Taking the guesswork out of political polling - FiveThirtyEight.com and a refreshing way to follow elections

  • strict warning: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /courses/i202/public_html/f12/includes/common.inc(1696) : eval()'d code on line 1.
  • strict warning: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /courses/i202/public_html/f12/includes/common.inc(1696) : eval()'d code on line 1.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /courses/i202/public_html/f12/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 879.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_argument::init() should be compatible with views_handler::init(&$view, $options) in /courses/i202/public_html/f12/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_argument.inc on line 745.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::options_validate() should be compatible with views_handler::options_validate($form, &$form_state) in /courses/i202/public_html/f12/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 589.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::options_submit() should be compatible with views_handler::options_submit($form, &$form_state) in /courses/i202/public_html/f12/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 589.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter_boolean_operator::value_validate() should be compatible with views_handler_filter::value_validate($form, &$form_state) in /courses/i202/public_html/f12/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter_boolean_operator.inc on line 149.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_row::options_validate() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_validate(&$form, &$form_state) in /courses/i202/public_html/f12/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_row.inc on line 135.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_row::options_submit() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_submit(&$form, &$form_state) in /courses/i202/public_html/f12/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_row.inc on line 135.
  • strict warning: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /courses/i202/public_html/f12/sites/all/modules/social_media/social_media.module on line 248.

With the U.S. election day just two months away, news organizations, blogs, and social networks are abuzz with a constant state of attentiveness to the latest developments in the high-profile races for political power. Political polling is an arena that is now omnipresent in how elections are discussed by the media, as well as in the ways campaigns are conducted. While much of the political coverage in elections has traditionally been based around polling data, the practice of collecting, interpreting and presenting that data has always been, by its very nature, an inexact science. To the amateur political observer such as myself, polling has often been considered intriguing but often unreliable due to its inherent limitations, frequent fluctuations, and, occasionally, biased sources.

FiveThirtyEight GraphicEnter Nate Silver and his political analysis and prediction website, FiveThirtyEight. A former baseball statistician, Silver emerged during the 2008 presidential election cycle as an innovator in helping political observers make sense of polls and trends, effectively stripping the noise filter of political spin machines and biased media outlets to create a clearer picture of the state of the race.

FiveThirtyEight’s forecast model, which is based in statistics and data analytics, takes several factors into account when issuing its predictions, one of which is a weighted average of available polling data. Rather than just taking a pollster’s numbers at face value, the model uses three factors to weigh a poll result: recency, sample size and a pollster’s rating; T
he weight assigned to a poll is “designed to be proportional to the predictive power that it should have in anticipating the results of upcoming elections" (see link above). By combining this information with other factors including 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: in the 2008 elections his forecast accurately predicted every Senate result, and called every state except Indiana and Nebraska’s 2nd district in the presidential election.

Silvers and his New York Times team (The Times brought him on board in 2010 as a resident blogger) present their polling and trend information to the public with well-designed, easy-to-understand, and fun-to-read graphs and charts that, for the first time in the history of political elections, give political observers a better idea of where the horse race really stands. With an avalanche of polling information fueling news media coverage that is often sensationalist (and sometimes partisan), FiveThirtyEight is an essential survival tool for those following political elections, providing a smartly-organized and unbiased look at the data which so often drives the discussion.

Read more and explore at FiveThirtyEight.