How to Win a Campaign

Special Episode: Presidential Election Predictions—Do They Really Work?

Episode Summary

Red and blue 7-11 coffee cups, generations-old cookie recipes, Halloween masks, the economy, and Geda, the Chinese mystic monkey, have all been used to predict the U.S. Presidential election. In this special episode, Joe and Martín dive into the world of election predictions, both academic ones as well as some wild and wacky ones, and pass judgement on the reliability of these predictions. Also tune in to find out former Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden’s favorite snack!

Episode Notes

If we had a crystal ball that could tell us exactly what the outcome of the presidential election will be, many of us would sleep a lot easier at night. But of course, we do not have a crystal ball, and instead we turn to myriad polls, models, and other predictors to try to tell what’s going to happen on election day. That’s why Joe and Martín spend this special episode breaking down the rationale behind some very wonky models as well as some very wacky ones. From looking at factors such as the performance of the economy to consumer trends like popularity of Trump Halloween masks to downright wacky predictors such as a Chinese mystic monkey, there is no shortage of ways to predict the presidency!


Presidential Election Predictions, Are They Accurate? | Predicting Elections 2020

Wacky Ways to Make Presidential Election Predictions

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Joe Fuld

Twitter: @joefuld

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Martín Diego Garcia

Twitter: @gmartindiego

Instagram: @gmartindiego

Episode Transcription

(Intro Music)

Joe Fuld (00:06):

Hey folks, you're listening to How to Win a Campaign, where you'll get an insider's perspective that teaches you not only at a run, but how to win. I'm Joe Fuld.

Martín Diego Garcia (00:15):

And I'm Martín Diego Garcia, and you can find us @CMPWORKSHP on Twitter and on Instagram @thecampaignworkshop. Thanks for tuning in to today's election predictions episode. We're excited to get into some of these fun and wacky ones.

Joe Fuld (00:31):

Do you have your crystal ball out. Martín? You ready?

Martín Diego Garcia (00:35):

I do, I've got my tarot cards ready.

Joe Fuld (00:38):

All right, well, let's do this today. We'll be talking about election models, how they work and what they say about the 2020 elections. You know, listen, as a political consultant. We are often asked to predict the future of politics, especially when it comes to presidential elections. However, just because you're a political consultant does not mean that you can predict what will happen on election day. Because we're so determined to help our clients and candidates win, we may be inherently biased when assessing electoral odds. That's why a number of election forecasters from political scientists to election crazies like us have put together dozens of different models to find and predict what the outcome of presidential elections will be.

Martín Diego Garcia (01:27):

Yeah, it's too funny, Joe. I think every time I tell somebody what I do for a living and I say, I'm a political consultant. They go two directions. One, they either talk about, well, is it like this TV show that I'm watching? Or two, they'll ask the question. Well, what do you think's going to happen? Like I have some way of predicting the future because I am sort of in the work, but you're totally right. And when you're looking at these models, you have to remember that election prediction models are not always reliable. As we have seen. Some of these models are more accurate than others and have worked well over the years. Although even some that have been created by political scientists and political junkie nerds have sometimes often missed the mark. And so making it clear that even the being an academic doesn't actually guarantee success in forecasting the election. With the constantly changing landscape of politics and the polarization of political dialogue today, it makes sense that past predictors of the election may not hold true necessarily in today's times. And for this presidential election.

Joe Fuld (02:25):

Even though they may not always be accurate, models are the closest thing that we have to a crystal ball. They can help us predict what might be happening now and through election day. So today we're going to go over what we think are some of the most interesting ones, tell you what they predict and how, what they're based on, and also how they did in 2016. But this is I find a really interesting topic and there's lots of different drivers to this. There's the economy, there's societal pressures, and you could totally understand where these races being so close, how these models might be just off a little bit here a little bit there, but they're pretty great at coming close. And we're going to talk about a lot of interesting ones. We're going to talk about wacky ways that different social models that are out there. We're going to talk about the academic ones. So first let's start with some of these more academic models.

