Poll Searching

We’re almost to the finish line this election season and every day we hear more and more about the polls.  But what is the value of these polls?  Many sources insist on reporting the popular vote, which doesn’t say much about who will win the presidency.  CNN uses a touch map to change the electoral distribution for each of their election day scenarios.  Think that sounds laughable?  Well, Saturday Night Live does too.  With the ubiquity of polls in the twenty-four hour news cycle, where should you turn for an accurate representation of the upcoming elections?  FiveThirtyEight.com is the answer.

What is FiveThirtyEight.com?  Taken from their FAQ, FiveThirtyEight.com is a site with a mission to “accumulate and analyze polling and political data in way that is informed, accurate and attractive”.  The site is run by Nate Silver, a baseball analyst for the website Baseball ProspectusSilver decided to turn his advanced statistical methods towards polling information to eliminate bias by using regression analysis, “inferential processes” to keep stale polls recent, and 10,000 simulations for each site update in order to provide a probabilistic assessment of electoral outcomes based on a historical analysis of polling data since 1952.” FiveThirtyEight is not just about plugging in numbers.  Silver analyzes the underlying models which pollsters use in determining their models and thus their data.  The analysis can even elicit responses from those he criticizes.

But how does FiveThirtyEight compare to other more established polling sites?  If we look at the current Rasmussen polls, including “leaners”, Obama leads McCain 313-174 in the electoral college.  These numbers show the real story of the election, independent of the popular vote.  But even including so-called “leaners”, Rasmussen leaves the reader with an unsatisfied feeling.  This is where FiveThirtyEight enters.  FiveThirtyEight hits the reader with multiple graphs based on their probabilistic model, giving the reader the probable electoral college distribution, the win percentage of the probable winner, the probable popular vote, and the probable distribution of Senate seats after the election.  Further digging shows the requisite electoral map with shades of red and blue, a chart of the probabilistic electoral distribution based on 10,000 simulation, a map of “tipping point states”, and a map of “return on investment” states.  No unsatisfied appetites here.

FiveThirtyEight also gives interesting information about state Senate races.  According to the site’s “Senate Scorecard”, Mark Warner has a 100% probability of winning if the election were held today.  This probability reflects the overwhelming lead that Warner holds over Jim Gilmore in the Senate race.  Virginia is listed as the number one “tipping point” state and the fourth highest “return on investment” state, which may reflect the aggressive strategy of the Obama campaign in Virginia.  FiveThirtyEight offers a great alternative to typical news sources for information on election polls.  If you’re interested in keeping up with the last few days of the election and subsequent elections, this site is a treasure trove.

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Published in: on October 28, 2008 at 11:20 pm Comments Off on Poll Searching

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