More Guesstimating Election 2012

Lawrence Weinstein’s new book, Guesstimation 2.0: Solving Today’s Problems on the Back of a Napkin, shows how to estimate everything from how closely you can orbit a neutron star without being pulled apart by gravity, to the fuel used to transport your food from the farm to the store, to the total length of all toilet paper used in the United States — handy tips for anyone prepping for a job interview in technology or finance, or trying to astound their kids. Today he offers the next in his series of election-themed problems. Read on to see how to estimate an answer to  How many telephone robo-calls will be made during the campaign season? 


 

Question: How many telephone robo-calls will be made during the campaign season?

 

Answer: We could try to estimate this by considering each state individually, looking at the competitiveness of its elections in both the primary and the general election and considering the number of candidates running in each election. Voters in very competitive states would receive dozens of robo-calls and voters in other states would receive very few.  We could further break this down by estimating the proportion of households with land lines and with cell phones.  However, this is much too much work.

 

Instead let’s estimate that each household receives more than one and less than 100 robo-calls.  Taking the geometric mean, this gives 10 robo-calls per household.  The population of the US is about people giving about 108 households.  At 10 calls per household, this gives

N=(10^8 households) (10 calls/household)

=10^9 calls

of one billion robo-calls.  That seems like a lot.

 

At a mere ten seconds wasted per call, that is 1010 wasted seconds or 300 wasted years of our time!

 

Copyright 2012, Lawrence Weinstein.

 

Lawrence Weinstein is University Professor of Physics at Old Dominion University. He is the coauthor of Guesstimation: Solving the World’s Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin (Princeton).


Is it fair to judge a book by its cover (or its title, even?)

A tremendous amount of effort goes into picking book titles, designing jackets, and crafting back-cover blurbs, and while we come close, no publisher hits the mark 100% of the time. Here is Andrew Gelman at The Browser on the title of his book, Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State:

I regret the title I gave my book. I was too greedy. I wanted it to be an airport bestseller because I figured there were millions of people who are interested in politics and some subset of them are always looking at the statistics. It’s got a very grabby title and as a result people underestimated the content. They thought it was a popularisation of my work, or, at best, an expansion of an article we’d written. But it had tons of original material. If I’d given it a more serious, political science-y title, then all sorts of people would have wanted to read it, because they would have felt they needed to know all the important secrets in it. Instead, I gave it this accessible title which meant that people felt that they didn’t necessarily have to read it. I also regret not putting more about the process of discovery in that book, how we found out what we found out.

As for what other titles might have worked better in hindsight, Gelman has a few ideas:

Maybe something like Voting by the Numbers or The Hidden Patterns or Secret Life of the American Voter, something like that. Or something very dry, that conveyed it was serious, like Demography, Geography and American Voting.

I happen to love the title and the playful cover of Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State, but perhaps I am biased. I have the luxury of already knowing that the book contains unparalleled data and analysis on voting patterns across socioeconomic class, political party affiliation, demographics, religious attendance, gender, state of residence, and countless other useful tidbits. What do you think? Have you ever had the experience of picking up a book because of the cover only to discover it was completely not what you thought after all?

Guesstimating Election 2012

Lawrence Weinstein’s forthcoming book, Guesstimation 2.0: Solving Today’s Problems on the Back of a Napkin, shows how to estimate everything from how closely you can orbit a neutron star without being pulled apart by gravity, to the fuel used to transport your food from the farm to the store, to the total length of all toilet paper used in the United States — handy tips for anyone prepping for a job interview in technology or finance, or trying to astound their kids. Today he offers an election-themed problem, with several more installments to come over the course of the summer. Read on to see how to estimate an answer to the burning question How many words will be spoken in public by all the presidential candidates during election season. You know you’re curious…

 


 

Question: How many words will be spoken in public by all of the presidential candidates during the election season?

 

Answer: In order to estimate this, we need to estimate the length of the election season, the number of candidates speaking, and the number of words that speak in public each day.  While it feels like the election season lasts forever, it is really only about a year.  Similarly, despite the fact that each of the primary debates appeared to have 17.3 candidates on stage, the average number of candidates during the primary season was only about five or six and there will be only two candidates during the general election.

Therefore we will estimate that there are five candidates for the 200-day primary season and two candidates for the 200-day general election season for a total of 103 candidate-days.

Now we need to estimate the number of words spoken in public per candidate per day.  Let’s break this down further into the hours spent speaking and the number of words per hour.  We can estimate the speaking time in two ways.  First we can bound a candidate’s public speaking time at more than one and less than ten hours per day.  Taking the geometric mean, we estimate that each candidate spends three hours per day addressing the public.   Alternatively, we know that candidates divide their waking time between fund raising, traveling, organizing, and speaking publically.  Assuming that they sleep 8 hours and divide the remaining time equally, this gives four hours per day for public speaking.  Some candidates might even spend some of their time listening.  If so, they will spend three hours per day in public speaking.

