FiveThirtyEight.com or "how I keep up to date with the US election"
Polls are inaccurate. There are several reputable companies that try hard to gauge the opinions of voters, but there are just fundamental restrictions that stop any one poll from being trusted. This is a shame, because it’s nice to know how the world’s most important election is going. Luckily, Nate Silver has built FiveThirtyEight.com. From their FAQ:
What is the mission of this website? Most broadly, to accumulate and analyse polling and political data in way that is informed, accurate and attractive. Most narrowly, to give you the best possible objective assessment of the likely outcome of upcoming elections.
It aggregates all of the polling data as it is released, and adjusts it according to how well those polling companies have predicted previous elections. It does all kinds of fancy statistical tricks, and then runs ten thousand simulations of the election. Based on how many of these, for example, McCain won, it will work out the probability of him winning when the election comes around. There’s an element of chance in there as well, to better reflect real life. I’m no statistician, so it’s much better explained in the FAQ.
Anyway, I’ve enjoyed checking in on the site every day or so to see how Obama is doing. When I first started going to the website, he was slightly behind McCain in the probability of winning. As of today, he’s got a 90.9% probability of winning. Even more fun to watch is the map of the US with each of the states coloured according to how much they’re in favour of the democrats of republicans. I like seeing the blue slowly spreading into traditional red territory.
Part of the reason I find the US election so much more interesting to watch than the Australian one is that there’s so much variety in America from state to state. Nate updates the site very frequently with commentary on how different factors are affecting the standing of either candidate, and what matters to Americans in different parts of the nation. Nate’s travelling around following the campaigns and comparing what he’s seeing to the changes in opinion polling. He’s in the process of doing a big entry for every state in which he details major demographic factors such as race, religion, education and economic status of the voters in that state and whether that factor works to McCain’s or Obama’s advantage. Here’s one for California. Check out the Starbucks:Walmart ratio.
There’s so much bullshit about the elections in the news, it’s nice to see a really scientific way of sorting out what really matters when it comes down to voting. It’s not just numbers, though: I really enjoy (and learn from) reading Nate’s analyses.