Monthly Archives: October 2008

Election Prediction Explained

So here’s the explanation.

 

I am following 3 major websites now:

 

www.electoral-vote.com – This consolidates polls by state to predict the count.Electoral-vote apparently uses simple averaging to consolidate its data.I prefer this method because it requires little interpretation on their part.Interpretation involves assumptions about bias in the polls, and I believe it is hard to figure out the exact impact of the bias or even the direction. Electoral-vote has Obama at 364. At this time in 2004, they had Kerry at 283 (see this page), whereas his election day total was 252, with the main difference being Florida. More telling, the “strong” Obama States total 264 votes, as opposed to 95 for Kerry at this point.

 

www.fivethirtyeight.com – This consolidates polls by state to predict the count using some complex weighting system. It’s a neat idea but it’s end result is about the same as averaging, and I am not at all convinced it is better.

 

They’ve got Obama at 346.5, much more than the 270 needed to win.

 

www.gallup.com – This well-established survey company is different from the two above in that they actually conduct the polls. Gallup is showing primarily national results, and has Obama significantly up, both in raw percentages and when adjusting for “likely” voters—people Gallup has determined are likely to vote, based on two different models. Gallup’s daily tracking polls has Obama’s lead almost unchanged since the start of October (never more than the statistical error).

 

My conclusion from the above—Obama will be the next US President.

 

So why the change from before, when I said polls are difficult to trust and spoke of biases?

 

Three reasons:

 

1) the closer we get to the election, the better correlation between intentions and actions

 

2) the closer we get to the election, the fewer undecided voters. A recent Reuters poll shows this at about 2%. Even if it is 5% and the undecided break 4 to 1 for McCain, he’s going to lose.

 

3) The biases appear to lean in Obama’s favor: more younger voters likely and more early voters. Very biased reporting from Grandma in S.C. says that lots of young people were out voting early (she spent 2 hours on line to vote early, by the way).

Election Polls

A short note about election polls, which I’ve been following somewhat religiously for the last few weeks.

 

Election polls differ in at least four significant ways from actual voting.

 

First, polls are typically of around 1,000 people or less, which means that at best, they are statistically precise to within plus or minus three percent. This means that a six point difference between 2 candidates may be nothing more than sampling error (i.e., a statistical anomaly).

 

Second, polls tend to be of the general population and not of likely Electoral College votes, which is how the election is counted (but see electoral-vote.com for a count of Electoral votes, according to polls). As we know from recent elections, the Electoral vote percentages frequently (and seemingly increasingly) do not correspond to popular vote percentages.

 

Third, polls are snapshots on how people feel on a certain day. Americans seem to be particularly fickle in their opinions recently, perhaps due to the economic turmoil, so don’t trust that today’s lead won’t disappear tomorrow.

 

Finally, many polls do not remove unlikely voters (though you do see some figures concerning “likely voters”). Polls of people who do not vote are fairly useless, but pollster’s haven’t been very successful in predicting who will actually vote. Thus, the tendency is to include respondents who are registered and say they plan to vote, without looking at their demographics to see what they’ve done in the past.

 

For all these reasons, if you’re an Obama supporter, you should be worried and if you’re a McCain supporter, you should have some hope. Either way, vote!