Martín Diego Garcia (03:25):

Yeah. And if you are a political nerd, as we are, get ready, cause this is going to be super fascinating. I even learned about some new ones as we were praying, preparing for this episode. So we'll start with the market based models first. So the first one up to deck is the Fair Model. And there was a gentleman by the name of Ray Fair, who is a Yale economic professor and the author of Predicting Presidential Elections and Other Things made a market based model that was first used to predict the winner of the 1980 presidential election between Ronald Reagan when he defeated Jimmy Carter. And so the Fair model actually works to predict the popular vote and by looking at the strength or weakness of the economy between presidential election years. So how however Fair himself has said for this election there are possible limitations to a market driven model and quoting, if there's any time in which personalities would trump, the economic, the economy, it would be this election. I'm not sure if the pun was intended, but we will see,

Joe Fuld (04:25):

I want to say about this one is I, I think that it's, it has been pretty accurate. You also can look, we're, we're going to have a big writeup on all of this, on the website. So check it out. You can read more about this. You can go and look at how the Fair model performs. There are also websites that show how it was performing last year in 2019 versus how it performs today, because a lot of these change based on market conditions. So, but yeah, I mean, I think this is a super neat model. One of, one of my favorites.

Martín Diego Garcia (04:58):

Yeah. So in 2016 they actually predicted, right, Trump at 55% of the popular vote and Clinton at 45% while ultimately the popular vote went to Clinton, but Trump ultimately won. So it's sort of a toss up on whether or not their prediction was correct. Right. But in 2020 they have Biden at 54.2% of the popular vote and Trump at 45.8%. So we will just have to wait and see if the economy uh Fair model works out in this this November.

Joe Fuld (05:25):

So the second market based model is from Moody's Analytics. Moody's Analytics has successfully predicted every presidential contest since 1980, by focusing on two year changes in income growth home prices, gasoline prices among other factors, unlike the Fair model, which predicts the popular vote, Moody's predicts the electoral college outcome. So for 2020, they predict Biden with 308 electoral votes and Trump with 230 electoral votes. In 2016, they predicted Clinton with 332 votes and Trump with 206 electoral votes. So again, they were off in 2016, so we'll see.

Martín Diego Garcia (06:04):

Even the smarties get it wrong sometimes. So the next one we're looking at is one that I often follow as it gets closer to election day, which is Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight model, which is based off of 538 electoral votes. We are huge fans of his at TCW and FiveThirtyEight has made a huge impact on real time presidential elections since the 2008 Obama McCain election. When they, the statistic model nailed the popular vote within a percentage point and successfully predicted presidential outcomes in all but one state, which is kind of amazing. The way the model works is they run 40,000 simulations of the 2020 elections and come up with the proportion of how many of those simulations does Biden win versus how many does Trump win? So it is a lot of statistical work that they put into this in 2016, they actually had Clinton at 71.4% chance of winning and Trump at only 28.6. So we're definitely a little off there, but for 2020, they're looking at a Biden winning 70 of the a hundred simulations. Whereas the Trump only wins 30. So 70% versus 30% we'll see what happens,

Joe Fuld (07:17):

Right. But if you read the fine print on that model, right, we want to be really clear that there still a decent opportunity for Trump to win. So they're not saying Trump won't, they just say that, you know, right now it looks like the deck is it's harder for Trump than it is for Biden, but it doesn't mean that it's not possible. So, I mean, what will you also want to say? Like if you're listening to this episode, right. Get out and vote, don't just like, say, Oh, well these models predicted, we're going to let the world go to chance, vote early, vote, absentee voting in person. However you want to vote, just make sure you vote. Like that is super important. But again, there's a lot more information at to check out these different models. But that's certainly a favorite and interesting one. So our next model was developed by an American University professor, Alan Lichtman, who was a professor of mine at AU. He has correctly predicted the outcome of every presidential election since 1984. This is an interesting model because it's really based on true false questions. He had collaborated with a Russian scientist to think about and develop questions that would predict fault lines within an economy within a country. Ways to think about, is change coming, is change not coming? And so super interesting way. And right now his true false questions say that Trump lose this election, but it's also again I think up in the air.

Martín Diego Garcia (09:01):

Definitely, definitely. But fascinating. Right. And so the last one we want to touch on in terms of the academic market based modeling ones is one that actually takes a bit of a different approach than the ones we've already talked about, which is the primary model. Helmut Norpoth is has developed a model which looks at how candidates performed in presidential primaries to help them predict how they will fare in the general election. So it's a primary centric approach that picks the winner based the popular vote based on how they performed in the primary and actually has predicted it correctly since its inception in 1996. And if you look back has gotten 25 out of the 27 presidential elections since 1912, which is kind of amazing. But it also takes into some other considerations, including party fatigue among the public. It takes into account whether the incumbent's party has been in control of the house. So in other words is the public sick of this current president or, and or his party. So in 2016, they predicted Trump at 87% and Clinton at 13. So predicted 2016 correctly. And in 2020, they actually predict Trump at 91% inviting that 9%. So although what we want to sort of play here too, is red. Like the Republican primary this year is not a super great predictor of the general election. And so this prediction may be a little bit on the realistic.

