Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Math Stats United States Politics

The Art of Elections Forecasting 101

Posted by timothy
from the can-we-get-a-point-spread-in-vegas? dept.
ideonexus writes "Years ago Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com, a blog seeking to educate the public about elections forecasting, established his model as one of the most accurate in existence, rising from a fairly unknown statistician working in baseball to one of the most respected names in election forecasting. In this article he describes all the factors that go into his predictions. A fascinating overview of the process of modeling a chaotic system."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The Art of Elections Forecasting

Comments Filter:
  • by newcastlejon (1483695) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @05:06PM (#40249641)
    I hope that includes "don't vote according to forecasts". I mean, it'd be nice if more people voted for the candidate they actually want instead of the one they think will win.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I, the amazing Karnac, predict a Repubmocrat will preside over the United States once again, as it was, so will it be, ad nauseum.

    • by khallow (566160) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @06:26PM (#40250653)

      I hope that includes "don't vote according to forecasts". I mean, it'd be nice if more people voted for the candidate they actually want instead of the one they think will win.

      An educated public would realize that voting for who you want in today's election environment is not optimal strategy.

      • by Sique (173459)

        An educated public would realize that voting for who you want is today's only way to ever break the rep-dem-oligopoly. If you vote tactically, all you do is playing into the hands of the strategists. They plan. They are strategic. You react. You stay tactical.
        Start local. Vote people into office you trust, independently of any party affiliation. Be a candidate people can trust, independently of any party affiliation. Focus on issues, not on ideologies. Get things done instead of paying lip service on things

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 07, 2012 @05:07PM (#40249647)

    Ever since the Republican members of the supreme court overturned our campaign finance laws, elections have become an epic bribe-fest where money almost always wins.

    You tell me which side is outspending the other 10-1 and I'll tell you who is most likely to win the election.

    Let's just save ourselves alot of time and aggravation, and ask the America's 10 most bigoted and bribe-happy billionaires who they would like to win.

    • by XanC (644172) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @05:08PM (#40249677)

      Even if what you say about 10-1 outspending is true (and it probably is), you haven't established causation, only correlation. Wouldn't you expect a better, winning candidate to be able to get more money as well as more votes than the other guy?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 07, 2012 @05:14PM (#40249759)

        Democracy = one man one vote.

        Capitalism = one dollar one vote.

        Only an idiot or a libertarian (but I repeat myself) fails to understand that you can't "vote with your wallet" unless everyone has about the same size wallet.

      • by robinsonne (952701) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @05:14PM (#40249773)
        You can say "correlation != causation" all you want, but the simple thing is more $$$ = more advertising, and the more advertising = more votes. IOW more $$$ = more votes.
        • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @05:28PM (#40250009)

          You can say "correlation != causation" all you want, but the simple thing is more $$$ = more advertising, and the more advertising = more votes. IOW more $$$ = more votes.

          To a certain extent, this is true.

          It must be remembered, however, that there are other ways to "advertise".

          The "incumbent advantage" is an obvious one - it's pretty easy to get your name in the news just by proposing a new law, even if you have no intention of following through on it. And the evening news is just more advertising for a candidate.

          Likewise, if a candidate is preferred by the various news organizations, he/she/it tends to get better coverage than a candidate that is actively disliked by the media. Again, free advertising....

          Do remember that it's actually pretty hard to limit campaign spending without tripping over the First Amendment (face it, if a candidate is rich enough, he can just buy a TV station and BECOME part of the media)....

          • by Immerman (2627577)

            Well, we could start with banning all corporate financing and advertising. A corporation, not being human, has no claim to human rights.

            Yeah, yeah, don't get me started on ridiculous laws and SCOTUS rulings to the contrary.

            • by Obfuscant (592200)

              A corporation, not being human, has no claim to human rights.

              But the people who make up the corporation do, especially when those people have formed the corporation for the explicit purpose of exercising the right to free speech. As did Citizen's United.

              Yeah, yeah, don't get me started on ridiculous laws and SCOTUS rulings to the contrary.

              Yeah, that pesky first amendment. What a pain. Why can't we just ban all speech that we don't agree with?

