The future based on the past – 2016 Election edition

by Joelle Dahm

The whole world stands in awe as we observe the media spectacle around an election that is still a year away. Elections in the U.S. are not just about who will be president, but also about public humiliations, an always busy news section and estimation games.

FiveThirtyEight jumps on the bandwagon of commercializing the elections again with David Wasserman’s piece “How Demographics Will Shape The 2016 Election.” The piece is based on an interactive by the same site, which shows how swing states might be affected by a change in voter demographics or party affiliation.

The interactive map works by taking data from the 2012 election and looking at support for Mitt Romney versus Barrack Obama by five demographic groups. The groups –adjusted to current demographics – are largely defined as “whites with college degrees, whites without college degrees, African-Americans, Latinos and Asians/others.”

The piece largely relies on previous demographic trends, such as the growing support or acceptance for democrats by young educated white people, and the decline of the older, white republican supporter base.

The interactive map works by extrapolating numbers from the previous elections, while allowing for certain adjustments, such as the voter turnout specifically for black people, which rose drastically as Obama ran for office. On that note, the interactive is ignoring one population that might be key too the outcome of the 2016 elections: female voters.

Extrapolation of data in this specific case might not be the best idea, since it is not based on data related to the current elections, but more on previous demographic trends and party affiliations. Many people do not vote based on party affiliation, but rather on character choice, another element that is missing from this piece.

Polls that reflect the current situation and candidate support could be more valuable. It would be interesting to compare the results of such polls to the trends indicated by FiveThirtyEight, to check the accuracy of their extrapolation data.

While the piece provides interesting insight into past elections, it fails to actually present what the title indicates: How Demographics Will Shape The 2016 Election.


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