Princeton Election Consortium

A first draft of electoral history. Since 2004

High-leverage races for 2014

June 28th, 2014, 2:56pm by Sam Wang


This year, the big political question is who will control the Senate in 2015. I’ve analyzed this briefly and will continue to do so in the coming months. As of the end of June, it’s looking like Democrats/Independents (who vote together) and Republicans are likely to win 47 seats each. The remaining six races are currently on the knife’s edge, and will determine control. They are: Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, and Louisiana.

If you want to make the most of your donation, give to your side’s candidates in those six races. As I’ve written in past elections, donations are most effective at the margins. In close races, donations are most likely to move the win probability. In addition, as national politics has become oriented around parties rather than individuals, it is control of the chamber that matters, rather than specific individuals.

Note that this advice is the same whether you support Democrats or Republicans. For your convenience, I have provided links at the left to ActBlue (Democrats) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (Republicans). The first link will be updated if conditions shift between now and November.

→ 19 CommentsTags: 2014 Election

Schroedinger’s Senate

May 27th, 2014, 9:45pm by Sam Wang


In 2015, who will control the Senate? Warring models point in opposite directions. The NYT’s “The Upshot” looks at polls and other factors, and has Democrats favored. The Monkey Cage favors the Republicans. Who’s right?

For now, here’s the snapshot (following my past methods): in an election today, Democrats would retain control of the Senate with about 67% probability. Think of the Senate in 2014 as Schroedinger’s Cat: in that closed box, it’s currently 1/3 dead*. That will change over time. We open the box on November 4th.

See my further thoughts on the issue over at Politico. Here it is: The War Of The Senate Models.

Update: As per usual, here is the MATLAB code. It’s basically like the Presidential race, except that each state gets one “electoral vote,” i.e. one Senate seat. Super-simple. The basic algorithm is in senate2014_est.m. Then, senate2014_biascalc.m calls the basic algorithm, and allows you to see what would happen if polls moved over a range of possibilities. A simpler way is to simply set “bias=-2“, which moves margins toward the GOP by 2%, then run senate2014_est.m. Set bias to whatever your hopes and biases are. Mine is bias=0, which has a good track record on Election Eve.

Update #2: To learn about Schroedinger’s Cat and why I invoked it, click the image!

*”Dead”=GOP control, “live”=Democratic control. Some might see it the other way around…

→ 27 CommentsTags: 2014 Election

Did the NYT pay Jill Abramson less?

May 16th, 2014, 9:33am by Sam Wang


According to Ken Auletta at The New Yorker, Abramson was fired when she found out she was being systematically paid less than her male predecessors. New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., appears to deny this. Can these statements be reconciled with one another? Yes…though Sulzberger seems to be parsing his words rather carefully. [Read more →]

→ 1 CommentTags: Uncategorized

Last Lectures, Class of 2014: Genes, Brain, and the Human Mind

May 14th, 2014, 5:36pm by Sam Wang


This Friday, May 16th, I’ll be speaking to the graduating Class of 2014. My topic is “Genes, Brain, and the Human Mind: Neuroscience in the 21st Century.” It’s at 7:00 pm in McCosh 10, here on the Princeton campus If you’re local, please come! The lecture is open to all students, faculty, and community members, though seniors have first priority if the room fills.

To get a taste of what I’ll talk about: I’ll be talking about a research program that was launched by me speaking to the incoming class when they were freshmen. They got me interested in whether intellectual traits could be inherited. As it turns out, they might be, and if they are, they share common genetic causation with disorders such as autism and depression! See this press release, and Catherine Rampell’s take on the work. I’ll also talk about the US government’s BRAIN Initiative, and what it means for the future of neuroscience. Come on out!

→ 3 CommentsTags: Princeton

Are Americans really jingoistic yahoos? A cautionary statistical tale

April 13th, 2014, 9:36am by Sam Wang


It can be good for a laugh to view U.S. citizens as people who don’t have a clear idea of what’s happening outside their borders…but still want to launch a military attack. This week in The Monkey Cage comes a finding that feeds that view. The headline is impressive: “The less Americans know about Ukraine’s location, the more they want U.S. to intervene.”

