posted by avenger in Politics

The Rise of the Poll Quants (or, Why Sam Wang Might Eat a Bug)

November 6, 2012

If you watched Meet the Press this past weekend, you learned that the presidential election was “statistically tied” and could be a “photo finish.” The Associated Press predicted a “nail biter.” The Philadelphia Inquirer threw up its hands, saying the vote was just “too close to call.”

Sam Wang begs to differ. By day, Wang is a neuroscientist at Princeton University, where his lab uses lasers to monitor the chemical signals of cells in the cerebellum. He co-wrote a recent paper that found that mathematics and science majors are more likely than humanities students to have a sibling on the autism spectrum.

But in the evenings, after his wife and 5-year-old daughter are in bed, the 45-year-old turns his attention to polls. Since 2004, Wang has used his considerable data-crunching chops to forecast elections, publishing his results on Princeton Election Consortium, a very popular blog with an extremely dull name. He expects to log around one million hits on Election Day alone.

His posts are engaging and often droll, but it’s the numbers that are the real draw. Wang, as I write this, believes that President Obama has a 99.8-percent chance of winning the election. No need for nail biting.

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