Speaking speed can be estimated a few ways.  We can listen to a speech and measure it, we can take our reading speed and divide by a factor of several, we can look at the transcript of speech, or we can bound it.  Let’s do the last method.  People speak more than 10 words per minute and less than 103.  Taking the geometric mean, we get 102 words per minute.  This makes sense because it is several times slower than typical reading speeds and it is faster than all but the fastest typing speeds.

Now the number of words uttered in public during the campaign can be calculated as

N = (10^3 candidate-day)(3 hr/day)(60 min/hr)(10^2 words/min)
= 2 x 10^7 words

That is 20 million words or enough to fill several hundred books.

 

Copyright 2012, Lawrence Weinstein.

 

Lawrence Weinstein is University Professor of Physics at Old Dominion University. He is the coauthor of Guesstimation: Solving the World’s Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin (Princeton).

Check your References — the Electoral College

As part of Election 101, we are posting exclusive content from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History on subjects related to Election 2012.

What is the purpose of the electoral college? How did it come into existence? These are questions answered Matthew Bowman in this article that touches on the thorny math issues behind our elections.

Multiple measures have been proposed to more closely align the Electoral College with the popular vote. One of the more commonly mentioned solutions is proportional representation; that is, rather than the winner of the presidential election in each state taking all that state’s electoral votes, the state would distribute those votes in proportion to the election results. Such a reform would almost certainly enhance the chances of third parties to gain electoral votes. However, since the Constitution requires a majority of the Electoral College for victory, this solution would most likely throw many more presidential elections to the House of Representatives. For instance, under this system the elections of 1912, 1968, and 1992 would all have been decided by the House. Thus, proportional representation would undo two of the Framers’ wishes, tying the presidency not only closer to the general public but perhaps unintentionally to Congress as well. The Colorado electorate rejected a state constitutional amendment for proportional representation in 2004.

Read the complete article here: http://blog.press.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/2By-the-Numbers.Electoral-College.pdf

 

The preceding is an excerpt from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History, edited by Michael Kazin, Rebecca Edwards, and Adam Rothman. To learn more about this book, please visit http://press.princeton.edu. Copyright © 2011 by Princeton University Press. No part of this text may be distributed, posted, or reproduced in any form by digital or mechanical means without prior written permission of the publisher.

Voting patterns of America’s whites, from the masses to the elites — a guest post from Andrew Gelman

Andrew Gelman, author of Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State is well known for analyzing data and crunching numbers to reveal the truth beneath the hype. In this guest post, he provides some graphs comparing data from the last three elections and explains what this tells us about voting patterns among different education and income groups.

Voting patterns of America’s whites by Andrew Gelman

 

Download this image as a PDF.

Within any education category, richer people vote more Republican. In contrast, the pattern of education and voting is nonlinear. High school graduates are more Republican than non-HS grads, but after that, the groups with more education tend to vote more Democratic. At the very highest education level tabulated in the survey, voters with post-graduate degrees lean toward the Democrats. Except for the rich post-graduates; they are split 50-50 between the parties.

What does this say about America’s elites? If you define elites as high-income non-Hispanic whites, the elites vote strongly Republican. If you define elites as college-educated high-income whites, they vote moderately Republican.

There is no plausible way based on these data in which elites can be considered a Democratic voting bloc. To create a group of strongly Democratic-leaning elite whites using these graphs, you would need to consider only postgraduates (no simple college grads included, even if they have achieved social and financial success), and you have to go down to the below-$75,000 level of family income, which hardly seems like the American elites to me.

The patterns are consistent for all three of the past presidential elections. (The differences in the higher-income low-education category should not be taken seriously, as the estimates are based on small samples, as can be seen from the large standard errors for those subgroups.)

Notes: These graphs show just (non-Hispanic) white voters because (a) most voters are white, (b) minorities tend to vote consistently for Democrats, so there’s less variation in their voting patterns, and (c) sample sizes are smaller for nonwhite groups so it’s hard to see clear patterns amid the noise. Data come from Annenberg pre-election polls for 2000 and 2004 and Pew pre-election polls for 2008; total number of non-Hispanic white respondents: 26161, 36476, and 15212. Graphs show intended vote in presidential election, including only those who expressed a preference for the Democratic or Republican candidate. Income categories are defined as family income Yair Ghitza.

Click here to download the graphs as a PDF.