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Entries in Nate Silver (3)


The Pseudo-Science of Bracketology

Bracketology, the process of picking the winners in the NCAA men's and women's national basketball tournaments, has attracted a lot of scientific attention — and a lot of dubious science.

University of Maryland quantum computing students have created a sophisticated, hard-to-fathom bracketology system that boils down to using a ytterbium ion like a coin flip to pick winners. Its ion coin flips predict the University of Pittsburgh, the eighth seed in the Eastern regional, to win the Big Dance. Unfortunately for the Panthers, they lost their first tournament game to ninth-seeded Wichita State.

Nate Silver, the legendary numbers cruncher in the world of politics, predicts Louisville has the highest probability of any of the 68 teams in the tournament to win at 22.7 percent. Indiana is next at 19.6 percent, followed by Florida at 12.7 percent, Kansas 7.5 percent and Number 1-ranked Gonzaga at 6.1 percent.

Silver has street cred because last year he predicted Kentucky would win the Big Dance — along with just about everybody else who follows college basketball and noticed the starting five were likely to be top picks in the NBA draft.

Because March Madness is a major national distraction that saps productivity from America's offices and factories, marketers sniff an opportunity. A number of brands have created their own bracketology to engage consumers. One investment analyst compared picking stocks to picking NCAA tournament winners, which may not have been the best of ideas.

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The Final Poll, Before More Polls

Polling in this presidential contest has shown Barack Obama and Mitt Romney tied up more often than Houdini. 

Tuesday will bring the only poll that counts, and for many citizens not a moment too soon.

The zigzagging polls may have reflected the ups and downs of the Obama and Romney candidacies this fall. They also may have been hopeful interpretations of a margin of error or varying calculations of likely voters.

Whatever, in its final pre-election tracking poll, The Washington Post and ABC reported a slight 50-47 Obama lead over Romney, which could be the combined product of Romney's campaign peaking too soon and Hurricane Sandy thrusting President Obama into a national leadership role.

Nate Silver, who writes a blog for The New York Times about polls, suggested Obama heads into Tuesday with a "very modest lead."  But Silver noted that of the 12 national polls published over the weekend, three called the race dead even.

As the polls on the popular vote tightened in the last few weeks, attention turned with a vengeance to speculation over the Electoral College, which many today view as an Eighteenth Century relic and a 21st Century calamity-waiting-to-happen.

Pundits wondered endlessly about whether one candidate winning the popular vote and the other the necessary 270 electoral votes to claim the presidency — a vagary that has occurred before in American history. More angst was spilled on the prospect — which colored interactive maps illustrated — of the candidates winding up with an Electoral College tie, throwing the election to the GOP-controlled House.

What may be more useful to explore after the election is settled — Tuesday night, Wednesday or whenever — is how Americans wound up voting. We already have a clear picture of the stark divide between red and blue states, but what other schisms will the election bear out?

Pre-election polling indicates Obama enjoys stronger support from women than Romney, while the reverse is true for male voters. Obama does better with minorities; Romney does best with whites.

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Online Research Works If Done Right

When conducted correctly, online research can accurately collect opinions among voters, the general population and consumers.

Recently, New York Times reporter Nate Silver took to task an online voter survey conducted in South Carolina. Before Citing a Poll, Read the Fine Print.

Yes, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) is an appropriate cautionary note for any research. But what factors should decision-makers look for to determine if an online survey is valid or not.

CFM has found the following are key elements to conducting successful and accurate online studies.

  • Cast a wide net for emails. For general population surveys we collect emails addresses from a variety of valid sources, such as e-billing, e-newsletters, website registrations and existing online panels. Using multiple sources for email addresses makes the final email list representative of the community.
  • Diversify sources. If appropriate, use several online panels for community surveys. Each panel has its strengths and weaknesses. Using several sources helps avoid potential biases inherent in all commercial panels.

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