Xbox Live/YouGov Polling (Syndicated on the Huffington Post)

Xbox, in conjunction with the polling company YouGov, has launched a new poll for this election cycle. The goal of the poll is threefold. First, Xbox wants to create an engaging product for its users. Second, the polling team wants to be able to provide meaningful insight into the 2012 election. Third, both Xbox and YouGov recognize the research angle of this work; this poll is the product of cutting-edge interactive television and polling techniques that, while not supplanting the established methods today, will be instrumental in both entertainment and information gathering in the future.

In the interest of full disclosure, as a member of Microsoft Research in New York City, I am the head pollster on the Xbox side of this team.

There are two connected polling operations: the daily poll and the live event polling. First, every day on Xbox Live's election channel there is a new poll that asks between three and five questions. New users answer a slate of standard background questions the first time they enter. Every day the poll asks the standard voter intention question and then groups the remaining questions into daily themes: economy, social issues, etc. Second, Xbox is streaming the pool feed for all four debates and asks question on the bottom of the screen periodically to their users during the debate. A few baseline questions at the beginning are followed by a stream of questions reacting to the segments. In both polling settings respondents self-select into the polls.

The Senate is the Democrats’ to lose as five more states shift (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

The Democrats currently control 53 of 100 seats in the Senate. Nearly half of those—23—are up for re-election this year, while the Republicans are defending only 10 seats. That fact, combined with an electorate none too pleased with incumbents, made for a grim picture for the majority party at the start of this cycle.

And yet, the Democrats now have a 75 percent likelihood of controlling the next Senate, possibly by a comfortable margin.

In early September, we saw four critical races shifted to the Democratic column: Missouri, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Virginia. Today, the Democrat is up in all four races, though three of the four remain competitive. Now, we're seeing five other races once considered safe for the Republican showing signs of equivocation: Nevada, North Dakota, Indiana, Arizona and Montana.

Click Here for the Full Text on Yahoo!'s The Signal

Romney chips away at Obama’s lead, but electoral math still favors president (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

Both campaigns declared victory in last night's debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan, with Democrats focusing on Biden's passion and Republicans focusing on Biden's aggression. Neither acknowledged that it is a futile point.

Immediate polls from CBS, NBC, and Xbox Live all reported that a majority of undecided voters believed Biden won, and the prediction markets ticked up a few points in President Barack Obama's favor in the hours after the confrontation. Yet, everyone was missing the point. The question pollsters should have asked was this: Is Obama still bleeding?

Click Here for the Full Text on Yahoo!'s The Signal

Debates don’t move polls. Debate winners do. (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

Debates have a reach beyond the immediate bump or slide in the polls as they seep into the narrative and offer up ammunition for campaign commercials. With nearly two full weeks until the next presidential debate, the results of this one have a long time to hang around. Romney's solid performance can lead to new donations that, in turn, lead to better poll numbers in the following weeks.

In this way, debates are the opposite of conventions, in which we advise you to ignore the bump in the polls since they inevitably fade. After debates, we advise you to ignore the non-bump in the polls, because it may grow.

Our prediction moved in Romney's favor because, with the wind in his sails, he is slightly more likely to be able to close the 4.5 percentage point gap in the polls over the next few weeks. That remains, so to speak, an uphill sail..

Click Here for the Full Text on Yahoo!'s The Signal

Academics love models, but their window of opportunity has passed (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

In case the new issue of PS: Political Science and Politics is still on your junk mail table, here's a primer on the journal's recent publication of 13 distinct predictions of the 2012 election: Five academics predict an Obama victory, five predict a Romney victory, and three say it's too close to call.

And here's a prediction I feel good about: Five of them will be correct.

All 13 of the predictions in this peer-reviewed journal are the product of fundamental models, which examine broad historical trends that influence elections rather than simply aggregating polls and prediction markets. Some of the models use polls as a guidance, but the focus is on information like economic indicators, incumbency, past election results, the state of war, and other lofty data points divorced from public opinion surveys.

I wholly endorse the idea of academics working alongside journalists in the popular election prediction industry—obviously—but PS looks silly publishing these forecasts at the end of September. Models are useful in painting a broad electoral picture six months ahead of time, before public opinion has coalesced. They typically cannot account for the narrow margins of victory that shake out weeks or days before polls open. Relying on fundamental models in October is like relying on pre-season baseball predictions in October. I would look stupid—or at least delusional in my fandom—if I forecasted the Philadelphia Phillies winning the National League East today, when they are eliminated from the running, even though they were pre-season favorites.

Click Here for the Full Text on Yahoo!'s The Signal

Even before debates, electoral map appears largely written in stone (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

Many see potential for Wednesday's presidential debate to be a deciding moment in the 2012 election. From the our perch here on Forecasting Mountain, we don't see a whole lot left to be decided.

Since we posted our first forecast of the state-by-state presidential election on Feb. 16, 2012, six months before the Republican Party even had an official nominee, only three states have flipped camps at any point in time. Virginia pointed toward the Republican nominee for several months during the summer, while both Florida and North Carolina have recently shifted to President Barack Obama's column. Almost all of the other 47 states have moved further in whichever direction they were leaning in February as the game clock has ticked down from more than 250 days to fewer than 40 until the election.

Click Here for the Full Text on Yahoo!'s The Signal

Why Ohio Is So Pivotal for Romney (Syndicated on the Huffington Post)

There are five states that have a double digit number of electoral votes, where Obama and Romney each still have a decent 15 percent shot at winning: North Carolina (where Obama has a 31.8 percent chance), Florida (57.9), Virginia (73.6), Ohio (77.3), and Wisconsin (83.9). There is something striking when you look at a chart of the likelihood of any of them voting for Obama since August 1; there is a lot of movement, but very little crossing.