Joe Fuld (10:26):

Yeah. But, but again, these are predictions, right? I mean, and 25 out of 27, it's something that we want to make sure that the world doesn't get overconfident. We've seen that mistake happen before. And so this is why we're trying to show you all a wealth of different predictors, because it's important to take a look at all this. And with that, let's take a quick break and we'll be back to talk about some of the wackier ways of predicting the presidency. I think this next segment is super interesting. I can't wait to share these things with you.


Martín Diego Garcia (11:08):

And we're back. So hopefully you get that with us on that first segment about the economic and academic models that help to predict the presidential elections. But now we want to shift gears a little bit because there's also some other less academic and a little bit more fun and eccentric ways of predicting the presidency.

Joe Fuld (11:26):

Yeah. I mean, I'd see these ones that we're about to talk about are much more consumer based, right? So based on consumer behavior, based on what people do in their real world. So I'm excited to share these, you know, consumer based models for predicting the presidency. Yeah. And so the first one is will appeal to anybody who is a football fan, who is a listener with the now Washington Football Team rule. So whether you root for Washington or you root for the team playing against them, you maybe cheering for a different team depending on the way you want the presidential elections to go. So it has been said that if Washington wins their last home game before the election, the incumbent party is predicted to stay in power. So the only time that this weird election prediction has been incorrect was in 2004, when both Washington and John Kerry lost womp womp. But this year Washington's last home game will be against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, October 25th. So tune in if you're a football player and I guess we will just have to wait and see but in 2016, Washington and the Bengals tied at 27-27, which kind of was still the same predictor of what sort of happened,

Joe Fuld (12:43):

Right, I mean, totally, like accurate, interesting how accurate these can be. So the, the other one that I like I'll, I'll jump to the next one is 7-11 cups, right? So this what's so neat about this is though it's unconventional starting on September. I believe it's September 6th, seven 11 gives coffee drinkers, the ability to pick a cup. And what's neat about that is you kind of get to vote. It's like a, it's a national survey, seven 11 drinkers go, they pick a cup and they decide who they want to be present in the United States. Now in 2016, it had been predictive in the past, but in 2016 they included an undecided purple cup. And that was the winner, right? So I will say that's fascinating again, it shows a close election and we'll see what 2020, we don't have those results yet at this recording, but a super neat on the seven 11 cups.

Martín Diego Garcia (13:51):

Right. And to see rent like with people staying home and maybe not visiting their, their local seven 11, as often as they normally do what that actually actually means for, for turn out. Right. so the next one is going to be is, or was a favorite of our listeners with a sweet tooth, which was it's a little more bitter sweet. It's a little bit more bitter sweet this year. You're right. It was originally named the first lady bake off, but obviously with Clinton running in 2016 and thanks to Bill, it is now the presidential cookie poll. And so in the predictor method has been able to correctly predict the presidential election outcome since 1992. So usually the contest is between the two potential first ladies or first spouses. But in 2016, the contest between the Clinton family's, chocolate chip cookie cookie recipe and Melania Trump's star cookies, the predictor was Clinton. What it was going to win in 16. So unfortunately this year cookie poll has been canceled since the magazine running it. The Family Circle has gone defunct and has gone out of print in 2019. Womp womp. Joe, I know you were upset about this

Joe Fuld (15:06):

If I need anything during COVID-19 and as a new cookie recipe, and this is denying me a new cooking recipe, cookie recipe. So if you want to email me or on, you know, go ahead on Twitter, on Facebook or Instagram, show me like a cookie I should be making during this time to make up for the fact that I don't have a new cookie recipe. But also again, I think the fact that Family Circle went defunct could be its own predictor. We will, we will totally see about that.

Martín Diego Garcia (15:36):

Before we go into the next one, right? Like actually, although we won't see whether or not Melania is, does the same start cookie recipe or Jill Biden offers a better cookie recipe. What I do love about Jill Biden is that she says she actually does prefer French fries anyways, over cookies as do I. So like me and Jill are like kindred spirits over here.