              • by zill (1690130) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @10:00PM (#40252405)

                A corporation, not being human, has no claim to human rights.

                But the people who make up the corporation do, especially when those people have formed the corporation for the explicit purpose of exercising the right to free speech. As did Citizen's United.

                The people who make up the corporation have their rights, and they are welcome to exercise those rights to the fullest. However, they don't deserve extra rights just because they have more money.

                As an individual, I am allowed to donate $2500 to my favorite candidate. A single cent more and the feds haul me off to jail.

                But if I form a corporation, I can donate all the money I want to a super PAC. By forming a corporation, I suddenly have more free speech rights than anyone in the country who don't currently control a corporation.

                Sure, there are laws prohibiting super PACs from coordinating with campaigns, but the candidate can just have his lawyer form the super PAC and the communication between them will be protected by the attorney–client privilege. (for the interest of partisanship I won't name that candidate)

                • by Tyndmyr (811713)
                  As an individual, you can also donate to a PAC or form one, if you wish. Or you can spend your own money to advertise whatever views you want, just like a PAC does. There's no discrepancy here save for the likelihood that the corporation has a lot more money to begin with.
                  • by zill (1690130)

                    As an individual, you can also donate to a PAC or form one, if you wish.

                    As an individual, I am allowed to donate $5000 per election to a PAC. A single cent more and the feds haul me off to jail. You might notice $5000 is quite a bit lower than the contribution limit for corporations. The corporations and I each have our First Amendment rights, but I can't shake the feeling that their rights are a lot stronger than mine...

                    ...or form one, if you wish.

                    Of course if I form my own corporation and super PAC I can get as set of extra rights as all the other corporations. But what about everyone in the country wh

                • by Obfuscant (592200)

                  However, they don't deserve extra rights just because they have more money.

                  They don't get any. "More money" has nothing to do with anything, it's just flamebait.

                  As an individual, I am allowed to donate $2500 to my favorite candidate. ... But if I form a corporation, I can donate all the money I want to a super PAC.

                  Candidate vs. "super PAC". Different things. Different laws.

                  By forming a corporation, I suddenly have more free speech rights than anyone in the country who don't currently control a corporation.

                  Keep telling yourself that and maybe it will be true someday.

                  Sure, there are laws prohibiting super PACs from coordinating with campaigns, but the candidate can just have his lawyer form the super PAC and the communication between them will be protected by the attorneyâ"client privilege.

                  Now you really show you don't know what you are talking about. Attorney client privilege does not protect criminal actions participated in by both. And you as an individual have just as few limits on donating to a PAC as a corporatation, so the difference you are complaining about is all in your hea

              • by Immerman (2627577)

                Certainly the individuals within the corporation are human, and as individuals they are welcome to exert those rights. The corporation is not some sort of composite organism, it is a tool created to focus diffuse stockholder wealth into a more concentrated, versatile structure that can more readily generate profit. To claim it should get human rights is quite akin to claiming that a schoolbus or apartment building should get human rights because they contain humans.

                It's also worth clarifying as an inciden

        • You can say that more money yields more advertising and more advertising yields more votes but as far as I've seen there has not yet been one study that showed a causative effect. I understand that it's definitely worth looking into but there are plenty of feasible confounding factors that would easily disrupt the causative effect. The GP succinctly posted the most obvious one:

          Wouldn't you expect a better, winning candidate to be able to get more money as well as more votes than the other guy?

      • by GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @05:17PM (#40249819)
        Oftentimes the guy who gets the bribes(campaign contributions) is the guy more willing to do what is asked of him. The road to increasing political power is less of who is best for the people, but who continually returns good for their campaign contributors. The more you help those who bribe you, the more money they're willing to give you.
      • by bit trollent (824666) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @05:18PM (#40249853) Homepage
        Wouldn't you expect a better, winning candidate to be able to get more money as well as more votes than the other guy?

        Not if the better candidate is advocating against the billionaire's personal interests (such as paying his share of taxes) while the corrupt candidate obeys his billionaire owner.
      • by tverbeek (457094) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @05:38PM (#40250135) Homepage

        Correlation != causation.... but only up until you demonstrate the causal connection. The fact that money leads to advertising is self-evident, and the fact that advertising influences opinions and behaviors is also very well established.