But how big is the reported effect, and what does it really say about American attitudes? [Read more →]

→ 4 CommentsTags: Politics

Autism NYT piece: Postscript

April 6th, 2014, 7:00am by Sam Wang


I’ve received some useful feedback on the NYT piece on autism. I have extra notes to offer on three topics: (1) elective induction, (2) environmental toxins, including endocrine disruptors, and (3) the lack of a true link with SSRI use. [Read more →]

→ 2 CommentsTags: Health

How to think about autism risks

March 29th, 2014, 8:57pm by Sam Wang


For those of you coming here from the NYT, welcome! If you’re interested in drilling into the scientific literature, I’ve archived some articles here. Note: if you’re having trouble getting the links from the NYT piece to work, the link above has all the correct files. Basically the NYT site messed up the “~” character in the URL. Soon I’ll document the calculations behind the risk ratios.

In my article in the Sunday New York Times on how to think about autism risks, I apply meta-analytical techniques to autism research literature. It’s nearly impossible to get a good overall perspective from news reports. However, I provide a way to look at it all at once. My secret decoder ring takes the form of risk ratios. Check it out.

As stated in the article, by far the largest risk is genetic. In comparison, the measured impact of environmental risks ranges from nonexistent to small, unless you work directly with chemicals in a factory. The small risks might actually be due to stress. For more information, check back later – or see PubMed, which allows you to search the vast research literature on autism.

You can read about my own neuroscience research here.

→ 10 CommentsTags: Health · Princeton

Lou Reed, 1942-2013: Shut the door!

October 27th, 2013, 7:43pm by Sam Wang


The Velvet Underground was one of the first really interesting bands I listened to. They are simple, but amazing. I learned about them around 1982 in an interview with R.E.M., who revered them. Also, my house at Caltech had a rock band composed entirely of physics majors, who only did V.U. covers. This was within their skill set.

Founder Lou Reed was a monument. He had a liver transplant in May. Today the news comes that he has died. He leaves behind the equally interesting performance artist and composer Laurie Anderson, who he married in 2008.

You may know other songs. Here is one I liked quite a lot, partly because of the background chatter. Shut the door!

Update: the embedded ad is for “Weaning off Percocet.” That’s perfect.

→ 7 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

Just how steep is that climb in 2014, anyway?

October 24th, 2013, 10:52pm by Sam Wang


With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.

-John von Neumann

If we want to forecast House control in 2014 without drilling into individual Congressional districts, we need to know two things:

  1. What national popular vote margin is needed to flip House control; and
  2. What the likely range for the national popular vote margin will be.

For #1, last week here at PEC I estimated that a margin of D+4% to D+5% (i.e. Democrats win popular vote by 4-5%) would be necessary. My estimate is not far from other analysts.

However, a notable outlier is Alan Abramowitz at the Crystal Ball, who claims D+13% is needed. This appears to be an error of overfitting, which I have previously mentioned in relation to The Monkey Cage* and FiveThirtyEight. That is not bad company…but seeing as how this problem is a recurring one, I would like to get into the details. It might reduce the possibility of similar future missteps. [Read more →]

→ 18 CommentsTags: 2014 Election · House

How high is the House levee?

October 17th, 2013, 7:33pm by Sam Wang


Today we have some outlier statements made by other political analysts. As rounded up by Andrew Sullivan, we have Nate Cohn at the New Republic quoting Alan Abramowitz:

Democrats need a 13 point Democratic edge on September 1 to win the 17 seats necessary to retake the chamber in November.

For any wave election, that would be a very soundly built levee. However, recent data suggest this statement is rather overstated, for two reasons:

  1. In the last 6 elections, the drift from previous-year generic-opinion polls to November outcomes is a median of 3 points (4.6 points for midterms only).
  2. Republican-favoring gerrymandered districts are weaker than they look. Because they seem to have more independents than other Republican districts, the necessary national popular-vote margin for a Democratic takeover is lower than in 2012, and I estimate it at about 4 points.

I have analyzed this all recently. I think the levee could be breached by a 7-point generic polling margin next October. Also, here’s a rather good overview by David Wasserman at the  Cook Political Report. Let me review a few points about what appears to be in past and present polls. [Read more →]

→ 36 CommentsTags: 2014 Election · House