People of Northwest Public Radio
Predicting Election Outcomes
Wed October 31, 2012
Statistical Models Help Modern Day Campaigns Project Outcomes
What if there was a crystal ball that could reveal the outcome of an election? Turns out modern day campaigns use forecast models to project the winner of a race long before a single vote is counted.
In vote-by-mail states like Washington or Oregon, political parties and campaigns have an advantage. They can find out on a daily basis if you’ve returned your ballot.
Sophisticated campaigns punch that information into their predictive models along with demographic data about you the voter: what car you drive, what magazines you subscribe to. That information gets analyzed and a campaign can begin to predict the outcome of a race based on who’s turning out.
Political scientist Matt Barreto at the University of Washington explains how a campaign might use this information.
“If one of the parties noticed that they were seriously far behind in the early voting they might ramp up their efforts on a certain demographic or a certain region of the state in that final weekend," Barreto says. "And so it helps them better fine tune their practices.”
But Barreto cautions these estimates have margins of error just like a poll. And he adds in a nailbiter race, it’s the final vote tally, not the model, that’s going to reveal the winner.
Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network