Election Forecast by 538

I teach a data analytics course and I asked some students to write blogs on data and current events. This blog is by Jake Fischer.

Every four years, the United States seems to turn upside down with the Presidential election. Now, the nation has turned its eyes to predictive analytics to understand the future of our country. As of October 22, the time of the writing of this post, Joe Biden stands an 87% chance of winning the critical swing state of Florida. This seems like a significant margin, but how did we come to this understanding using data? How reliable is this fivethirtyeight forecast?

For starters, the 87% chance of winning is based on a simulation run by data analysts in 40,000 different scenarios, all of which are measuring different factors from voter turnout to demographics to the economic forecast of the day. This prediction also factors in the polling averages for each candidate from 8 different polls, each of which is given a grade of reliability and weighted accordingly. Hundreds of factors come into play when predicting an election, yet confidence in many of these numbers is at an all-time low. So, in answer to question two, the outlook is anything but certain.

This doubtful outlook is because, although Biden wins 87% of the elections, this does not factor in the margin he wins by. When truly looking at the data, you see that over half of the outcomes weighed in this 87% are decided by less than 1% of votes. Unfortunately, this does not leave much more for a margin of error as is required in most data analysis. 

This very popular website does not factor in the impact that the website itself has on voters. With millions of people reading this data and seeing that Biden stands a 87% chance of winning, there is a high likelihood that voters will simply not turn up at the polls. This distinct percentage of voter turnout that may chose not to turn up at the polls because of analytics like this, would significantly impact the data set and could actually throw the results in the entire opposite direction, particularly when the decision is already being decided by such a slim margin.

Even though data analysis has turned into a booming industry, with more accurate results than ever before, there are some instances in which predictive analytics has placed significant limitations on the outcome of important decisions, such as the presidential election. I say all of this to not place doubt on analytics, nor the credibility of the FiveThirtyEight organization, but rather to remind readers of the important factor that is the human condition. At the end of the day it is important to exercise your right to vote no matter what side of the aisle you stand on, and without allowing polling data to influence your decisions. Vote!

American Moments

The presidential debate on September 29, 2020 was an embarrassment. I don’t remember what the candidates said because I just kept panicking thinking about the fact that other people could see what was happening. Didn’t some adult somewhere have a kill switch?

After an hour of listening, I expressed my sincere wish that this had never happened:

Tyler had a more nuanced take:

It’s not just true in America. Much of what passes for “debate” is just people firing off talking points at each other. Usually it’s not quite so obvious and awkward because there are not such clear rules being broken.

If there’s one thing that Americans agree on, it’s that you wait your turn in line. This is the most basic schoolyard etiquette. No matter how rich or famous you are, cutting in line is deeply resented. It felt like President Trump was not taking turns (so then it was strange for me to fact check this and see that Biden spoke only 2 minutes less total than President Trump).

If it were in my power to undo that night I would. However, a new podcast gave me some more to ponder about in terms of what Americans can be proud of. A lot of true news comes out about Americans making mistakes. That can be useful for others. Audrey Tang said of our misdeeds:

COWEN: … the United States, has made … many mistakes … What’s our deeper failing behind all those mistakes?

TANG: I don’t know. Isn’t America this grand experiment to keep making mistakes and correcting them in the open and share it with the world? That’s the American experiment.

Being open about our mistakes might be the next best thing to not making them in the first place.

Tang, a transgender Taiwanese computer policy expert, said something that I think Americans can be happy about.

Speaking of software, here’s a recent conversation with a 5 year old about what exactly is software and what does it mean to buy it. My son imagined that if I bought it in a store I must have picked something up off a shelf. (I could have explained that software is a nonrival good, but I think it’s too soon.)

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin Interview

Birmingham, Alabama Mayor Randall Woodfin is one to watch. The city of Birmingham has been on the rise, although like all cities Covid has presented a major setback. Here’s a Rolling Stone feature on his role in removing a confederate monument from the city in the summer of 2020.

My university president recently sat down for an interview with him (35 minutes long). Mayor Woodfin talks about influences that shaped him and how he ended up in politics. He emphasizes personal experience in community service and politics as customer service. They discuss governance in the time of Covid, both the health and financial angle.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbsfS3MSoUk&feature=youtu.be

There are lots of books on race going around these days. Mayor Woodfin’s recommendation is Caste.

The city does not get much attention on the international stage. The fact that we share a name with a much larger city in the UK is problematic in a way. It’s our fault, because we stole the name from them in an attempt to assert our dominance in the steel industry over one hundred years ago.