Joe Fuld (15:55):

I can go either way with that. I mean, I like my French fries, but I mean also nothing beats a good cookie. So but the next predictor, Martine may just be as spooky as it is wacky, which is Halloween masks, right? The sale of Halloween masks has been a predictor, right, of uh presidential success. I think this is going back to Nixon and in 2016, Trump won this outright. I will be curious again, we don't have the results yet of Halloween masks. Again, how much Halloween will there be this year with COVID-19? So that sort of changes the sample size for this, for sure. So 

Martín Diego Garcia (16:45):

Also, my personal opinion, Trump's face is a little bit scarier. That may have also been a factor in the math. He's a little bit funnier to make fun of.

Joe Fuld (16:56):

But again, like Reagan was a big mask. Right? I mean, so, so like, we'll see, but this is based on consumer behavior and super interesting.

Martín Diego Garcia (17:07):

Yeah. So the next one is a fun one and brings back memories for me is so we all know and love Scholastic, which is the publisher that runs our beloved elementary school book fairs. But you may not have known that they actually do some political polling as well. And so, although most of the students who participate in the Scholastic presidential polls are very, are much too young to actually vote. They are still making their voices heard and voting online for candidates of their choice. So Scholastic has mirrored the outcome of the presidential election since 1940, their prediction has only been wrong twice. The first time was in '48 when the study picked Thomas E Dewey over Truman. And the second time was in 1960 when they chose Nixon over Kennedy. And so,

Joe Fuld (17:52):

But also in 2016, it was wrong to,

Martín Diego Garcia (17:54):

Ah, so, okay. So in 2016, three times they've been wrong. And so the predicament in 2016 was 52% Clinton, 35% Trump. So we will see they have, the polls are open for the 20, 20 Scholastic poll. So if you have a kid or no kid who might want to cast their vote, we will put that link in the episode description. So folks can come join him.

Joe Fuld (18:17):

One of the things I love about the Scholastic poll is that, I think sometimes kids really can understand what is going through their parents' minds and they might be a better predictor than pollsters. So we will see. So the next one Martín is, well, is height, right? So who is the taller candidate? Right? So that has been a huge predictor. There's been academic studies about the, the taller candidate versus the shorter candidate. Again we don't even want to get into bald candidates. We'll just stay away from that. But Donald Trump, you know, measures in at either six, two or six, three in 2016 was the predictor in 2020. He's again, Trump 6'2" 6'3" Biden is six foot. So Trump is the favorite there by height. We'll see what that is.

Martín Diego Garcia (19:16):

Although we'll see that we've recently seen some photos where he has been often in found in a little kitten heel and it was probably made him a little bit taller than he actually is. We know how much he likes to stand through the truth.

Joe Fuld (19:29):

Well, let's, we'll see how it goes. But again, the whole idea is to put all these out there again, if you want to check it, check out there, there is a, there's going to be a separate blog post on the academic models, as well as the wacky ways. It will be up on the website, there'll be updated. So check them, but again, want to put them all out there.

Martín Diego Garcia (19:49):

Yeah. So for our movie buffs out there, you may have heard of this one that the predictor of the best picture winner can help determine who ends up in the white house. And so the way that the prediction goes is if the movie ends the movie that won the best picture ends on a sad note, then the white house will change hands. The 2020 best picture was parasite, which was a doozy. If you haven't seen it in 2016, it was spotlight. So again, without giving away the endings, based on that prediction, it seems like 2020, it should be Biden. And 2016 was a bit unclear if you saw spotlight.

Joe Fuld (20:27):

So our final predictor takes us out of the human world and into the realm of mystical creatures, enter the Chinese mystic monkey, Martín. There is a monkey in China that has correctly predicted the president. They predicted Trump the last time. We have not seen the prediction for 2020 yet by the mystic monkey, but we're waiting for that.

Martín Diego Garcia (20:52):

Yeah. I mean, if anything, it shows that people are very interested in who is going to end up in the white house, every election, right. But we could go on forever here, but we want to hear from you, the listener. Reach out to us on our social media, handles in the description and let us know what your questions are. Or if you have any fun and wacky ones that you pay attention to, to help predict the presidential election. But we will take a break and be right back.


Joe Fuld (21:24):

And we're back. So no matter how conventional or unconventional the methodology is, it's a really interesting and festive way to, to get our heads around the presidential election. And I think again, the most important point to make is make your voice heard, get out and vote. It is just so important. So vote early, early, if you're going to vote absentee, make sure you read through the instructions and really fill out the ballot based on the instructions that you have. If you're going to vote on election day, check where your polling place is, make sure you know where that is. Again, if you're going to vote early, make sure you know, where that early voting place is. They've moved around a lot this year. So dig into that. Lots of information around that, but we just want to make sure you get out and vote. It is important. So Martín tell me that you have a prediction.

