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Political Polling Guru Nate Silver Offers Oscar Predictions

The New York Times' statistical wunderkind, who blew away all pundits in election forecasts, uses pure math to pick Sunday's winners.

Nate Silver Oscar Statuette Inset - P 2013
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Nate Silver

If the November election is any indication, Ben Affleck can start popping the champagne early.

Nate Silver became an instant celebrity in political journalism circles last year when he predicted the results of the presidential election with near-perfect accuracy. The New York Times stat guru relied on pure mathematics, using a proprietary formula to drill into polling data to forecast President Barack Obama's re-election. Now, on the eve of the Oscars, Silver is offering his predictions of who will leave the Dolby Theater with gold.

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The overwhelming favorite to win best picture, he says, is Argo. As Silver points out, that shouldn't come as much of a surprise, given its success in precursor awards. Silver's formula is composed of 16 different critics and guild award results, weighted based on how often, in previous years, the winner of those awards went on to win the Oscar. For example, the winner of the top Directors Guild Award has gone on to win the Oscar for best picture 80 percent of the time, making it the most accurate -- and thus most heavily factored -- component in his equation. This year, Affleck won for Argo.

Expecting that Lincoln would win best picture after winning none of the top precursor awards, he says, would be a bit like expecting "Rudolph W. Giuliani to have resurrected his campaign in Florida in 2008 after finishing in sixth place everywhere else."

Affleck, Silver says, also would be the favorite to win best director -- had he been nominated. But because he was famously snubbed, the next in line is Steven Spielberg, for Lincoln, though Life of Pi director Ang Lee is right behind him.

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Best actor is almost definitely going to Lincoln star Daniel Day-Lewis, given his sweep of nearly every precursor award; Bradley Cooper is a distant second. Silver Linings Playbook's Jennifer Lawrence is predicted to win best actress. Jessica Chastain of Zero Dark Thirty is close behind, with Emmanuelle Riva in third. Here, Silver relies on his statistics, despite a late-season push for Riva, who won the BAFTA for Amour.

"One rule-of-thumb in elections analysis is that 'momentum' is often given too much credence by pundits," Silver writes. "I suppose I can’t say for certain that the same is true in Oscars coverage -- and perhaps it is more relevant in the case of a film like Amour, which may not have been seen by all that many Academy members until recently. But the SAG Awards have a better track record than the BAFTAs across all acting categories, despite usually predating them on the calendar."

Silver has been here before, as he became an outspoken critic of pundits and media narrative, earning him enemy No. 1 status from political commentators. Whether he will triumph over the awards experts who read tea leaves and the tremors of gossip buzz remains to be seen.

The mathematical predictions juxtapose nicely with the brutally honest Oscar ballot given to THR by an Academy member; setting up a battle between stats and emotion. Silver has said that he's been approached by Hollywood studios looking for stats-based analysis of programming and box office, so the Oscars could just be a start.

For the rest of Silver's predictions, head to the NY Times.