Monday, November 3, 2008

Capturing the Teaching Moment: Predicting Election Results – part 1

What I would do on Monday (11/3/08): As you all know today is the day before Americans elect the next president of the United States. If I was a teacher in a classroom today, I would assign the following homework:
Students: I would like you to make a prediction about who will win the presidency and by how many percentage points. Write up your rationale for your prediction. On Wednesday, we’ll analyze your data and see who came up with the "best" prediction.
I suppose one “easy” way that a student may do this would be to go to a website like this one and see what the pundits are predicting. From the current (3:15pm 11/3/08) graph it is clear that Obama is the favorite to win. The 311 electoral votes predicted would top the required 270 votes necessary. So predicting Obama’s victory appears to be a safe bet. But what about the point spread? If you click on the map above you will go the website where the actual map is. If you hover the mouse over the map you get a state by state prediction of the point spread. But where do these numbers come from? If you notice there is a link on the left side and just below the map (above) that answers the question. Since I don’t have a class to work with today, I’m hoping that you might be willing to play along with me and send in your prediction with a rationale for the number of points you chose. (I’m using Google Docs Spreadsheet for this activity.) Go to questionnaire and post your entries. There is only a small window on the entry form so you might want to write out your response elsewhere and then copy and paste in the form. I’ll be back on Wednesday with an analysis and an explanation of how this exercise can illuminate important math ideas.