Martín Diego Garcia (22:17):

I well let's just say, hold on, let's take a breath before we get there. Let's really recap. Right? What can we learn from some of the methods that we highlighted, Joe?

Joe Fuld (22:28):

First thing is the economy drives a ton of the models and in COVID-19 that is a big factor. Likability is also an important factor, not just like ability of the candidate, but also of the incumbent party. So those are all things to really think about.

Martín Diego Garcia (22:47):

Yeah, I totally agree. Right. I mean, academics, pundits, political consultants, we all spend a ton of time, right. Making predictions on how elections are gonna are going to go, but all ultimately are their predictions any better than flipping a coin or choosing the based on who wins a football game or a cookie recipe. Right. I mean, in 2016 of the wacky ones, they predicted three went for Clinton, four, went for Trump and two were a tie. So I guess we'll just sort of have to wait and see until November to see if any of those wacky models or the academic and more accurate models actually pan out the way that they predict.

Joe Fuld (23:23):

Well, I think the, the, the, what was interesting was the wacky ways were more predictive than the academic ones. Right. And we're going to see how it, how that all works out. Again, I'm just saying about not having the cookies, but that's okay. So Martine, all right. Back to that prediction.

Martín Diego Garcia (23:43):

Sure, sure, sure. Okay. So, I mean, I don't know if this has provoked so much of production as much as I am praying and hoping and doing everything that I can. I am putting all the energy out into the universe that I'm going to hopefully say that we have a Biden Biden presidency in the white house come post-November. I mean, as everybody knows, we are in an unprecedented uncharted time in this country in terms of the conversation around racial justice, around COVID and the pandemic, around how we are just treating each other as humans. And I personally think Trump is fanning those flames and making it worse for us in a lot of these fronts, right? Whether it's the economy, whether it's support for the American public, right, who he has that front of mind is. So, so personally I'm fingers crossed. I'm going to flip a coin and hopefully it lands on Biden, but I am only guy I'm going to hopefully help out by doing day in and day out, making sure that I am registered to vote, that my friends and family are registered to vote and that folks are turning out this November.

Joe Fuld (24:47):

I agreed. We're, we're both Democrats. I care about and work on progressive campaigns and progressive issues. It's what I believe. I really, you know, want Biden to win. We're going to do everything we can, but again, it's really up to the people to get out and vote, to make sure that they're really looking at the information, knowing how to fill out the ballot. And the other thing that I also want to say is beyond the presidential election, I also think that state legislatures, the Congress, the US Senate, all of that is in the balance. Make sure you don't just vote for president of the United States. Make sure you vote all the way down the ballot. That is also really important, but we have a lot of information on our website that digs into the wacky models and the academic models. So check that out. If you have questions for us, you can tweet at us or, you know, shoot us a note at the website, but we wish you luck and we want you to vote safely.

Martín Diego Garcia (25:50):

Absolutely. I think the one great thing about requesting a ballot, right, is I have often gone on election day into the poll and gone down to the bottom of the ballot being like, I guess I didn't do as much research as I thought I did. I don't know what these folks stand for. Right. And so the great thing about whether you live in a state that allows for apps into your mail and ballot, right, is you get that ballot at your house. You can take the time, do a little bit of homework, you know, who's on the ballot, you know what they're running for, look up their stances, see if they agree with you, figuring out what their vision is. Right. And it allows you for that, that ability to be like, I'm not really sure what dog catcher does, or I'm not really sure what the mosquito board does. Right. But I can look at these folks and see who I, who I most align with and want to vote for.

Joe Fuld (26:31):

Absolutely. Well, listen, thank you all for tuning into this special episode on election models, I've learned a lot until next time, this is Joe Fuld,

Martín Diego Garcia (26:43):

And this is Martín Diego Garcia, breaking down how to win a campaign,

Joe Fuld (26:48):

How to Win a Campaign is Joe Fuld, Martín Diego Garcia, Hope Rohrbach, Daniel Lam, Heidi Job, and Elena Veatch. Music by Mike Pinto. Sound editing by The Global Startup Movement. Special thanks to the team at The Campaign Workshop. Please review, like, and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

(Outro Music)