FiveThirtyEight: The Tool for Predicting Political Future

Elections of 2012 championed in collecting, analyzing, manipulating and advertizing data from various polls via multiple media channels. Beside Obama, Nate Silver emerged as an absolute winner predicting the outcome of the elections based on his approach to statistical analysis of polls and media opinions. Silver initially recognized as a developer of PECOTA, a system for empirical comparison, optimization and testing of game strategy. Now the system is being used for forecasting Major League Baseball performance.  Silver implied the same approach in predicting the outcome of presidential elections in 2008 while doing it anonymously on the site FiveThirtyEight that he founded and later licensed to The New York Times.


In 2008 Silver was in a minority predicting Obama win with a 90% chance. In 2012 he was right again! The tool that Silver developed based on statistical analysis of multiple media sources, polls and historical tendencies. The methodology includes seven stages: Weighted Polling Average (1), Adjusted Polling Average (2), FiveThirtyEight Regression (3), FiveThirtyEight Snapshot (4), Voting Day projection (5), Error analysis (6) and finally Simulation (7). Instead of simply taking a pollster’s numbers at face value, the model weighs a poll result according to the following three factors: recency, sample size and a pollster’s rating. By combining this information with other factors such as demographics, economic trends, and several other layers of analysis, Silver’s model creates an innovative method of organizing, analyzing and interpreting the available information that has thus far proven to be impressively accurate. One interesting observation Silver made in September 2012 is that Obama’s lead looked stronger in polls that included cellphones. The result were consistent with the fact that the majority of cellphone-only population are leaning towards Democrats and the polls conducted via landline-only phones failed to produce unbiased results.

Media technology becomes a powerful tool for politicians but it is just as important for the voters: it is a two-way street. FiveThirtyEight is a tool for followers of political events that provides unbiased look at the data that sometimes is hard to interpret otherwise.

Read the most recent blogs about public opinion on Miranda rights and Modeling the Senate’s Vote on Gun Control.

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Filed under 2013 - Post 2

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