Nate Silver provides the antidote to some dubious statistical reasoning on the part of certain conservatives. He was replying in particular to this column from Peggy Noonan. A column, mind you, that opens with, “We are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate.” Goodness! Then she presents evidence like this:
The second part of the scandal is the auditing of political activists who have opposed the administration. The Journal’s Kim Strassel reported an Idaho businessman named Frank VanderSloot, who’d donated more than a million dollars to groups supporting Mitt Romney. He found himself last June, for the first time in 30 years, the target of IRS auditors. His wife and his business were also soon audited. Hal Scherz, a Georgia physician, also came to the government’s attention. He told ABC News: “It is odd that nothing changed on my tax return and I was never audited until I publicly criticized ObamaCare.”
Franklin Graham, son of Billy, told Politico he believes his father was targeted. A conservative Catholic academic who has written for these pages faced questions about her meager freelance writing income. Many of these stories will come out, but not as many as there are. People are not only afraid of being audited, they’re afraid of saying they were audited.
Anecdotes. Powerful stuff. But Silver brings the bucket of cold water:
Ms. Noonan is surely correct that many conservative taxpayers were audited. In fact, based on some simple math that I’ll present in a moment, it’s likely that hundreds of thousands of Mitt Romney voters were selected for an audit in 2012.
However, it’s also likely that hundreds of thousands of Mr. Obama’s supporters were audited. Although the percentage of taxpayers who are audited is relatively low — about 1 percent — the number of taxpayers in the United States is so large that this still yields well more than a million audits every year, across the political spectrum.
That’s just the beginning. The details come later.