Science and Voting

Every four years around this time many Americans have to sit down and make a crucial decision that will in fact affect their life.  This time of the year is known to many as 'voting season' with the upcoming presidential elections looming.

I realize that as a part of a very large and diverse college community, many Penn State students have probably either been involved in some sort of voter registration activity or political event.  And if you have not been a part you have most likely seen one, or passed someone trying to help you register to vote.  

The way our countries presidential elections works is not too complicated.  Based upon population, each state is given a number of representatives.  Each representative counts as an electoral vote.  In order for a candidate to win he needs a majority of the electoral votes.

As technology has advanced over the past few decades and presidential elections, many Americans have started to see more predictions within the polls, and for who is going to take the win in the election.  Many have even taken this up as their profession for news companies as it is their jobs to predict who will come out on top.

The one question that I want to ask here is, can scientists accurately predict the winner of a presidential election?

There are a lot of variables that you have to factor into the equation here.  First of all every election and candidate is different in a variety of ways.  Scientists would probably have to create a separate or modified model for each elect depending upon the following variables.  

No two republican candidates will be the same as their ideas may differ as so their personalities.    You can argue George W. Bush and Romney are no where near alike even though they both consider themselves Republicans.  The same goes for the election.  Just because a Republican or Democrat won the last election does not mean the same will happen again.

The biggest factor that scientists would have to put into the equation is the actual voters.  Many can argue that no two voters are the same as each of us have individual ideas, and priorities.  We all look for different things with our candidates, and depending upon how their views are similar to yours you will vote.  One voter may vote Republican one election but choose not to the next.  

So with all of these variables, it would be interesting to see if scientists could actually accurately predict who will win the election later this year.  The more variables that are thrown into the experiment or equation, the harder it is to gain a conclusion or accurate answer.  

I myself think that this may be impossible.  Often enough you can go onto any news site and see polling predictions for who will win.  That I believe is the closest science can come to predicting who will win the election. However that is just usually asking a group of people who they will vote for and then calculating the answers.  Wthe amount of variables and extraneous factors that would have to be attributed for, I think it would be extremely difficult for a group of scientists to accurately do this. 

You also have to look at chance.  Often enough a presidential election is basically between two people.  Therefore for all we know a group of scientists could come up with an answer for all of the wrong reasons, and by chance somehow get it right depending upon who wins the election.  

Maybe as technology advances even more in the future, scientists will eventually be able to one day do this and predict who will win.  But until then it will always be a mystery until the last vote is casted on who the next president of the United States will be.

Do you think that there could ever be a sophisticated way of predicting the next president?  In addition how do you think the polls that news networks comes up with affect the actual election?



I believe that we will never have a sure-fire way of predicting the outcome of an election, because, as you stated, there are way too many variables involved. Also, when TV stations put up the results from the most recent preliminary polling to see who has the edge, it is usually based on an extremely small sample size and does not come anywhere close to accurately representing how the nation will vote. For example, there have been multiple times when Obama was said to have a commanding lead in the polls, only to have a different TV station report that Romeny had a slight edge the next day. All of these factors will prevent any chance of a 100% accurate predicting mechanism to be developed.

Sean, I am glad that you agree we may never be able to have a sure fire way of predicting election results. You also did make a good point that they use very small sample sizes. In addition the larger the sample the more complex the results are which could cause more problems in even predicting the polls. Personally i think that it's all just a ploy by the media so you pay more attention. Of course this week msnbc comes out with an article that the candidates are in a dead head in their polls. when that happens more people think its a close race and thus need to pay more attention.

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