Nate Silver: Heidi Heitkamp Got Lucky


Dead Spin has a fascinating interview with polling guru Nate Silver. The whole thing is worth your time to read, but of particular interest is Silver’s response to a question about his call in the North Dakota Senate race where he predicted a Rick Berg win with a 92% probability.

Obviously, he got that wrong, and a questioner asked Silver what went wrong. Silver’s response? Heitkamp’s win fell in that 8% probability range:

Berg’s loss shocked a lot of political observers, both inside and outside of North Dakota. The paid political operatives and the die-hard partisans on the left are gloating now, but I spoke with several Democrat insiders before election day and most of them were resigned to a Berg win.

Heitkamp winning is proof that even the best predictive models aren’t right 100% of the time.

The stars seemed to be aligning for Berg down the stretch. The movement in the independent public polling was toward him (though it’s clear now that Forum Communications ought to be indicted for polling malpractice), and most expected a much bigger oil country turnout.

Turns out the polling wasn’t going his way, and the oil patch turnout didn’t manifest, and a significant number of voters in the state’s electorate seem to care a whole lot more about the personality of the candidates than they do the policies.

Thus, Heitkamp is North Dakota’s Senator for the next six years.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Angie Faut

    Six years is a long time! Kinda feeling the impending doom feeling… ah, maybe that is too much caffeine.

  • magnolia3

    “…and a significant number of voters in the state’s electorate seem to care a whole lot more about the personality of the candidates than they do the policies.”

    I think that’s precisely what happened in this race…unfortunately.

    • kevindf

      Nanaw and Papaw must have bought her cornball shtick. They made a Faustian bargain.

      • scanham2

        A lot of gullible people willing to believe obvious lies.

  • Mike Quinn

    Had nothing to do with Berg being a lickspittle for the rich opposed to health care?

    • Geoff

      Find a new word, lickspittle just isn’t working anymore. Hooplehead is old as well, pull out your thesaurus and find something new. Thanks in advance for your cooperation

      • kevindf

        The free lunch bunch has a limited vocabulary.

    • DakotaStrong

      Mike, you are such a drama queen.

    • opinionated

      Oh was that not funny watching Heidi, who lives by the water, and could not, if not for wealth, go after a guy for being too rich? Rick Berg is genuinely a nice guy and it is very hard trying to smack down a female opponent because if he is too nasty women hate him, if he is not tough then women think he is too weak… The next time we run Kevin Cramer against her… He is so eloquent and articulate and she will be 6 years older and looking worse for the wear and she will be out of touch with voters.

  • JW -American

    Imagine who you could get elected in this state if you owned 4 hrs a day Radio on the 2 biggest stations KFGO and KFYR add in all the extra time MCSleeazy tossed Hidey’s way and you can pretty much tell any story you want to get out.

    Add 6-7 Million of Out of State PAC money and a lukewarm response from Team Berg and Bingo you have an Upset!

    How much of Pam G. pre-purchased air time and funding was handed over to the Hideee campaign?

    It wasn’t their ground game, they don’t have a ground game, they might have had a few vans driven by the Unions piking up low income voters to vote, but they have nobody in their party to do a ground game with as witnessed by the empty convention hall, and sad slate of other candidates.

    They were successful in a few Leg. Races, but How much did Sinner blow on that race 50-60K?? D44 was an expensive race too.

    • dakotacyr

      Aren’t you tired of whining yet?

      • dakotacyr

        And actually if you knew anything about the campaigns in ND, you would know that Heitkamp had an excellent GOTV program but the ND GOP had to beg the national RNC to fund their program. So you might want to know what you are talking about.

  • WOOF

    Heidi announced internal polls indicating she was winning.
    Heidi wouldn’t lie.

  • dakotacyr

    Where does he say she got lucky? Or is that you projecting with no facts. Typical. And sour grapes.

  • Dallas

    Bottom line is simple: The polls she released were right on; his were not. The Forum poll a week before the election, like the letter from the Bishop, was a travesty. Berg also entered the race with a 56% negative rating. People simply didn’t like him. She also ran a great race and should be congratulated.

    • Clifton Nelson

      dallas,you are right

    • opinionated

      Yes because Joel did the dirty work 3 hours a day talking about what a crappy landlord Rick Berg was and calling him everything except a nice rich white guy.. our turn is coming

      • dakotacyr

        Just a few short weeks ago, you were all on here saying how Joel’s show wouldn’t have any effect on the race, that Heidi would lose, now you’re saying the opposite. Quit whining and crying, get over it, you lost!

        • borborygmi

          They need some cheese and crackers.

  • Roy_Bean

    Early last summer I got a call from someone who wanted to know what I liked about Rick Berg, then what I disliked, then what I liked/disliked about Heidi. The poll smelled democrat so I said there was nothing I didn’t like about Berg and nothing I did like about Heidi. The caller really pushed for something positive about Heidi. I think they used that poll to attack Rick’s weak points. That’s just good, underhanded, slimy, dirty, win at any cost campaigning. Campaign against your opponent, not for yourself.

    • splined

      Heidi was portrayed as nice by some republicans. There really is not much nice about a woman who supports Obama and who supports the termination a 9 month old life. I wonder if she has any idea of the physical trauma required to cause the death of a child of this age?

  • opinionated

    Well then that will be 6 years of tearing her apart like her brother does to every single person on the face of this earth who does think EXACTLY the way he does… If it is negativity he wants then he shall get it. We can start with their phony catholicism… then we can go right to the fact that they want to buyild low income housing in the one of the bright spots in the entire economy. Imagine our tax dollars going to build housing for police, fire fighters and teachers… Nice… how about the people working at the gas stations, the fast food restaurants, grandma, who will no be able to afford her own property taxes. North Dakota is a faux conservative state that is filled with progressives, populists, liberals, rhinos, and very few elected officials that are conservative.

    • dakotacyr

      Take your best shot, so far you’e shooting blanks! You couldn’t even defeat her in a conservative republican state. You think in 6 years, you’ll do better? Bwahahahaha!

  • DJAL1190

    I’m glad the question I asked on a sports blog is creating such a constructive discourse over here.

  • Daro Crandall

    Cemetery precinct at Fort Yates brought victory to Heitkamp!

  • Radio Observer

    With the sale of KFGO and its sister stations to a Wisconsin-based company…Joel Heitkamp and Mike McFeely might not have jobs to worry about. New owners many times will bring their own people in and that oftentimes means cleaning house. Jack and Sandy have been living on borrowed time there for years and they could be on the way out as well. There have been some rumors floating around that the new owners will blow up 101.9 Talk FM’s format and use it to merely simulcast KFGO. That means 202.9’s signature talent, Tom Beckett, might be gone too after less than a year in the Fargo-Moorhead market. Stay tuned.

  • borborygmi

    Eternal whine of the right.

  • camsaure

    PHEEW, the thought of Heidi ” getting lucky” can sort of paint a horrible picture in ones mind. LOL, bad choice of title in that article.