Electoral college predictions and voodoo

Predicting who will win the election based on the Electoral College is a bit like predicting who will win the Super Bowl six months prior — there is a bit of guesswork involved because things could change dramatically by the final day, but, at the same time, there are statistics you can use to make your prediction as accurate as possible. Depending on the source, a prediction may be as scientifically perfect as possible or it may be complete voodoo.

I hate the Electoral College, but we’re stuck with it. That’s how we pick Presidents. Suck it up and deal. Let’s move on.

In previous years, I enjoyed using Electoral-Vote.com that takes the map and updates it daily based on the most recent polls. The problem with that approach is that it treats each poll separately, and sometimes they may vary wildly.

More accurate this year is Nate Silver’s 538 map. This website is run by a bunch of math nerds. They don’t just take the most recent poll; they take them all and average them together based on a number of factors including the previous accuracy of that particular pollster, whether it was a poll of all voters or likely voters, how old the poll is, and a bunch of other things I don’t completely understand because math.

According to Silver, Hillary has around an 80% chance of winning the election, which isn’t completely surprising. The problem is that this election has already broken all the rules. Silver had also predicted in the past (like every other “expert”*) that Trump would never be the nominee.

This map is from 270toWin.com and matches Nate Silver’s current prediction

Seriously, Trump’s campaign is a classic example of what not do to in a campaign. The whole thing has gone against everything I ever learned as a Political Science major, a campaign manager, a lobbyist, and a campaign worker. It goes against everything I ever taught when I was a Political Science professor. He’s done everything wrong.

Of course, that could also be why he’s only given a 20% chance of winning.

But hey, the conventions haven’t even happened yet. For all we know, the GOP will find a way to nominate someone else and then we’re back to square one. Hillary, after all, is popular only in relation to Trump. If they nominate someone else, that 80% chance of winning would drop quickly.

*including me

4 thoughts on “Electoral college predictions and voodoo

  1. I think one of the big holes in your electoral education is that it tends to center around the underlying mathematical assumption that 2 – maybe 3 – candidates will be competing for attention among the electorate.

    In the case of the GOP primaries, that number was 16 – and it doesn’t just make the field bigger and more complex – it fundamentally changes some core mathematical assumptions about how the election process functions, and I rather doubt your classes and training covered that contingency seriously.

    Honestly, I would have trouble articulating exactly how those changes work out, because I haven’t taken the time to formalize my thoughts on a blackboard, but one thing I feel fairly safe about saying is that it shifts the center of your effort from careful triangulation of voter blocks to one of simply garnering as much attention as possible in a highly fractured field – one of the few skills that Trump actually excels at.

    Now however, we are back to a field of 2 (3 technically) – and that means we’re back on more familiar ground. Trump has garnered enough following to make a real run of it, alas, as the party mechanism reflexively works in his favor despite its open disdain for him – but his weaknesses are much more glaring in this format. His victory is unlikely barring an unexpected event or dramatic change of approach.

    From the political science point of view, this suggests that any part serious about winning elections should NEVER allow a primary field of more than a handful of candidates without winnowing the field before it reaches the national field. A primary process between many candidates appears mathematically inclined to select candidates with the wrong attributes and skill sets required to win a general campaign between 2 opponents.

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  2. With the end of the primaries, the political relevance of three-quarters of all Americans is now finished for the presidential election.

    We don’t have to be “stuck” with this system.

    Presidential elections don’t have to continue to be about a narrowly focused barrage of attention by the media, candidates, pollsters, strategists, organizers, and ads in the handful of unrepresentative swing states that dominate and determine the general election, while most of the country is politically irrelevant.

    By changing state winner-take-all laws, without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes, the National Popular Vote bill is 61% of the way to guaranteeing the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country.

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps of pre-determined outcomes. There would no longer be a handful of ‘battleground’ states (where the two major political parties happen to have similar levels of support among voters) where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 38+ predictable states that have just been ‘spectators’ and ignored after the conventions.

    The bill would take effect when enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes—270 of 538.
    All of the presidential electors from the enacting states will be supporters of the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC)—thereby guaranteeing that candidate with an Electoral College majority.

    The bill has passed 34 state legislative chambers in 23 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states with 261 electoral votes. The bill has been enacted by 11 small, medium, and large jurisdictions with 165 electoral votes – 61% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.



  3. Over the last few decades, presidential election outcomes within the majority of states have become more and more predictable.

    From 1992- 2012
    13 states (with 102 electoral votes) voted Republican every time
    19 states (with 242) voted Democratic every time

    If this 20 year pattern continues, and the National Popular Vote bill does not go into effect,
    Democrats only would need a mere 28 electoral votes from other states.
    If Republicans lose Florida (29), they would lose.

    Some states have not been competitive for more than a half-century and most states now have a degree of partisan imbalance that makes them highly unlikely to be in a swing state position.
    • 41 States Won by Same Party, 2000-2012
    • 32 States Won by Same Party, 1992-2012
    • 13 States Won Only by Republican Party, 1980-2012
    • 19 States Won Only by Democratic Party, 1992-2012
    • 7 Democratic States Not Swing State since 1988
    • 16 GOP States Not Swing State since 1988

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