Are elections as subject to chance as football games? (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog * Joint w/ C. Wilson)

Here's one way to think about it: There are two sources of uncertainty when we model predictions for political elections and sports: incomplete information and true randomness.

First, there is information we do not know or cannot model. In politics we do not have the ability to sample all voters in our polls or eavesdrop on every candidate's strategy meetings; we can only speculate. In sports, likewise, we do not know the true state of a player's health or the coach's strategy for the team.

Second, there is randomness as to what will happen during the course of the event. In politics this includes private remarks that are captured on camera or whether a candidate knocks a question out of the park or flubs an easy one during a debate. Even the best politicians have bad nights (think of Gore's disastrous 2000 debate in Boston), just as the best receivers drop an easy pass every now and again (I am looking your way, Wes Welker).

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The Twitter users who drove the furor over Komen and Planned Parenthood (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

Last Tuesday, the Susan G. Komen Foundation announced it would no longer fund clinical breast exams and mammograms through Planned Parenthood. The $680,000 per year that was going to Planned Parenthood helped provide exams for 170,000 mainly low-income and minority women. The organization claimed that they were tightening their rules for grant recipients and denying grants to any organization under investigation. (A pro-life Congressman from Florida is leading a Congressional inquiry into whether Planned Parenthood uses public money to fund abortions–an initiative many see as politically motivated.)

On Friday, February 3 the organization abruptly reversed its decision amid a firestorm of criticism on Twitter, Facebook, and many blogs.There is little doubt that social and media pressure forced Komen to reverse its plan. The Figure shows the representative Twitter hashtags associated with Komen during the controversy, from January 31-February 3.

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Mormon vote boosts Romney’s comfortable odds in Nevada (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

The first thing that most people associate with Nevada is Vegas. About 70 percent of the population lives in Clark County, home to Las Vegas and the surrounding metro area. In 2008, Barack Obama won the county by nearly 20 percentage points. But Nevada's primary contest is closed, meaning only registered Republicans can vote. In 2008, about 50 percent of the Republican caucus goers were from outside of Clark County. And, most importantly for Romney, roughly 1 in 5 were Mormons, who voted 9 in 10 for Romney.

Mormons are 74 percent Republican and they have proven extremely loyal in voting for Romney, who is a leader in the Church. Thus, even relatively small Mormon populations loom large in the Republican primary, as most Mormons are Republican, they have a high voting rate, and are extremely likely to support Romney as a block:

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Florida preview: Romney is going to win (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

Mitt Romney holds a commanding lead in Florida's primary, with a 98.6 percent likelihood of victory, according to the political prediction markets. Newt Gingrich is 99.9 percent likely to place (i.e., first or second place–almost certainly the latter). Rick Santorum is 85 percent likely to take the bronze from Ron Paul, who holds the remaining 15 percent for third.

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Gingrich faltering as markets reconsider Romney (again) (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

Just after the South Carolina primary, where Newt Gingrich won a dominating victory, the former speaker inched up to an almost 30 percent likelihood of winning the nomination, according to prediction market data. At the time, it was a major foray in Romney territory; the markets had given the former Massachusetts governor as high as a 90 percent chance of snagging the nomination in mid-January. Now it appears that Gingrich's surge is dying. As of Thursday afternoon, he was back down to a 10.9 percent chance in the markets heading into the Florida primaries this Tuesday.

Gingrich's plummeting odds correlate with a drop in the polls in Florida. Shortly after South Carolina, several polls gave him a meaningful lead of 9 points, 8 points, and 5 points. (And of course, like South Carolina, Florida borders Gingrich's former home state of Georgia.) But more recent polls look increasingly promising for Romney, showing leads of 2 points, 8 points, and 8 points. The two large leads come from the same organizations that gave Gingrich 8 and 9 point leads just a few days prior. The markets also now favor a Romney victory in Florida, as the follow graph demonstrates:

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As Gingrich’s fate rises, so does Obama’s (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

As he prepares for his third State of the Union address–and, he hopes, not his last–Barack Obama's likelihood of reelection has soared in the last few days to 56.8 percent, the highest it has been since last July. This movement correlates with Newt Gingrich's increased likelihood of gaining the Republican nomination, now at 29.7 percent, up from about 5 percent. This upward trend also correlates with a simultaneous downward movement of Mitt Romney's likelihood of winning the presidency if he wins the nomination, now at 44.0, down from about 48 percent. We utilize prediction market data for these likelihoods.

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Gingrich makes small but significant climb in odds of winning nomination (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

Newt Gingrich has won the South Carolina primary, elevating him to a 25 percent chance to win the Republican nomination in online futures markets. This is the first serious assault we've seen on Romney's once iron grip on this particular set of markets in months, which have barely wavered until tonight in their conviction that he will eventually win the nomination. Still, he continues to be the heavy frontrunner with about a 2 in 3 (66 percent) likelihood of gaining the nomination.

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The real reason no one impersonates dead voters: High risk, little benefit (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

So here's the question: if the most conservative estimates are correct and 10,000 eligible voters are disenfranchised so that 100 non-eligible votes can be stopped, do you think that that is a fair deal for democracy? What if the more mainstream estimates are true and the number is closer to 100,000 eligible voters being disenfranchised so that 10 fraudulent votes can be stopped? Whichever figures you use, the math comes out squarely against these controversial measures.

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Romney nosediving in South Carolina as Gingrich surges (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

Just yesterday, the political prediction markets gave Mitt Romney an 85 percent chance of winning Saturday's primary in South Carolina. With this morning's news that Rick Perry is dropping out and endorsing Newt Gingrich, Gingrich appears to be consolidating the anyone-but-Romney vote. (This in spite of the fact that Santorum is now the officially winner in Iowa by 34 votes as of today, and has the backing of evangelical Christian leaders.)

At present writing, South Carolina's primary is now a dogfight between Romney at about 60 percent and Gingrich at 40 percent, according to prediction market data.

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