        Also, then notion that a vastly more popular candidate will attract vastly more money overlooks human psychology. Other than big donors buying access, why would most donors bother giving money to a shoo-in? What attracts money to a contest (as demonstrated most recently in Wisconsin) is a deeply and relatively-evenly divided electorate.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Actually the 10-1 figure is quite misleading. The Walker Campaign and supporting PACs spent ~$30 million, and the Barrett Campaign and supporting PACs spent ~4 million. Unions, both in Wisconsin and outside of Wisconsin spent ~$20 million in support of Barrett, but it doesn't count as Barrett spending in the 10:1 figure obviously. Still a healthy 33% advantage for Walker.

      • That's why, according to noam chomsky, the business press celebrated the campaign of Obama, because it was a whole new level of slick and neo-whatever.... suuuure.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Seems to have worked for Obama, in spite of the pre-existing campaign finance laws.

      Do remember that he was the first (and so far only) Presidential candidate to forgo Federal matching funds for his campaign, since skipping those funds meant he didn't have to abide by the campaign finance limits.

      Which left him spending three or four times what his opponent spent...

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Without checking for sure where the funds came from, I believe it was the 5 bucks here, 10 bucks there from everyone vs 1,000,000 bucks and more from 30 folks that helped with that. Since the Republicans cozy up to the millionaires and billionaires, they needed the campaign finance laws changed so they could get the same amount of money the Democrats were getting.

        • $5 here, $10 there, $15,000,000.00 from George Clooney.
          • by artor3 (1344997)

            Any source for that comment? Because I'm pretty sure it's extremely misleading.

            Clooney held a fundraiser in which other people donated something like $40k a head. Now, that is a lot of money. But it's chump change compared to the amount raised by the Republican Super PACs. Romney's personal Super PAC has brought in around $52 million. Karl Rove's has brought in another $28 million. Newt Gingrich has another $24M. Santorum's got a little over $8M. There's another $30M among the smaller Republican Sup

            • Clooney held a fundraiser in which other people donated something like $40k a head. Now, that is a lot of money. But it's chump change compared to the amount raised by the Republican Super PACs. Romney's personal Super PAC has brought in around $52 million. Karl Rove's has brought in another $28 million. Newt Gingrich has another $24M. Santorum's got a little over $8M. There's another $30M among the smaller Republican Super PACs.

              All told, that's around $142 million dollars. All the Democratic PACs have to

        • by khallow (566160)

          Without checking for sure where the funds came from

          A big problem with Obama's campaign contributions is how much of it is anonymous because it is "small" donations. "5 bucks here, 10 bucks there from everyone" looks very similar to a few wealthy groups providing the same funding through small, untraced donations.

      • Do remember that he was the first (and so far only) Presidential candidate to forgo Federal matching funds for his campaign, since skipping those funds meant he didn't have to abide by the campaign finance limits.

        Just to be clear, he's the only candidate who declined the funds for the general election. McCain also declined them for the Republican primary.

        It doesn't really matter, though -- the offical spending by the campaigns is sure to be eclipsed by PACs who don't need to disclose their donors. It's

      • by Thomas M Hughes (463951) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @05:48PM (#40250227)

        Do remember that he [Obama] was the first (and so far only) Presidential candidate to forgo Federal matching funds for his campaign, since skipping those funds meant he didn't have to abide by the campaign finance limits.

        I don't believe that is accurate. This [google.com] suggests that Steve Forbes skipped on matching funds in 1996 and 2000. G. W. Bush skipped on matching funds in 2000 and 2004, which caused Howard Dean and John Kerry to forgo in 2004 as well. Over the last decade, everybody who wins, forgoes matching funds, as well as a significant number of the losers.

