Students Predict Who Will be the Next President

Sheldon Jacobson

Working with undergraduate Computer Science students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Election Analytics provides a nonpartisan, easy to use website for anyone seeking an unbiased interpretation of polling data for the 2016 Presidential and Senate elections.

Launched in 2008, http://electionanalytics.cs.illinois.edu represents a STEM learning laboratory for these students. They experiment with new ways to present data, participate in the interface design, and analyze the data for posting, all of which showcase their creativity. The website went through several facelifts since its launch in 2008, including a number of interface upgrades, the addition of new descriptive analytics, functionality to measure the impact of third party candidates, options to exclude certain pollsters, provide various left or right leaning bias scenarios for undecided voters, and adding a prediction for which party will control the Senate. The students update the website daily, as new polling data becomes available.

With dozens of websites available to interpret the state of this year’s election, why offer yet another outlet for disseminating such information? The answer lies with STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).  Independent of the election, the Election Analytics website permits students to work on a real-world project with immediate response. Is this not one of the roles of STEM education, to transform technical ideas into practical tools for the benefit of society? 

The Election Analytics web site may indeed provide an accurate snapshot of who will win the White House and control the Senate in November; its track record since 2008 compares very favorably to other websites. However, the students involved in designing and maintaining the Election Analytics website are the real winners. Election Analytics is an activity that will launch their STEM learning in ways that makes a difference, far beyond this year’s election.         

Sheldon H. Jacobson is professor and director of the Simulation and Optimization Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Visit his website for more on his work.

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