RSOs prepare to inform students for Election Day using UI professor’s election prediction site

Several resources on campus aim to prepare students for the nationwide vote Nov. 6.

New and experienced voters alike can become more informed about the happenings in Washington, keep track of online polls, and participate in several political events of their choosing.

Two registered student organizations gearing up for the big day are the Illini Democrats and the Illini Republicans.

“The main thing is to engage young voters and obviously to make sure that they turn out to vote,” said Shana Harrison, senior in LAS and president of the Illini Democrats.

Along with educating students about the Democratic Party, the organization has several events lined up this fall focused on registering voters and making sure that they follow through on Election Day.

“We’re going to try to register 12,000 voters,” Harrison said, “That’s our goal because the more that we have registered voters, the more people can actually turn out and voice their opinion, which is a huge thing for us.”

Further, Harrison emphasized the importance of students’ registering to vote here in town rather than in their hometown; this ties together the community and forms a political, campus-based bond.

“We just want students to be active and care about their community,” she stressed. “At your time at U of I, this is your home, and so it’s important to be engaged and care about what happens in Champaign-Urbana.”

On the other end of the spectrum, the Illini Republicans have a

similar goal, but with a different set of ideals.

“(It’s) our goal as Illini Republicans to remind college students that there is an alternative to President Obama and his failed hope and change and that Gov. Romney and Congressman Ryan … as the Republican candidates are the alternative,” said Despina Batson, senior in LAS and president of the Illini Republicans.

Batson and the rest of the group’s members aim for a change in policy in Washington that begins here on campus.

This change, she said, starts with getting involved, getting registered and voicing opinions.

“There’ll be many, many, many volunteer opportunities for students to get involved right here on campus,” she said. “One of our resume-building opportunities is a program called Illinois Victory … and it basically concentrates on phone banking as well as walking precincts (which aim to educate) the voters on the Republican candidates.”

As the Aug. 27 kickoff of the Republican National Convention draws closer, Batson aims to “hit the ground running from Day One,” beginning on Quad Day by campaigning and rallying students.

As the ideological battle continues to unfold between liberals and conservatives, nationwide polls document every clash of opinion, every change in viewpoint and every political shift between red and blue.

To display each continuous poll-based change, computer science professor Sheldon Jacobson created the “2012 Election Analytics website.”:

He and his team of five students have been working on this project since the end of 2011.

“I work in a field called operations research, which is advanced analytics, and this combines the variety of methodologies (that are) considered to be very accurate forecasts of the election,” Jacobson said.

The Election Analytics website pieces together data from several polls around the country, not only to show Americans’ ideological trends state-by-state but also ultimately to predict who will win the 2012 election.

“(We use) a method called Bayesian statistics to actually compute the probability that each of the candidates will win each of the states, and then we do something called dynamic programming, which enables us to build the entire distribution through the country for each of the candidates,” Jacobson explained.

In 2008, he and his colleagues created a similar Election Analytics website, which correctly predicted the winning presidential candidate.

Using a similar but updated means of analysis and statistics, Jacobson and his team have gone on to create this year’s website, which now includes probabilities within the Senate, providing another layer of analysis.

The senior project adviser of the website is graduate student Jason Sauppe.

He oversees the other students and manages the processes that enable the website to function.

“We take whatever the polls are predicting. We don’t try to base our judgment on economic factors or anything like that,” Sauppe said.

“We just say, ‘What do the numbers show us? What were the previous results for these particular states in the last presidential election?’ And using just that information, we plug it into our model, and it charts out the data.”

Because each newsworthy political event reflects itself in the polls, the numbers are constantly changing. This means that Jacobson’s team must update the data constantly to get the most up-to-date information.

“The other thing to note is that we’re completely nonpartisan. We are neither for, nor against, either of the candidates,” Jacobson said.

“We simply crunch the numbers, review the … analysis and record the results, and we allow other people to draw their own conclusions.”