# Tag: applied statistics

## Three Ways Statistics Impact Elections

125: that is the number of days until US Election Day, 2024. On November 5, the 47th president of the United States will be decided. So while campaigns are in full swing, and pollsters are making predictions, this blog focuses on the role of statistics in the election process.

At their most basic, elections allow citizens to exercise representative democracy by selecting individuals to occupy public office. Those selected then make critical decisions that impact citizens. And these ballots that officials tally are then transformed into statistical data, ultimately determining the election’s result.

However, statistics play a part in the election process long before voters cast their ballots. That is, officials use statistics to forecast election results, inform campaign strategy, and micro-target individuals.

An understanding of how statistics are used in elections, then, can enhance transparency for voters, as well as encourage all citizens to advocate for data privacy and security. Additionally, those interested in mathematics, statistical applications, and political science might be interested in learning about how statistics impact elections.

## Statistics in Politics

Throughout history, statistics have played an important role in politics. Government bodies used statistics in the election process to support the formal decision-making processes that determine who will fill offices in the legislature. However, technological advancements, the accumulation of data, and the maturation of statistical models have made elections increasingly complex.

For example, in the past, politicians and their supporters would cast a wider net when campaigning for votes. But today, data analytics and digital resources allow parties to collect information about the public and then hyper-personalize campaign targeting. As a result, modern elections require statistical experts who can manage and leverage data while maintaining ethical standards related to trust, security, and privacy.

Below are the most obvious three ways that statistics impact elections.

## Election Forecasts

Those creating election forecasts use legally available data and statistics to inform the public about the probable outcome of an upcoming election. Political statisticians recruit this data, along with reporting, historical patterns, and academic research to create a detailed account of the Senate and House forecasts.

In the United States, this process includes disclosing the favored party, estimating the number of seats in each House, and predicting whether the outcome will result in a majority government. In short, statisticians use a forecasting model to transform large data sets into meaningful predictions for future outcomes

### How to Build an Election Forecast Model

• Create a national database.
• Clean and layer the data.
• Plug the data points into a predictive model for forecasting.

### Forecasting in Action

The popular website FiveThirtyEight, created by American statistician Nate Silver, is a staple of ABC News. The website’s primary objectives are advancing public knowledge and promoting transparency around voting outcomes.

To achieve these aims, it uses polling, economic, and demographic data to explore likely election outcomes. It also employs statisticians to build empirical statistical models for accurate election forecasts.

After the data is collected, experts then input it into Nate Silver’s forecast model. This model, which combines polling, economic, and demographic data, aims to provide an informed prediction rather than an unskilled guess.

And the website regularly updates its predictions too. For instance, on June 26, 2024, the site, after running 100 simulations, predicted that President Joe Biden and Donald Trump each had a 50% chance of winning the election. However, on July 2, 538 changed the prediction to 50% for Trump and 49% for Biden. And as the election nears, and uncertainty decreases, 538 claims its predictions will grow more accurate. This site exemplifies just one popular election forecast tool.

## Election Campaign Strategy

The use of statistics in election campaigning has also changed dramatically. That is, historically, the only data that politicians and their supporters used to garner insights was that derived from the polls. In recent years, however, data and statistics have revolutionized election campaigns.

Today’s data-driven world offers campaign strategists a surplus of data points about past elections, voter preferences, and geopolitical influences. In addition, new communication platforms, such as social media, allow campaigns to profile their voters’ identities and needs. Statisticians can also harness publicly available data to inform campaign messaging, political priorities, and outreach.

Campaign research allows parties to investigate target audiences’ behaviors, attitudes, values, and beliefs to test campaign messaging, creativity, and delivery. According to The Commons Social Change Library, statisticians use the following quantitative and qualitative research methods to inform campaign strategy.

### Quantitative Campaign Strategy Research

• Benchmark Polls
• Issue Polls
• Longitudinal Surveys
• Member Surveys
• CATI (computer-assisted telephone interview) polls
• Dial-testing

### Qualitative Campaign Strategy Research

• Deep dive interviews
• Face-to-face focus groups
• Online focus groups
• Online communities

Once the previous research is complete, campaigners then test various messages. Alternatively, they might test the gap between their voters’ current stances and the desirable action. This job is a laborious one. Campaigners must strive for creating winning messages that make impactful arguments, define important issues, expose the opposition’s weak points, and tell compelling narratives.

Statisticians with a marketing background may excel in this area of research and persuasion. Why? They already have the foundational skills needed to create data-driven campaign strategies, from initial research to distribution.

## Microtargeting in Elections

Before advanced data and statistics, campaigns often involved grass-roots approaches. These included direct mail, home visits, radio, television, and out-of-home marketing campaigns (ex., billboards, posters, etc.). Today, campaigns can leverage social media, digital marketing, and advanced data analytics to reach voters on their devices and tailor personalized messaging. This latter strategy is otherwise known as microtargeting.

