1131: Math

(Difference between revisions)
Jump to: navigation, search

 Math Title text: As of this writing, the only thing that's 'razor-thin' or 'too close to call' is the gap between the consensus poll forecast and the result.

Explanation

In another election-themed comic (this one posted the day after the 2012 U.S. presidential election (see 1122: Electoral Precedent, 1127: Congress, and 1130: Poll Watching), this comic shows a bar graph representing expected (see note below) electoral college votes in the election, including a dotted line indicating the 270 votes needed to win, a span of projections ("Forecast"), and the actual result.

The forecast range is above the 270 line, showing that Obama (the 'Blue Candidate' according to a convention used since the 2000 election) was always projected to win by statisticians like Nate Silver and others. The only question among these people was how much he was going to win by.

By contrast, most of the media was calling the election too close to call, with some news outlets actually projecting a Romney win. Essentially the combined pressures of right wing self referencing media denial, the large number of republican pundits, the tendency of media to give any issue two dramatically or fictionally equal voices (for supposed "fairness") regardless of the relative merits of the two sides, and the desire to present the election as a suspenseful "horse race" resulted in a lot of talking heads disbelieving the polls. These factors shaped the "too close to call" narrative, leading to the punch line of this story. You don't need to believe in science or statistics for it to effectively describe or predict reality. The progressively more radicalized republicans of this era are known for disregarding scientific or statistical consensus which reflects reality but does not conform to their world view.

For those unfamiliar with the US Presidential electoral process: unlike other political offices, the election for president is not a direct election. Instead, each state is apportioned a certain number of "electoral college" votes based on population. For the most part (and there is perennial discussion on whether this should be changed) the candidate that receives the most votes in a given state receives all the electoral college votes for that state. With 538 electoral votes total, receiving 270 electoral college votes ((half of 538) + 1) is sufficient to be declared president-elect. For this reason, sometimes one candidate actually receive more "popular" votes (more people voted for the candidate) but have fewer electoral college votes. This happened with the election of John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, and George W. Bush in 2000.

The electoral college votes are expectations until the official voting in early November.

Transcript

Heading: Math
[Bar chart showing 58% blue and 42% red. Header showing range between 53-63% with heading "Forecast". Arrow below pointing at meeting of blue and red sections of graph with heading "Result"]
Caption: Breaking: To surprise of pundits, numbers continue to be best system for determining which of two things is larger.

Discussion

I really like the term "dramatically equal." - Kieran

Sorry, I don't know how to upload the correct image. - Artod

Picture downloaded from xkcd, uploaded to the wiki with the correct license and "xkcd" added to the filename as a prefix, then filename changed in page source to correct image. Hope this helps in the future! - Coombeseh (talk) 10:36, 7 November 2012 (UTC)
Can somebody please explain further? I guess the joke is about the forecast? thank you --89.144.192.97 14:17, 7 November 2012 (UTC)

Randall's on the nose again. This is why I just turned off all media yesterday, especially toward the end of the evening. Unless you're up for contrived suspense, it's really just tediousness lived through: barely five minutes of "news" per hour, the remaining "empty" time filled with the drone of talking heads waxing obnoxious about irrelevancies. This morning, the results are in, and I'm no worse for not having endured the conjectural drivel... -- IronyChef (talk) 15:25, 7 November 2012 (UTC)

As a note, the title text is referring to the consensus polls, including those at fivethirtyeight.com, which were referred to in the previous episode. Another interpretation of the "numbers" comment is that the predictions based on polling numbers and proper statistical analyses of those, rather than mere punditry and opinion, were always the best predictors of what was going to happen in this election. So not only could numbers retroactively tell us who won (based on actual votes) but numbers when used as individual data points with variance and sample sizes, and combined into an aggregate, were far more effective in telling us prospectively who was going to win. 128.104.149.65 18:11, 7 November 2012 (UTC)

Numbers continue to be best system for determining? -- 204.191.29.154 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Yes and no. In news stories (see newspaper headlines for an example), this is a typical format. You didn't notice the "To surprise of pundits" part that came first? 76.122.5.96 00:57, 8 November 2012 (UTC)
I believe the previous entry was addressing the missing article "the" in the caption. mwburden 16:17, 4 December 2012 (UTC)
So was the answer. The caption, like many news headlines, omits the articles. "To [the] surprise of pundits, numbers continue to be [the] best system..." 72.169.224.103 15:45, 5 December 2012 (UTC)

For more critical relevance, he texted along these lines yesterday to one of the more prominent non-Nate Silver analysts, Prof. Sam Wang of the Princeton Election Consortium -- 70.167.158.178 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I wish Randall had made the bar 538 pixels wide (it's only 400ish). - Frankie (talk) 11:52, 9 November 2012 (UTC)

Tools

It seems you are using noscript, which is stopping our project wonderful ads from working. Explain xkcd uses ads to pay for bandwidth, and we manually approve all our advertisers, and our ads are restricted to unobtrusive images and slow animated GIFs. If you found this site helpful, please consider whitelisting us.

Want to advertise with us, or donate to us with Paypal?