This week, he conducted a far less formal poll that again ruffled some feathers — at least in Boise. Prior to a live taping of FiveThirtyEight’s podcast on Friday evening as part of the Treefort offshoot Hackfort, Silver asked the internet (or, more specifically, Twitter) how to properly pronounce the city’s name.
To Boiseans’ dismay, “Boy-ZEE” won out. The good news? Silver, who has fully assimilated after spending his Friday at the Birds of Prey Center and dining on Basque food Downtown, knows better. He demonstrated a perfect “Boy-see” to Idaho Public Television’s Idaho Reports on Friday.
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And just as there are misconceptions about the right way to pronounce Boise, Silver said there are misconceptions about the importance and use of polling and data in journalism.
“I think people misunderstand the role of prediction,” said Silver, adding that he thinks predicting is part of having an interest in truth.
“We tend to think if people are afraid to look at data, they’re afraid of being wrong.”
In Idaho, a state with few political surprises, the importance of prediction may seem lost on some. And Silver said he understands why those in our state might feel that way.
“Idahoans have less of a say in national politics, but that’s true for a lot of states,” Silver said. “It should bother people in Idaho that they’re not playing a bigger role in politics because of the way the system works.”
That’s not to say Idaho has no clout.
“Even in a state that’s not competitive, your energy can matter,” Silver added. “And primaries are set up in a way that all states can have a say.”
After the election, when the public largely seems to distrust both polling and journalism, Silver said it’s important to continue to show where FiveThirtyEight’s conclusions come from in the hopes that skeptics may come around.
“We think being evidence-based is a big part of (building credibility with audiences),” Silver said. “We very rarely say, ‘Take our word for it.’”
FiveThirtyEight’s evidence-based reporting covers a wide swath of topics — policy and redistricting were two of Silver’s examples — including some, such as sports, that are just plain fun.
And speaking of fun, what was it that brought the FiveThirtyEight crew to Boise for a live taping of the podcast? Co-host Jody Avirgan was a driving factor, said Silver. And it just sounded like fun.
“We like seeing other parts of the country,” said Silver, “And Treefort seemed less crazy than South By Southwest.”