Nate Silver predicts 'crash and burn' for Ukip


The UK Independence Party could "crash and burn" in the same way as the tea party did at the last US elections, the pollster Nate Silver told a London audience on Tuesday.

Mr Silver, who is celebrated for accurately predicting the outcome of the presidential election in all 50 US states last November, was in the UK to discuss his new book, The Signal and the Noise.

Speaking to an audience at an Intelligence Squared event, he said: "If you had the [general] election today it's clear Labour would gain a lot of seats, probably a majority, but two years is a long time.

"Since the tea party eventually crashed and burned in the US I think Ukip might meet a similar fate eventually."

Mr Silver, who described the US Republican party as in some parts having become "detached from empiricism" contrasted the US and UK systems, stating his admiration for Britain's "sensible… smart, competent MPs".

He was modest about his record of electoral prediction. "We get a lot of credit for calling all 50 states right, but everything really was on a probability scale," he said. "But I'll take the credit – it was a good year."

Mr Silver, who has a Jewish father, spoke about "failures of prediction" including before the financial crash of 2008 and ahead of natural disasters, such as the Japanese earthquake of 2010.

But while he emphasised the importance of analysing data , he also warned that "it is dangerous to overestimate our capabilities".

He reassured that machines, despite being able to process data faster than humans, were not going to take over.

"The big problem with this is that computer programmes are designed by human beings, who introduce assumptions and problems into the code," he said, giving Sat Nav systems as an example of where sophisticated computer prediction could be undone.

And he spoke of the dangers of prediction in the political arena. "It worries me a little that campaigns are getting more efficient at targeting voters – there is a thin line between targeting and manipulation."

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