If you’re one of the lucky few who’ll attend a social function between now and Nov. 6 and avoid a conversation about the election, I envy you. For everyone else, it’s time to bone up on your election knowledge and try to impress your peers with everything you know — or at least avoid looking like someone who only reads tech blogs and TMZ.
Here are five sources of information that will help you talk intelligently about who’ll win without even forcing you to pick a side. Just the data, please.
This New York Times blog manned by expert statistician Nate Silver might be the gold standard for predicting elections. FiveThirtyEight is updated multiple times a week, usually tied to the release of poll data or economic numbers, and follows a consistent model for generating its forecast. The blog includes some easy-to-follow visualizations, including each candidate’s chances in each state. Also nice is that Silver gives some analysis of why the forecast is shaping up the way it is rather than just presenting the result. Latest prediction (July 31): Obama (69 percent chance of winning).
Like the real stock market, event-prediction markets InTrade lets users buy stock in an outcome and can change in real time. Although it tends to be very accurate overall, it can vary greatly even during the course of a day as rumors or other information affect traders’ behavior. For contests with unknown variables, it’s probably best to get in on the InTrade action late: In January, it had Marco Rubio (R-FL) and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as the most-likely Republican VP picks. Today, it has Rob Portman (R-OH) ahead, with Rubio down to third. Latest prediction (Aug. 1, 12:46 p.m. PT): Obama (58.2 percent chance of winning).
The Signal is a Yahoo News blog maintained by data scientists David Rothschild (who also co-runs the PredictWise prediction site, which gives Obama a 59.2 percent chance of winning) and David Pennock. They accurately predicted Romney winning big on Super Tuesday in March, but weren’t so good at trying to pick Republican VP candidates. (In their defense, they were extrapolating from InTrade’s predictions and it was still early primary season). Their model is based on electoral votes and readers can explore various scenarios with an interactive map. Latest prediction (July 18): Obama (with 303 electoral votes).
PoliticIt is a Utah-based startup that has its eyes set on selling big data software to political campaigns and is trying to prove its worth early on with a public site analyzing current races. The company generates an “It” score based on a candidate’s digital influence, which is comprised in part of the candidate’s digital footprint and voter sentiment toward the candidate. It’s kind of like Klout for politicians. As of June, PoliticIt had tracked more than 160 elections and claims candidates with higher “It” scores won 87 percent of the time. Latest It scores (May 31): Obama (48), Romney (34).
Twitter Political Index
Just launched on Wednesday, Twitter’s Political Index analyzes user sentiment about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and generates a score from 0 to 100. It’s not so much a prediction service as it is a service to compare predictions and polls with voters’ actual feelings, letting users make their own predictions about what might happen come November. Keep in mind, though, that while Twitter analysis is popular for everything from stock activity to the Academy Awards, not everyone thinks it can accurately predict anything about elections. Latest index scores: Obama (34), Romney (25).