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How Election Modeling Works – Washington Post

How America counts the vote — and determines the winner — of an election is now ripe fodder for a host of baseless conspiracy theories that undermine voters’ faith in the democratic process. The 2020 presidential election has given a boost to mistrust in the US electoral system.

There are some reasons why counting the American vote is confusing. We have a decentralized process and different states count different ballots in different ways and at different times, including before, after and on Election Day.

For voters who read and digest election night news, the raw votes reported by traditional news sources can be misleading, depending on how many votes are being reported at any given time, and show that a candidate is in the lead then. another might end up winning.

For all these reasons, The Washington Post is turning to electoral modeling — a complex but powerful mathematical tool — to help us understand how the vote is changing in real time. These models use comprehensive results in a handful of counties and precincts, look at the demographics of those areas, and estimate what voting might look like in similar counties or precincts. As we will explain below, we do not make official race call projections or declare winners based solely on model data.

To provide context as the votes begin to roll in, Voteland’s main fictional news publication – The Voteland Post – has created a statistical model, a set of formulas to estimate the potential election results for each party. during the counting of votes.

The Voteland Post’s electoral model is powered by a variety of data, including regional demographics, household income and education level. The model examines changes in voting results from previous elections and identifies patterns for estimating how other demographically similar locations across Voteland may vote.

In the real world, the Washington Post uses a similar model, developed by leading data scientist Lenny Bronner, to understand an election and estimate the remaining votes to count. The Post primarily uses constituency-level information to power its model. Unfortunately, many states don’t provide these detailed real-time results, which means The Post could fall back on county data — a less accurate option — or skip race modeling altogether.

How Election Modeling Works - Washington Post

Election night at Voteland

Let’s go back to the seven counties of Voteland, where the polls have just closed.

It is important to note that the Purple Party won the last election in the fictional Voteland and The Voteland Post’s model reflects this. The Purples have done this by performing in their stronghold (the rural counties), staying competitive in the suburban areas, and not falling too far behind the Yellows in the cities.

Rural counties are usually the first to complete their count because fewer people live there and there are fewer ballots. With enough votes, the model begins to visualize how voting might go in other counties.

As predicted by the model, Yellow wins the election thanks to its strong lead in the urban counties of this fictional state and Violet’s underperformance statewide.

How Election Modeling Works - Washington Post

How Election Modeling Works - Washington Post

How Election Modeling Works - Washington Post

How Election Modeling Works - Washington Post


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Before officially telling readers who should win, The Posts — in Voteland and Washington — carefully weighs the available data. The Washington Post does not call winners and losers based solely on the electoral model. A team of editors and data experts are evaluating results from The Associated Press, state election commissions and the expected voting pattern to determine when The Post will release predicted race results.

About this story

Editing by Kevin Uhrmacher, Ashlyn Still and Rachel Van Dongen. Copy edited by Brandon Standley.


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.


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