        There are valid reasons to say Obama is doing things that are bad, but I think we have a real tendency to say "He's the first to do this!" when he's doing stuff that has been the trend for quite some time.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by schwit1 (797399)
    • Anecdotal, sure, but check out the recent Republican senate primary in Nebraska [msn.com]. Dark horse beat two better-funded alternatives.
    • People only bitch about "too much money in politics" when their candidate doesn't win.
  • The term chaotic has a variety of different meanings, but this seems to be closer to what one would call a noisy system than a chaotic system.
  • electoral tracking (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tverbeek (457094) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @05:29PM (#40250015) Homepage

    Andrew Tanenbaum (of Minix fame) does a good job of tracking state-by-state polling results and what they predict about the Electorial College outcome at http://electoral-vote.com/ [electoral-vote.com]

  • The idea of predicting elections is quite fascinating. I wonder how its accuracy would compare to one of the better election prediction sites out there, Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball [centerforpolitics.org] at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
    • Nate has a great track record [wikipedia.org] and frequently has posts with a great deal of of details about how he builds the models and considerations/caveats for the statistic and political geeks.
  • Perhaps, instead of educating people to understand forecasts, we should be interested in educating people so they can make well informed and educated choices. The great majority of people have little or no education (And I do not mean literacy here). They are unable to analyse, research or investigate in a critical way. They become emotional about things are not possibly capable of understanding and allow those emotions to tell them to whom they should be giving a vote. En educated person, reads between th
    • by JoshuaZ (1134087)
      A major part of education is understanding basic forecasting, how to judge when an extrapolation looks reasonable, when to expect correlation v. causation issues, etc. Moreover, in this case, anyone reading Fivethirtyeight is likely already pretty educated, so this isn't really being aimed at the people with no knowledge.

      politicians that have been elected so far are against the idea of educating people as this will destroy the system as exist today and they will have to get real jobs

      Most people, even politicians, aren't so evil that they would deliberately try to destroy the educational system. Moreover, most people don't have the foresight to do that. Part of the prob

  • You can go to http://intrade.com/ [intrade.com] to get accurate odds on elections. The odds are accurate because people can bet real money on the outcome, so people with good polling or better insider knowledge can bet on the outcome... It had Scott Walker at 93% odds of winning. Funny watching the media say how close it was going to be... and it turned out to be an easy win for Walker (54-46%)
    • by Boronx (228853)

      Enough with the intrade promos already. Intrade is good at showing the summed wisdom of amateurs who pay attention. It's pretty darned at predicting election results ... after it's already clear who is going to win. Go look at the price history for Gingrich.

      • by bhlowe (1803290)
        I honestly haven't tracked it much but it has been accurate when I bothered to look at it. Maybe it isn't as good with a wide field of candidates.. Then again, just because a candidate has high odds of winning doesn't mean they will win--just like with any odds, sometimes the 1:10 pays off (for instance, 10% of the time). But with 93% odds showing, I stand by my example that the media was thinking it might be a "long night" when it was actually decided before all the ballots were counted.
        • by Boronx (228853)

          I think the real problem is that there's not enough money in Intrade, even on something big like Republican Nomination to attract the real smart guys. The price of Gingrich, for instance, shot up pretty high right before Iowa due to his status as the current Not-Romney, but really his chance of winning was never higher than a couple of percentage points.

          Those of us who knew it could look at Intrade and calculate that by shorting Gingrich we might be able to make a couple thousand over a few weeks or months

        • by Boronx (228853)

          Oh yeah, and let me also predict that Intrade's numbers for the coming election will swing several points more than the pro numbers from Nate Silver and the like. That won't prove anything, but at some point the variability means that Intrade is reacting to noise too much.

  • I miss-read the title, thought it was something about Horowitz and Hill being relevant well into the future
  • Do you know Wildland art It is really insteresting: http://www.wildlandart.webmienphi.vn/ [webmienphi.vn]
  • I'm more concerned about the Art of Elections Rigging. The blatant, organized, top-down plan to disenfranchise every non-white or non-GOP voter in the US is breathtaking, soul-crushing, and judging by the Wisconsin recall result, deadly effective.

    You now have to have a photo ID to vote, meaning for all practical purposes, those without a drivers license need an entire day to waste to run through the rabbit maze to get an approved alternative ID. Oh, and in most large, red, square states? The voting stat

"Just think of a computer as hardware you can program." -- Nigel de la Tierre

Working...