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Statistical Models Help Modern Day Campaigns Project Outcomes

What if there was a crystal ball that could reveal the outcome of an election? Turns out modern day campaigns use forecast models to project the winner of a race long before a single vote is counted.

In vote-by-mail states like Washington or Oregon, political parties and campaigns have an advantage. They can find out on a daily basis if you’ve returned your ballot.

Sophisticated campaigns punch that information into their predictive models along with demographic data about you the voter: what car you drive, what magazines you subscribe to. That information gets analyzed and a campaign can begin to predict the outcome of a race based on who’s turning out.

Political scientist Matt Barreto at the University of Washington explains how a campaign might use this information.

“If one of the parties noticed that they were seriously far behind in the early voting they might ramp up their efforts on a certain demographic or a certain region of the state in that final weekend," Barreto says. "And so it helps them better fine tune their practices.”

But Barreto cautions these estimates have margins of error just like a poll. And he adds in a nailbiter race, it’s the final vote tally, not the model that’s going to reveal the winner.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

In vote-by-mail states, campaigns can find out on a daily basis whether or not you’ve returned your ballot. Photo by Kevin Mooney
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In vote-by-mail states, campaigns can find out on a daily basis whether or not you’ve returned your ballot. Photo by Kevin Mooney

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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