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What-If Questions

October 13th, 2004, 12:00pm by Sam Wang


Lately I have been asked what-if questions (What if Bush wins Ohio? What if Kerry wins Wisconsin?) I have three ways of answering this type of question. The last answer may be of practical use in guiding your activism!

1. Flipping states: How much is the win probability affected by guaranteeing a given state? If Kerry wins Florida, then his overall win probability today jumps to 83% (five-to-one odds). If Bush wins Ohio then his win probability is 87% (eight-to-one odds).

2. Shifting the margin: What is the benefit of changing the margin by one point? You could imagine a campaign strategist making use of this to help decide where to place ads. For both candidates the three best states are Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. No surprises there.

3. Hitting the streets: How much do you affect the election by going somewhere to get out the vote? The way to do this calculation is to see how much the Electoral College win probability is changed by incrementing a state’s margin by some fraction F, where F is inversely proportional to the state’s voting population. This is because as an individual, you can only get out a finite number of votes.

Today, the best states to go to, in descending order, are: Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, and Florida. Things change a little bit if the margin is different from the estimate (for instance towards Kerry because of the incumbent rule as originated by Guy Molyneux and reviewed by the Mystery Pollster and Mark Shields), but the top four states always include Ohio and Nevada. Why Nevada? Nevada is a near-tossup and has a disproportionately high share of electoral votes.

Tags: 2004 Election

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