Princeton Election Consortium

A first draft of electoral history. Since 2004

Gerrymandering creates a point of weakness

October 9th, 2013, 3:45pm by Sam Wang

In the fight over the shutdown, a residual feature of partisan gerrymandering has become unexpectedly important. Andrew Sullivan quotes Kyle Kondik at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

[I]t’s the House Republicans in marginal districts who could see their ranks decimated, just like the House Democratic moderates whose anti-Obamacare votes couldn’t save them in 2010.

An examination of the MoveOn/PPP data suggests that this burden might fall harder on some Republicans than others. Perhaps surprisingly, a major cause seems to be partisan gerrymandering. [Read more →]

→ 13 CommentsTags: 2014 Election · House

The risk to the GOP’s majority in the House

October 8th, 2013, 7:03am by Sam Wang

In the current shutdown, John Boehner might be acting out of fear of losing his position. If he doesn’t appease the hardliners who are willing to take the government and economy over the brink for their goals, he could be ejected from the Speaker’s seat. However, is there some chance that he’ll lose his position another way – by Republicans losing the House majority in January 2015? [Read more →]

→ 55 CommentsTags: 2014 Election · House

A draft of a paper on the Meta-analysis

October 7th, 2013, 8:27am by Sam Wang

Dear readers, I’ve been invited to write an academic article on the Meta-analysis. I’m horribly late with it…but I do have a draft. I’d be interested in your thoughts and reactions. I’m sure I have not done justice to some important topics. The article text is here (PDF) and the figures are here (6.7 MB PDF). If you link to this, use this post. The paper is a working draft and subject to change!

Also…in the course of writing up this project, I found this benchmarking from Luke Muehlhauser and Gwern Branwen, over at the Center for Applied Rationality (the best organizational name I have seen in some time)I. They compared us to FiveThirtyEight, InTrade, Drew Linzer, and others. We came out well!

→ 3 CommentsTags: 2004 Election · 2008 Election · 2012 Election · Site News

(NYC mayor) Bill DeBlasio’s debt to Anthony Weiner

September 10th, 2013, 8:59am by Sam Wang

Aftermath: Election results and interactive maps can be found at the NYT. DeBlasio currently has 40.3%, so a mayoral runoff appears to be avoided, as I predicted. Stringer wins comptroller – I was on the wrong side of that. However, as I’ve said before, with my methods, anything in the 20-80% probability range is a knife-edge situation. The comptroller race was such an example.

In today’s New York City Democratic primary, front-runner (and progressive) Bill DeBlasio has drawn 41.9+/-1.3% of decided voters (n=5 polls since late August). The threshold for avoiding a runoff is 40%, and if (and that’s an if!) polls are any indication, he will reach this threshold with a 90% probability. Note that primaries are harder than usual to predict since voters can be volatile.

Speaking of volatile: who does DeBlasio have to thank for this turn of events? To a large extent Anthony Weiner, for imploding. Examining changes over the last 10 polls, it seems that about 45% of disaffected Weiner voters went to DeBlasio. DeBlasio seems to be the leading choice for a wide variety of NYC voters, since undecideds seem to have split in the same proportions.

This means it would have been in the other candidates’ interest to prop up Weiner, especially second-place candidate Bill Thompson (21.7 +/-0.2%) or third-place Christine Quinn (19.4 +/- 0.7%), who may not get a face-off with DeBlasio. Then again, Weiner’s negatives are quite high, so such a move might have backfired.

In the other high-visibility primary, for comptroller, Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer has largely closed the gap with former governor Eliot Spitzer. However, Spitzer still leads by 2.0 +/- 1.7% (n=3 September polls). That puts Spitzer’s win probability at 80%, in knife-edge territory.

Update. From a conversation with Mark Blumenthal:

→ 2 CommentsTags: Politics

Nate Silver’s move

July 24th, 2013, 11:04am by Sam Wang

By now most readers know about Nate Silver’s move from the New York Times to ESPN and ABC. ESPN purchased the FiveThirtyEight domain, suggesting a significant commitment by Silver. The move fits with Silver’s roots in sports, as well as his outsider status with regular journalists. ABC will provide excellent broadcast opportunities during election seasons. And I’m sure that money played a major role.

My take is very similar to that of Matt Yglesias at Slate, minus a little of the anti-pundit/journalist invective. [Read more →]

→ 25 CommentsTags: 2012 Election · Uncategorized

NYT forgets basic statistics; Bloomberg Businessweek forgets 2012

May 31st, 2013, 11:22pm by Sam Wang

I’ll take a brief break from fluorescent protein design, human genetics, and autism and dive back into the fray. [Read more →]

→ 16 CommentsTags: 2012 Election · President

BRAIN Initiative – on MSNBC

May 2nd, 2013, 12:33pm by Sam Wang

I’m currently in heavy neuroscience mode. Here’s one example: the unveiling of the BRAIN Initiative, an NIH/NSF/DARPA/private research initiative announced by President Obama in April. It focuses on new technologies to map brain connectivity and function. Whether there will be new money isn’t clear, but it does highlight some very exciting areas in modern neuroscience.

Dig beneath the public rollout, and there’s a roster of scientific advisors that provides a clue as to where it’s headed. Listed are some of the best leaders and technology developers in understanding circuit-level brain function. It’s a promising start. I predict that next we’ll see new Requests for Applications (RFAs) issued by NIH and NSF. That would be a prosaic route, but without a single central goal…let a hundred flowers bloom!

