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Friday December 2nd

UNC student launches website to forecast Senate elections

<p>UNC junior Noah Lieberman launched pollinglab.com with the goal of accurately revealing the opinions of Americans leading up to U.S. Senate elections.</p>
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UNC junior Noah Lieberman launched pollinglab.com with the goal of accurately revealing the opinions of Americans leading up to U.S. Senate elections.

Lieberman, an applied math and political science double major, has developed a statistical model to forecast the outcome of the most tightly contested Senate elections.

Using polling data, he estimates each state’s voting tendencies, called fundamentals, to predict election outcomes. The probabilities in each state are then used to predict the final political makeup of the Senate. The model launched online this fall at pollinglab.com.

As of Sunday night, the model predicts that there is a 56.3 percent chance that Democrats will maintain control of the Senate.

Lieberman said he became involved in political forecasting in 2012, his senior year of high school.

“The model itself is pretty new,” Lieberman said. “It really started out as a proof of concept thing, to show that if we had these two poll numbers, we could say with a certain level of confidence that a person was going to win an election.”

He said he has refined the model over time, adding more races in more states.

“There are forecasts for Election Day, and if the election were today, what I’m trying to do most is to explain the logic behind it and the methodology,” he said.

Lieberman has joined a throng of political analysts nationwide trying to predict Election Day results. Public Policy Polling and American Insights are two firms in Raleigh that try to figure out what voters think on a national scale.

“Each poll is a snapshot in time and uses slightly or vastly different methodologies to get its measurement of the population,” said Pearce Godwin, director of American Insights. “A look across the average of all polls on a given topic is more reliable than any one.”

“What polling does is tell us what average people really think, rather than just having D.C. and New York pundits tell us what people think when they’re generally totally out of touch with regular people,” said Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling.

“Without polling, people who live in the political bubble would just think everyone cares about the same things they do when that is generally far from the case.”

Godwin said his firm doesn’t have a political goal.

“Our sole mission is to accurately and objectively discover and reveal the opinions and motivations of Americans through polling,” Godwin said. “Given our passions for this state as natives, we have a particular interest in gaining insights into the sentiments of North Carolinians.”

Lieberman said his model uses pollsters from across the nation. When he inputs poll results, he accounts for the polling firm’s past accuracy, the amount of time that’s passed since the poll was released and its margin of error.

“It comes down to knowing the pollsters and how they function, which then combines with basic statistics to work,” he said.

“I think the great thing with political forecasting is that all you have to do is understand the basic mathematical concepts, and then as a country we can all talk about politics in a much smarter way.”

state@dailytarheel.com



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