The election is over but in some classes students have been working for months trying to use what they learned to make sense of the result, and what led to it.
Take the data-driven course on election analytics taught by Professor of Government Ryan Enos, for example. Students spent the semester studying past elections to make predictions about the outcome for 2020. They posted their forecasts on a GitHub site throughout the weeks leading to the election. The students got the winner right but the margin wrong by 39 electoral votes. In upcoming weeks, they will delve into what they got wrong.
“A forecaster must determine the most probable outcome and clearly communicate the uncertainty surrounding their prediction,” said Kayla Manning ’22, a joint concentrator in statistics and government. The course crystalized the old adage that all models are wrong, but some are useful. She said the class will examine other models to better understand what factors influence election outcomes. “Voters determine election outcomes, so other variables associated with election outcomes can reveal voters’ [true] values,” Manning said.
The course is one of several Department of Government classes this fall that have been educating students about what has been an unprecedented and bitter election. Beyond how and why elections are won, classes studied the numbers game involved in polling and votes as well as how the electoral system evolved.
In Associate Professor Jon Rogowski’s course on American presidential elections, sophomore Grant Schwartz, an economics concentrator, gained historical context to help apply fundamentals and theories, such as why particular behaviors are incentivized on campaigns and the history of absentee ballots (which goes back to the Civil War).
“It allowed me to think about issues more critically,” Schwartz said. “We talked a lot about how the electoral system is set up, the rules of the game, why the Electoral College is the way it is, which obviously gives you a lot of context into how campaigns need to win 270,” he said.
Schwartz’s classmate Jing-Jing Shen ’23 agreed.
“The American presidential election is a sustained journey,” said Shen, a chemistry and government concentrator. “From achieving the party’s nomination to meeting people where they are and mobilizing voters through strategic outreach, the road to the presidency is a long one. Nonetheless, the impacts of elections on the future of the country and our democracy can be long-lasting.”