Political site FiveThirtyEight looks at polls, statistics


The political website FiveThirtyEight provides an innovative look at political forecasting and also supplies useful information about candidates and political districts.

The site FiveThirtyEight.com was active during the 2008 campaign season. Now it is a feature of the New York Times and can be accessed at fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com. The name comes from from the number of electors in the United States electoral college.

FiveThirtyEight uses a variety of methods to arrive at its results, including polls, where polls are weighted by several factors including recency, sample size, and the polling firm’s track record. Some polls are considered so unreliable that they are not included. The weighted polls results are adjusted by several factors, including a trendline adjustment and likely voter adjustment.

The data is further adjusted by factors such as the state’s Partisan Voting Index, individual monetary contributions received, and “a variable representing stature, based on the highest elected office that the candidate has held.”

There are additional steps in the analysis. Finally, the FiveThirtyEight procedures uses simulation, where various factors are considered randomly over a large number of trials.

When FiveThirtyEight reports its results, it also calculates the probability that a candidate will win the election. It might forecast, for example, that a candidate will finish with 55 percent of the vote, with the probability of winning at 85 percent. Winning, of course, means that the candidate gets at least one more vote than the closest opponent — no margin of victory is implied in the probability.

The site is also a useful repository of information such as voting record in selected issues, campaign finance, district demographics, and previous election results.

The FiveThirtyEight site doesn’t say this, but we can easily surmise that the lead that some candidates currently enjoy is the result of not only the policy positions of the candidate and the political landscape of the district, but importantly the product of the campaign the candidates have waged so far. Candidates with leads need to realize this and keep up their efforts.

FiveThirtyEight forecasts for Kansas

In Kansas, here are the results FiveThirtyEight forecasts:

For United States Senate: Democrat Lisa Johnston 31.2 percent; Republican Jerry Moran 66.2 percent. The probability of a Moran win is 100 percent. This forecast has held steady over time.

For Kansas Governor: Republican Sam Brownback 60.5 percent; Democrat Tom Holland 37.6 percent. Probability of a Brownback victory is 99.9 percent. The vote difference has been narrowing very slightly, but the probability of a Brownback win is still overwhelming.

For U.S. Congress, District 1: Republican Tim Huelskamp 72.7 percent; Democrat Alan Jilka 24.5 percent. Probability of a Huelskamp win is 100 percent.

For U.S. Congress, District 2: Democrat Cheryl Hudspeth 35.6 percent; Incumbent Republican Lynn Jenkins 62.8 percent. Probability of a Jenkins win is 100 percent.

For U.S. Congress, District 3: Democrat Stephene Moore 42.5 percent; Republican Kevin Yoder 55.0 percent. Probability of a Yoder victory is 92.7 percent. This is the only Kansas Congressional district that is remotely competitive, described as “leaning Republican.” Yoder’s margin has been increasing very slightly.

For U.S. Congress, District 4: Democrat Raj Goyle 36.5 percent; Republican Mike Pompeo 61.0 percent. Probability of a Pompeo victory is 99.9 percent. Pompeo’s lead over Goyle has been growing since the September 17th version of the model for this contest. These results don’t include the SurveyUSA poll of just a few days ago, which showed Pompeo’s lead over Goyle widening.


5 responses to “Political site FiveThirtyEight looks at polls, statistics”

  1. sue c.

    Thanks for the information, Bob. It is always great to see some new places for political information. Lord knows we are unable to use the Liberal Wichita Eagle for our information. (Can I say that? :)

  2. Wendy

    Fascinating Website! Now we need the same analysis of each of the state and local races.

  3. Wichitator

    In the past, the eagle has been filled with poll stories and information about campaign finances. There has been very few of these stories about campaign finance. I expected to read about candidate fund raising prior to the primary, but there wasn’t much.

    Two years ago, there seemed to be more at the local level. The irony, is that the national coverage was almost non existent as the Obama campaign operated without the federal funding that has been in place since the 1970s. In fact, their funding from small credit card donations was impossible to track. It goes along with the voter intimidation that occurred in Philadelphia and the on going effort to promote left wing vote fraud through Acorn and union related “voter registration” entities that are corrupting the election process.

  4. Ann H.

    FiveThirtyEight is an interesting site I visit relatively frequently. It is run by a liberal, Nate Silver, who is a professed supporter of the Democrats and President Obama. Reading his posts I can tell he personally hopes for good outcomes for Democrats, but in his analysis of the polls and the races he does a good job trying to be non-partisan and objective, and so FiveThirtyEight is therefore a liberal site I can tolerate reading. I read mostly right-wing blogs, but in doing that, there is a danger of closing oneself in an echo-chamber, where in reading only conservative writers and commenters, a person could definitely overestimate the size of the conservative mood and enthusiasm. At FiveThirtyEight there is no hopeful conservative bent, so it provides a reality check for me whenever I get too hopeful about conservative chances next month.

  5. Sam Sneed

    Ann H.

    Interesting take on the echo chamber. I was in law school in CA when proposition 8 was decided. The Friday after the election I went to lunch with a fellow student who was from the state of Oregon. He told me, without getting into the details of where he stood on the issue, that he was blown away that Prop 8 passed. He then went on to describe his situation as being in a complete bubble. He was a law student away from home where all of his associations were all law students or other younger people. He thought for sure it would fail because he only knew like two people, I was one, who favored Prop 8. He realized that his sense of understanding of the political climate was completely skewed by his limited surroundings.

    I think that is the same with most of us who have a political lean and yet do not want to read, listen, or even discuss with others varying view points about politics.

    Let us not get stuck in our own bubble, especially when it pops.

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