Finally…here I am on Melissa Harris-Perry’s program to talk about the BRAIN Initiative. NBC has split it into Part 1 (BRAIN Initiative), Part 2 (implications for Alzheimer’s), and Part 3 (what brain scans do — and don’t — reveal in individuals). Watch me spar with the pundits.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

→ 11 CommentsTags: Princeton

Review of The Signal and the Noise

February 14th, 2013, 8:22pm by Sam Wang

In Science magazine, Ben Campbell and I have a review of Nate Silver’s book, The Signal and the Noise. Briefly…it was good for people who don’t know any math or science, and was best when he recounted his own exploits in poker. But there were some flaws, for instance on the use of statistics in science. And on climate change…let’s leave that alone.

You can read the whole review here! (direct link to PDF)

→ 29 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

Slaying the gerrymander

February 3rd, 2013, 8:21am by Sam Wang

(Welcome, New York Times readers!)

Thanks to commenters on this topic. Your feedback has shaped my thinking on this subject. I recall being skeptical that redistricting could have a major effect. As it turns out, the effects of partisan redistricting helped Republicans far more than I expected.

One reason for my skepticism is that the the effect was clustered tightly in a handful of swing states. My pre-election calculations did not look for state-specific effects (though they were still fairly accurate); it was only after the election that I developed the right statistical tools. All extreme partisan gerrymanders were done in states with GOP-controlled redistricting. Furthermore, they are swing states, putting them on a knife edge and making them places where gerrymandering could help eke out extra wins.

First, some links to previous essays. Then some answers to your questions. [Read more →]

→ 32 CommentsTags: 2012 Election · House

Reince’s plan, Carrico’s folly

January 25th, 2013, 8:59am by Sam Wang

Here’s an article by Steve Coll on gerrymandering in the New Yorker. The subject is not dying away – quite the opposite.

Some of you thought that the effect I have detected – antidemocratic outcomes in PA, OH, MI, NC, VA, FL, and IN in 2012…

…was somehow peculiar to their population patterns. I’ve been doing analysis showing that the effect wasn’t there in 2010, just two years earlier. I could polish that up to show later.

However, now it’s unnecessary. Republicans have basically owned up in a strategy memo:

As the 2010 Census approached, the RSLC began planning for the subsequent election cycle, formulating a strategy to keep or win Republican control of state legislatures with the largest impact on congressional redistricting as a result of reapportionment. That effort, the REDistricting MAjority Project (REDMAP), focused critical resources on legislative chambers in states projected to gain or lose congressional seats in 2011 based on Census data.

Controlling the redistricting process in these states would have the greatest impact on determining how both state legislative and congressional district boundaries would be drawn. Drawing new district lines in states with the most redistricting activity presented the opportunity to solidify conservative policymaking at the state level and maintain a Republican stronghold in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next decade.

To fund the initiative, the RSLC raised more than $30 million in 2009-2010, and invested $18 million after Labor Day 2010 alone. Specifically, the RSLC…

Spent nearly $1 million in Pennsylvania House races, targeting and winning three of the toughest races in the state.
Spent nearly $1 million in Ohio House races, targeting six seats, five of which were won by Republicans. Notably, President Obama carried five of these six legislative districts in 2008.
Spent $1 million in Michigan working with the Michigan House Republican Campaign Committee and Michigan Republican Party to pick up 20 seats.
Spent $1.1 million in Wisconsin to take control of the Senate and Assembly.

So there you have it. Read the whole thing – it’s illuminating.

This week there’s a new layer: Virgnia state Senator Charles Carrico is sponsoring a plan to allocate his state’s electoral votes by district. This would lead to a mismatch between the statewide popular vote and EV outcomes – just as it has for their Congressional delegation. For instance, the popular vote there was Obama 51%, Romney 48%. But under the new plan, the electoral outcome would be Romney 9 EV, Obama 4 EV.

What’s interesting about this scheme is that it basically pits the interests of the national Republican party against the interests of Virginia voters. Virginia is both a large state and a swing state, and was therefore of great interest to the Obama and Romney campaigns.

Last year, individual voters in Virginia had a lot of influence in the national election. Look in The Power Of Your Vote in the right sidebar. You will see that they were more influential than voters in all but a handful of states.

Such a mechanism is not inherently antidemocratic: in our current system, overall national opinion is measured by Electoral College rules that are largely uniform – and end up mostly in line with the popular vote.

However, Carrico’s rule change would have two effects. One is the outcome desired by RNC chair Reince Priebus: control over electoral vote allocation by the redistricting process. In this scenario, the flaws of the Electoral College are magnified, not reduced.

This leads to the second effect: only one or two districts in Virginia would be up for grabs. Virginia’s power would therefore be reduced to that of South Dakota. No offense to South Dakota, but I don’t think Virginia voters will like that. However annoying it is to live in a swing state in an election year, it’s better than being ignored.

One analysis of this type of rules change misses the point entirely, pointing out that changing all states to Nebraska/Maine allocation rules (1 EV for each district, plus 2 EV for the state’s vote winner) would have produced a Romney win in the last election, 273-265. However, note that the push for change is only occurring in swing states – the same ones where gerrymandering has succeeded to such new extremes. In this respect, a theme has emerged that dates back to Bush v. Gore in 2000, and has continued with voter-ID laws: the goal is to win near-tied situations. It’s an impressive long-term strategy.

→ 34 CommentsTags: 2012 Election · Politics