2012-09-24-LikelihoodofVictoryforObamainLargeSwingStates.png

 Sources: Betair, Intrade, HuffPost's Pollster, RealClearPolitics, etc., and the values are updated in real-time for both state-by-state and overall presidential predictions.

States respond to local shifts. Wisconsin's dip started just after their native son Paul Ryan joined the Republican ticket. We also know that the candidates' fortunes in states correlate with local economic trends, and that the huge differential across swing states in spending on advertisements and get-out-the-vote initiatives impacts the support and turnout in those states as well.

Yet trends still tend to be more national than regional or local. Year after year, granular predictions of the state-by-state outcome over the months preceding an election look similar to the above chart with few states cutting dramatically across the other states.

The likelihood of Romney winning North Carolina and Ohio is not much greater than the likelihood that he will win Ohio. Because the most likely way for Romney to win Ohio is a national trend that moves all of the states between North Carolina and Ohio into his column, picking off Ohio before states that currently favor Romney more is very unlikely. Conversely, the likelihood of Romney winning Ohio and losing North Carolina is almost negligible. (I am further examining the nature of these state-by-state relationships in a prediction game on my website, which readers are encouraged to play.)

This method of determining joint probability is called the ranking method and it has proven surprising difficult to beat this simple/transparent and reliable method. Drawing this method out to all states in the Electoral College, if you list all states from most likely for Romney to most likely for Obama, it is unlikely that any state moves more than a few points in rank. Thus, the quick and easy estimate for the likelihood of any candidate reaching 270 electoral votes is to figure out the state that flips the election if every state stays in their order. Below is the key section of the states 23-32 in that list:

2012-09-24-RankedOrderofLikelihoodofVictoryforObama.png

Sources: Betair, Intrade, HuffPost's Pollster, RealClearPolitics, etc., and the the values are updated in real-time for both state-by-state and overall presidential predictions.

If Romney takes Missouri he has 191 electoral votes, 206 electoral votes with North Carolina, onward until he crosses 270 with a victory in Ohio. Similarly, Obama has 243 electoral votes if he takes Nevada, 253 with Wisconsin, and he crosses 270 with Ohio.

The flip state is Ohio at 77.3 percent for Obama and 22.7 percent for Romney. This is a great, simple approximation for the likelihood of the election. It has tracked my more complex model of electoral victory, within 2 or 3 percentage points, for the entire election cycle.

This article is syndicated on the Huffington Post.

The downside of outside spending: Candidates are hard to shop for (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

Mitt Romney's campaign understands that almost every reasonable scenario for victory includes winning Ohio, Virginia and Florida—a troika that, along with all the states safely in the Republican column, would award the challenger 266 electoral votes, four shy of the magic number. Campaign spending figures published by National Journal verify this in no uncertain terms. Since May 1, the Romney campaign and its allies have spent more on advertising in these three states than in all other competitive states combined. The same is true of the Obama campaign, whose clearest path to victory involves denying Romney any one of these battlegrounds.

Where the campaigns blow their overflowing fountains of cash is only half the story, of course, due to the torrents of outside spending flooding this campaign. Overall, the Republicans and their supporters have outspent the Democrats $256 million to $217 million since May. This is a little misleading, however, because of a simple economic fact: The marginal value of a campaign dollar is significantly higher if raised by the campaign than if raised by a super PAC.

Outside spending groups are not allowed to coordinate with campaigns, though they can coordinate with one another and operate in the same political reality. In an era of incredibly precise political targeting, however, outside spending that is not privy to the campaigns' precise strategies and messaging is not as effective. Consider the difference between spending $100 on yourself and having a friend buy you something for $100, especially if this well-meaning friend is not legally permitted to ask you what you want. Economists call this the "deadweight loss of Christmas."

Click Here for the Full Text on Yahoo!'s The Signal

Introducing WiseQ Game – Election 2012

We are very excited to introduce to you a new feature of PredictWise, called WiseQ Game. WiseQ Game – Elections 2012 is the first of a series of games that will allow you to place your own predictions on politics and economic indicators. Over the next few months the selection will expand to entertainment, sports, and finance. We have created this game for our users for a few reasons:

PredictWise is dedicated to providing the most accurate and meaningful predictions possible, on a real-time updating basis. We hope that these games will delight our readers and provide us with a new source as well that will let us both improve and expand on our predictions.

1) You follow predictions and we want to give you an opportunity to "comment" in the most interesting and meaningful way possible. Go into the game and wager that the current odds should be higher or lower for a particular event! Can our readers "beat" our aggregated predictions?

Click Here to Play!

2) We spend a lot of time aggregating the available data in the world, but we see limits to that data. This project will provide us with new a data source that will allow us to create even more accurate and meaningful predictions.

3) We also follow markets and prediction games closely, and we are really excited about some of the market design innovations we have created including simple front-end wizards for making predictions and really complicated back-end market makers to keep track of all of the predictions.

Good luck!!!

Democrats likely to retain Senate as four critical races shift in their favor (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

After weeks in which the fate of the Senate simmered at nearly even odds of flipping for Republicans or remaining in Democrats' control, the outlook has shifted dramatically in the Democrats' favor. The incumbent party now has an 80 percent chance of retaining its majority, according to the Signal's prediction model.

The break is largely due to critical races in Missouri, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Virginia, all of which have favored the Republican at some point in the past month and now favor the Democratic candidate.

Click Here for the Full Text on Yahoo!'s The Signal