Posted by: structureofnews | August 25, 2016

Biggest Poll Ever – And More

SOTN.pngSo we launched the Reuters/Ipsos States of the Nation project today.

It’s the biggest presidential tracking poll ever – at least as far as we can figure, and with upwards of 15,000-plus people surveyed every week, we’re reasonably confident we can make that claim.  But it isn’t just a huge poll, cool though that is.

(And one of the most cool things about a poll this size is that it means we can look into results regularly at the state level, where the U.S. Presidential election is really decided.)

It’s built around the idea that polling accuracy – and election results – hinge around good estimates and predictions of actual turnout on polling day.  So while every pollster has their own model for what percentage of each demographic group will show up to vote – as do we – the site we’ve built lets users create demographic groups on the fly and adjust their predictions of turnout for that group, and see how that would impact the results of the elections at the state level, and hence overall in the Electoral College.

So if you think less-wealthy white men will turn out in droves on election day, amp up their predicted turnout and see how the election will turn out.  What if younger voters stay home?  What if women couldn’t vote?  What if only women voted?  What about Hispanic women aged 18-30, making less than $25,000 a year and identifying as Democrats?

(OK, so you can actually create that last filter, but then again that’s not a huge slice of the population, so I’m not sure changing their turnout is going to materially affect the election.  But it’s great that you can do that.)

Go ahead.  Check it out.  I’ll wait.

(I’ll be reading the nice CJR piece about it while I wait. Had to get that link in.)

At the heart of this simulation is the massive amount of data from the poll, coupled with millions of Monte Carlo simulations of elections at the state level.  That provides the confidence that the results come in accurately and predict the chances of victory for either candidate, assuming good polling data and specified turnout numbers.

And all that helps drive the ability of users to try out wild scenarios – how about recreating the first U.S. presidential election, when only landowning white men could vote? – or use it to actually model a more realistic view of turnout on election day.  Either way, it’s a step forward for us into the simulation and news games front that we hope helps users better understand the election process. 

Kudos to loads of people who made this happen, but especially to mad scientist (and certified boat captain) Mo Tamman, who drove the idea from start to finish.  At Reuters, Matt Weber, Charlie Szymanski, Ken Ellis, Chris Kahn and many others did fantastic work in a very short period of time, working with Ipsos’ Clifford Young, Julia Clark and many more there as well. (Mo is also the guy behind our huge, ongoing – since 2012 – Polling Explorer project, also with Ipsos, which I’ve written about here as well.)

Try it out.  Share your scenarios, no matter how crazy.  It can’t be much crazier than how this election cycle has played out so far.


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