In microtargeting, the audience is segmented into specific groups, with each group receiving a message that speaks to their likes and needs. This profiling, though, is not new.

Consumers are already accustomed to online stores such as Amazon, as well as social media (TikTok, Facebook) understanding their preferences.

For instance, you purchase one book and Amazon recommends a similar one. You buy running shoes (a lot) and you’re now in a fitness/running channel.

Similarly, political parties and election campaigns use microtargeting to communicate with voters about their initiatives. The goal is influencing voting outcomes in their favor.

### How Microtargeting Works

Micro-targeting uses statistics in a similar manner to that of election forecasting. First, statisticians collect and clean data points from a national database. Then, they layer on publicly available information, including email addresses, phone numbers, employment, education, purchasing patterns, IP addresses, etc.

Next, statisticians use predictive models to indicate for whom a voter is likely to vote and how likely a voter is to change their voting preference. These models also predict how lifestyle choices, such as being single or married, might affect voting behaviors. Statisticians also investigate how voters’ values align with topical issues like gun control, the climate crisis, abortion, immigration, and so on.

After the analysis comes the categorization. Each group is sorted into different channels. Each audience (channel) then receives personalized campaign messaging based on their beliefs and inclinations. The purpose is delivering the right campaign message, to the right voter, at the right time. (At its roots, microtargeting is a very deliberate form of kairos. In rhetoric, kairos is the identification of the critical moment to deliver a finely tuned persuasive message or to take an action.)

### The Risks of Microtargeting

Advanced microtargeting, of course, has its downsides. Take the most famous example, which began in 2014. Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, obtained the private Facebook data of tens of millions of users. It then unethically sold psychological profiles of American voters to political campaigns.

How did this microtargeting scam work? 270,000 Facebook users played with the supposedly innocuous personality profile app called “This Is Your Digital Life.” This app, created by scientist and psychologist Alexsandr Kogan, allegedly collected 5,000 data points from each participant.

What’s worse: participants didn’t read between the lines. When users gave this third-party app permission to acquire their data, they also gave the app access to their friends’ networks. The more friends = the more data exposed.

Kogan then sold this data to Cambridge Analytica. As a result, the company illegally compiled the data of about 87 million users who had not explicitly given Cambridge Analytica permission. The firm then used up to 50 million profiles for their predictive modeling. At the very least, the app developer breached Facebook’s terms of service by giving the data to Cambridge Analytica. After investigations began, the incident started a heated, nationwide conversation about the ethical principles of data, political targeting, and power. And about Facebook, data security, and cybersecurity.

## Study Applied Statistics at Michigan Tech.

Election campaigning and increased microtargeting are very much still with us. Therefore, firms that generate value from personal data must consider the ways they acquire it, share it, protect it, and profit from it. Statisticians who work for these firms must also stay in line with ongoing legislative efforts that respect users’ privacy and security.

Curious about how statistics make a difference in elections? Are you fascinated by the data-driven side of political science? Do you want to ensure statistics are collected ethically? Alternatively, maybe you’re interested in developing the skills for collecting data and using applied statistics in business, government, finance, insurance companies, and more.

If you answered yes to these questions, Michigan Technological University’s Online MS in Applied Statistics offers students foundational knowledge in statistical science and methods while utilizing the latest industry-standard statistical and data analysis software. After graduation, you can set yourself apart in the competitive workforce with not only specialized skills, but also the accountability to act with integrity, honesty, and diligence.

And statistics jobs pay well, too. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that, as of 2023, the median annual wage for a statistician was \$104,860. Furthermore, the projected average growth rate through 2032 for jobs in these fields is 30%. That’s four times higher than the projection for all occupations in the same timeframe.

Upskill for the future with Michigan Tech’s Online MS in Applied Statistics.

## Global Campus Grows

Whether it’s been covering new education fellowship partnerships, reporting on Michigan Tech’s collaboration with the MEDC, writing about innovative mass timber research initiatives, researching the gifts of adult learners, welcoming new team members, or rushing to keep up with Global Campus Vice President David Lawrence, this blog writer has had a busy year. And while all these initiatives, and more, have been underway, I’ve also had to keep track of Michigan Tech’s new online courses and programs.

## Recent Online Programs at Global Campus

For example, in the last year, the College of Business added the online Tech MBA and the Master of Engineering Management. Both are accredited, 10-course programs that, in various ways, leverage your STEM expertise. Whereas the Tech MBA provides foundational business skills, the MEM allows students to customize degrees that merge engineering and business. To promote these programs, Dr. Mari Buche, David Lawrence, and his Global Campus team graciously led several online virtual interest sessions, which were all well attended.

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.

