This seems to me to suggest two things.
First, that the same logic that gives us "Obama or Romney?" as the paramount question one can ask about an election also gives us "for or against?" as the paramount question one could ask about the FiveThirtyEight blog. This is in no way an interesting question to me, but for many people it was the only question, and therefore my post could only be read as answering it. This reduction to discrete, mutually exclusive, and usually binary outcomes legible in the terms of a game is of course what I was identifying as a form of puerility in the first place. Obama or Romney? Statistics or "gut"? Nate Silver or Politico? Quants or scouts? These questions clearly generate a great deal of pleasure, as evidenced by the enthusiasm with which they are debated, but there are other questions, involving words like "why" and "how," that are worth discussing.
Second, that childhood is so overwhelmingly treated as a debased category that to invoke it is considered an insult.* In addition to its literal meaning of "boyish" (Latin puer), "puerile," in common usage, carries a pejorative connotation, of course, but that's its least descriptive and least useful aspect, which is why I set it aside. Puerility, in the sense of the performance of child masculinity, is one of the most powerful political forces in the present moment; that's why there is a "Nate Silver phenomenon" in the first place. It should go without saying that anyone can engage in this performance, but it is also worth noting (so I noted it) that Silver's public persona (white, male, youthful, virtuosic) makes him a particularly good candidate, out of the many people and organizations aggregating polls, to emerge as the celebrity of popular political statistics.
On election night it was interesting (though not surprising) to observe how, once the presidential race was called, Silver began to be celebrated on Twitter (elsewhere too, I'm sure, but Twitter is time-stamped) as if he were the magical wizard that, prior to the election, Silver himself so patiently tried to explain that he was not. A lot of the tweets were really funny (funniest), but many of them oddly called the Obama victory "a win for statistics" or even "a win for reality," as if to suggest that the validity of either were contingent on who won the election.** Some even explicitly trod into "Nate Silver IS a wizard!" territory:
Such celebrations seemed to concede (erroneously) that Scarborough et al. had a point in the first place— that a Romney win would have falsified Silver's model, and that Silver's model were based on occult wizardry rather than weighted averages of widely available polling data. As Siva Vaidhyanathan put it:
You realize, of course, that if Romney had won Nate Silver's prediction would still have been right.— Siva Vaidhyanathan (@sivavaid) November 9, 2012
And surely many of the people declaring Silver the real winner of the election knew this, and had even, prior to the election, said it. This put no damper on the explosion of Silver jokes, however; the pleasure of play trumped the basic premises of the very thing being celebrated. The cultural meaning of statistics was precisely puerile at this moment, openly signifying "winning team" more than it signified the actual principles of statistics.
Another form of data analysis was also declared a winner after the election, it is worth noting—the data-mining that enabled the Obama camp's microtargeted get-out-the-vote effort. This was swept into the same category as Silver's poll averages and made a cause for celebration. But as Zeynep Tufekçi, who had earlier argued that work like Silver's had the potential to limit the puerile logic of the horse race, observed, data-mining is ethically neutral at best, and is as eagerly pursued by Target as by the Democratic Party:
Winning by big data driven ground game & micro-messaging is appealing (not saying all that it was) but it's policy neutral. Who next time?— Zeynep Tufekci (@techsoc) November 7, 2012
Or as Alexis Madrigal put it, "Data Doesn't Belong to the Democrats". "The left's celebrating the analytical method right now as if it belonged to them," Madrigal writes. "But it doesn't. [...T]his election was not a triumph of data over no data, of rigor over hunch. The 2012 election was a triumph of Democratic data over Republican data." What Madrigal predicts next is a data analysis war, as Republicans struggle to catch up with and exceed the facility already achieved by Democrats.
This is indeed probably what will happen in 2016, and it is about winning. In such a discursive environment, we can easily have another election in which drone strikes are not up for debate at all. But who wins—the question that FiveThirtyEight and the political parties' data-mining efforts each, in their different ways, attempt to answer***—only ultimately matters in the context of policy questions. Are we able to ask them?
*This is complicated, to say the least.
**This is in contrast with the predictions in individual states, which, taken together, are rather more meaningful for evaluating the model.
***I.e., Silver tries to answer by prediction based on polling data, while the data-miners try to answer by trying to secure a particular outcome.