A New Way to Game Out the Election

Reuters’ new election tool is fun, but don’t take it too seriously.

Reuters has a new Electoral College calculator that you can use as a supplement to the cruder 270toWin. What’s particularly nice about it is that it allows you to play around with different turnout models. The default is set at 60% turnout overall, with Minority turnout set at 43%, African-American women at 59% and White men at 69%. This currently gives Clinton a projected better than 95% chance of winning by an average of 108 electoral votes.

But you can turn the dials any way that you want. You can even see what would happen if only white men could vote, or if the electorate was made up only of women. More useful is to play around with actual (somewhat) plausible scenarios to see how they might affect the outcome. For example, jacking hispanic turnout from an anticipated 30% to a more ambitious 45% has less of an impact than I expected. Clinton still has a better than 95% chance of winning, but her average margin of victory only goes up to 112 votes. Likewise, keeping everything else the same and boosting while male turnout from 69% to 85% doesn’t budge Clinton’s 95-plus chance of winning and only reduces her expected margin of victory to 98 votes. And if I boost white male turnout to 100%, Clinton still has a better than 95% chance of winning but her margin is down to 86 electoral votes.

Below you can see the result if whites (men and women) had 100% turnout:


Before you reach too many conclusions from this, let me share how the polling input is done.

Reuters’s simulator depends on the accuracy of Ipsos’s weekly tracking poll. It is unwise to rely on any single survey to analyze the state of the race—polling averages provide a more comprehensive picture—but the new tool does help capture the historical arc of demographic change. FiveThirtyEight gave Ipsos an “A-” in its most recent rating of pollsters—strong by the news organization’s standards. What’s more, the firm also expanded its weekly sample size about sixfold to allow Reuters users to cut up respondents’ demographic data by sex, race and ethnicity, income range, age, and party affiliation.

“At 15,000, [the sample size] gives us basically state-level data for all the key battleground states,” says Reg Chua, Reuters’s executive editor of editorial operations, data, and innovation. “There are, of course, state-level polls being done, but this gives us a continuously tracking, single-methodology poll all the way through the election. When we start aggregating weeks, it gives us state-level data for pretty much all the states.”

So, it’s not a terrible tool but not one you can rely on too much for the top-line polling. It’s better for looking at some of the other data, like how income and gender are shaking out and how turnout can change the outcome in certain states. All the polls use some kind of turnout model that makes these kinds of assumptions. Clinton has such a strong lead at the moment that the results aren’t very sensitive to dial-turning of the turnout model, but that could change.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.