Furthermore, the College of Engineering met the learning and leadership challenge with its Master of Engineering, a professional terminal degree. This degree allows students to focus on either a HEV (hybrid electric vehicle) track or an engineering track. For the engineering track, learners can combine courses from several disciplines. In fact, the master of engineering is ideal for those collaborating with their employer to develop a program to meet specific on-the-job needs.

More recently, the Department of Applied Computing has also added two new programs to its roster: Public Health Informatics and Foundations in Health Informatics. Both certificates can be stacked to form a master’s degree. Like other HI programs, these prepare students for diverse roles in the data-driven healthcare industry. Guy Hembroff, the Health Informatics director, also ensured that MTU’s CHI students have memberships in HIMSS. HIMSS (Health Information Management Systems Society) is a global society. It enables health information professionals to access resources, enroll in seminars, develop networks, search for jobs, and much more. In other words, it gives MTU’s Health Informatics students an edge.

## Global Campus Bridge Courses

Bridge courses are short, intensive, preparatory online courses that help learners acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to enter advanced study. This study might mean an undergraduate program, graduate degree, or graduate certificate. Often, bridge courses are for students who are provisionally accepted into a program.

For instance, in September of 2022, Teresa Woods, Associate Teaching Professor in Mathematical Sciences and Linear Algebra aficionado, taught our first bridge course: Linear Algebra. Her ten-week, asynchronous online course was aimed at prospective students who needed the LA requirement to enroll in MTU’s Online Master of Science in Applied Statistics program.

Woods’ course covered fundamental linear algebra concepts as used in Applied Statistics. Some of the topics included systems of equations, vectors, matrices, orthogonality, subspaces, and the eigenvalue problem.

Linear Algebra is once again running for the Fall 2023 semester. And there are still a few seats left. Right now, the proposed start date is Sept. 18, 2023.

### Fundamental Courses and Bootcamps

Global Campus also had the privilege of working with subject matter experts to promote in-demand professional development courses. Also known as continuing education and career training, these courses allow those in the workforce to hone skills, acquire specialized training, develop leadership abilities, and stay up-to-date on current trends.

Currently, Michigan Tech offers both non-credit and for-credit pd courses.

For example, during the summer of 2023, APS Labs rolled out its short, but rigorous course on Diesel Engine Fundamentals. Despite the turn to EV, this course recognized that diesel engines weren’t going anywhere soon. That is, diesel engines are still in light-duty vehicles, medium and heavy-duty trucks; in commercial vehicles (trains, trucks, buses, barges, and boats); in army vehicles; and in generators.

This course was conveniently available in both online and in-person versions. Its goal was educating those pursuing careers in the automotive industry, commercial vehicles, power generation, or related fields.

Also, Kevin Johnson, Assistant Teaching Professor, Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering, lent his significant expertise to summer students. He taught an an intense 20-hour in-person hydraulics bootcamp. In his course, students learned about several topics crucial to hydraulics, such as valves, pumps, motors, circuits, and closed-loop hydrostatic systems.

## Upcoming Professional Development Courses

### Python for Modern GIS

Furthermore, recognizing the need for more Python professionals in the GIS world, Parth Bhatt (Assistant Teaching Professor / Researcher from the College of Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences) is offering a 7-week, asynchronous, online course for Fall 2023.

His Python for Modern GIS and Remote Sensing course will help students learn beginning and immediate-level applications of Python for understanding and writing simple scripts, automating workflows, and solving day-to-day, real-world geoprocessing tasks in the ArcGIS ecosystem and open-source platform.

Dr. Bhatt, a dynamic teaching professor who lives and breathes GIS, is also on deck to develop online for-credit certificates for his department. Stay tuned for more developments.

And, yes, you still have time to register for Bhatt’s course.

### Civil Asset Management

As well, the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering has recently added a 3-credit, synchronous online course in Civil Asset Management. This course is taught by Mark Declercq, who brings three decades of valuable, practical civil asset expertise to the classroom. In fact, as Grand Rapids Engineer, Declercq was one of the first experts with boots on the ground during that city’s massive flood event.

Civil Asset Management (CEE 5390) will help students develop long-term plans, as well as the strategic, critical thinking they need to recognize and maintain the value of our all-important civil assets. Declercq also maintains that to develop resilient and affordable solutions and to tackle upcoming sustainability challenges, engineers definitely need Civil Asset Management skills.

## Keep Up With Global Campus as We Learn and Grow

In the future, Global Campus plans to offer additional non-credit and for-credit courses and programs. Our goals are advancing the personal development, career goals, and leadership opportunities that come with education. We also recognize the importance of challenging all learners to grow, to think creatively and critically, and to prepare for tomorrow.

We’ll keep you posted as we assist in developing and supporting new programs. For updates, read this blog or follow us on social media.

And remember, regardless of where you are in your educational journey, whether you want to take a course for fun or for your future, it is never too late to start learning.

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.