Data doesn’t play politics — and most of it suggests Obama will win

Updated: Data doesn’t really care who will be elected as the next U.S. president. And of all the data points that political scientists and others trying to predict the election care about, most of them point toward Barack Obama being reelected on Tuesday.

Statistical models have been hot topic of conversation (maybe even argument) over the past couple weeks thanks to New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog author and statistician Nate Silver. He has become a lightning rod for controversy because of his whirlwind media tour promoting his new book and his model predicting that Barack Obama has a greater than 80 percent chance of winning Tuesday’s election. However, as Princeton University Center for Information Technology Policy Fellow Zeynep Tufekci astutely explained last week, Silver isn’t guaranteeing Obama will win on Nov. 6 — just that there’s a high probability he will — and whatever outcome his model comes to is very likely not influenced by partisan politics.

And believe it or not, Silver isn’t the only guy around who spends his time building statistical models to predict the outcomes of politcal contests — he’s just the most famous. There are plenty of academicians, predictive markets, hobbyists and others who also do this, all of whom use different data with different methods for assessing the importance of any given piece of it. With a few notable exceptions, most of them also foresee an Obama victory.

Here’s how they (as well as some less-scientific sources, such as Twitter) see the contest playing out.

Who has Obama winning

FiveThirtyEight: Silver’s final (I believe) model is in, giving President Obama an 86.3 percent chance of being reelected. A late-campaign-season bump came as national polls finally aligned with state polls in giving the edge to Obama.

The New York Times: Two of Silver’s colleagues and fellow data junkies at the New York Times, Mike Bostock and Shan Carter, published an interactive version of their own model on Friday. Based on analysis of the states still considered competitive, they see 431 paths to victory for Obama versus 76 for Mitt Romney.

InTrade: Arguably the world’s most popular prediction market, InTrade gives Obama a 67.2 percent chance of victory as of 10:54 a.m. Pacific Time on Monday. The percentages change in real time, but Obama hasn’t relinquished his role as favorite since the campaign season began early this year.

PredictWise: Prediction market PredictWise (headed by Yahoo’s (s yhoo) The Signal blogger David Rotshchild and without a real-money investment model like InTrade) gives Obama a 72 percent chance of winning as of 9:48 a.m. Pacific Time on Monday. The president’s chances have risen steadily over the past week.

Twitter: It’s not really a predictive model, but the Twitter Political Index does provide a point for gauging how the social media platform’s user view the candidates. As of Nov. 4, Obama has a positive sentiment rating of 59 versus Romney’s 53, although Romney has closed the gap by 9 points since the index launched in July.

Who has Romney winning

At least six political scientists and/or economists: An October symposium from the peer-reviewed journal PS: Political Science & Politics includes the results of 13 statistical models generated by noted political scientists, of which eight give Obama the edge and five give Romney the edge. One of the those favoring Romney, an historically accurate and economy-centric model from University of Colorado professors Kenneth Bickers and Michael Berry, generated quite a bit of buzz when released in August and giving Romney a 67 77 percent chance of victory. Bickers and Berry have since ran the model again and it showed an even higher likelihood of a Romney victory.

Another model with a track record of success — that of Yale economics professor Ray Fair — also gave a slight edge to Romney (although well within the margin of error) as of Nov. 2.


PoliticIt (tied): The Provo, Utah-based startup that aims to measure politicians’ online footprint and popularity actually has the candidates tied with It scores of 50. The scores appear to be old (I’m checking with PoliticIt for an answer on how recent they are) and don’t claim to be a predictor of campaign success, but its founders did claim a high correlation between higher It scores and victories in primary campaigns last spring.

Updated: PoliticIt responded with more-recent It scores of 49 for Obama and 48 for Romney. They are now projecting a win for Obama, as they detail in this blog post released Monday.

The NFL: If mere correlations (and superstition) are any indicator, Romney’s chances of victory are high after this weekend’s slate of professional football games. The oft-cited Redskins Rule regards the Washington Redskins’ performance in their last home game before the election — they lost, an outcome that suggests a Romney victory — but Chris Wilson at The Signal has concocted a series of correlations for the other 31 NFL teams, as well. All told, this year’s 19 of this year’s results foretell a Romney victory, 12 foretell an Obama victory and 1 won’t be decided until Nov. 18.