Georgia’s runoff elections are over with the Democrats winning both seats and taking control of the US Senate. These were extremely competitive races in which both incumbents lost. Jon Ossoff beat David Perdue by just over 50 thousand votes, and Rev. Raphael Warnock beat Kelly Loeffler by almost 90 thousand votes.
The traditional pollsters’ results were all over the place. We also made predictions based on social media. Let’s see how they all compare.
The site FiveThirtyEight lists several poll results by different organizations and computes the average of those results (last updated on the morning of January 5). We followed the links and put the results in the table below, along with our results and the actual election results.
In the special election (Warnock, Loeffler), Targoz Market Research was the best, with Odysci second again. For the sake of ranking the polls, we are not considering FiveThirtyEight numbers here because they are weighted averages of several polls.
In both races, Odysci’s social-media-based predictions were consistently accurate, and ended up the best overall, when adding up the errors. Odysci used only social media data and the November 3 election results to predict the outcome, whereas all other polls presented here used the traditional method of asking people directly or over the phone.
Traditional polling methods have been suffering from inaccuracies for a while; certainly the 2016 presidential election was one of the most notable snafus. Pollsters argue that is increasingly difficult to recruit and weigh likely voters, especially in the age of cell phones, when respondents are less likely to answer calls from people they don’t know. In addition, people may lie on purpose to pollsters as a means of rebelling against the intrusion.
Perhaps it is time to rely on different methods to predict election results. Big data and social media are increasingly viable alternatives.
Tom Miller of Northwestern University used data analysis combined with polling to predict Georgia’s runoff election results much better than traditional polls.
Odysci used a simpler approach based on social media data. The estimation starts with the number of votes received by each candidate in the November 3 election, considering all candidates that ran for the Georgia US Senate seats (regular and special elections). Then using these numbers of votes, and the percentage numbers of new fans and followers that each candidate gathered in the last six weeks prior to the election, we predicted the likely percentage of votes that each candidate would receive on election day, January 5. Odysci’s estimation does not use any type of polling. Instead, we rely on supporters expressing their preferences on social media.
Odysci’s models have been tested in Georgia’s runoff elections and in a couple of Brazilian elections before, all with results that were as accurate or better, than traditional polls. Data-driven election prediction is here to stay. The methods are still being developed and tested but the results so far indicate a more accurate future than pollsters can expect with their current methods.
There was a time when polls had a lot of power and were able to sway undecided voters, mostly because people like to be on the winning side. Perhaps their power should be vanquished and anointed to more accurate and representative methods.
The polls are dead, long live social media.