The Atlantic

A Math Whiz on How to Stop Stressing About Election Forecasts

An interview with the mathematician Jordan Ellenberg about politics, election forecasting, and how to think about the future like a pro
Source: Chip Somodevilla; Win McNamee / Getty / The Atlantic

Approximately 50 times a day, I visit a handful of presidential election–forecasting websites to remind myself of Joe Biden’s chances of becoming the next president. Honestly, I’m not sure why I do it to myself.

Am I using this information to make up my mind? Please; Election Day is tomorrow, and my mind has been made up for more than 1,450 days. Am I seeking more information to shape my advice to other people? No; I would, in any probabilistic scenario, advise everybody to vote, specifically for the person endorsed by my employer. Am I trying to calibrate the anxiety I should feel, right now, about an event over which I have almost no control? Yep, that sounds right.

And yet, when the results are in, I won’t have any way of knowing if the forecasts were a useful guide for my anxiety. For instance, the smartest modelers out there say Biden has roughly a 90 percent chance of winning the presidential election. If Biden wins, it won’t necessarily

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