the de facto data journalist, and you are terrified right now. Are you seeing something in the numbers you're not telling us?"
Silver focused on how it's really too early to tell. If the race were held today, Clinton would win. But in 1988 and 1992, the candidates polling well at this point went on to lose. It will be difficult though for Trump to beat the demographics. He said that black, Hispanic, increasingly Asian, and white cosmopolitan liberals — "you guys, the cool people" Noah explained to the studio audience — are all likely Clinton voters.
The other demographic Trump will have trouble with, of course, is women. "He's had several wives — that's not enough for a majority, though, unfortunately," Silver joked. Noah also teased Silver about his statistician abilities, and whether he would jump ship to Canada before telling the rest of us the bad news if at some point a Trump win looks eminent. Silver had the perfect response:
I wouldn't move to Canada. I'm a patriot, Trevor. Bellingham, Washington, maybe. A 15-minute drive if anything goes awry.
A big chunk of America is right there with you, Nate.