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Obama back by popular demand: A CSU Fullerton professor does the math

November 6, 2012

Category: A Closer Look

With polls showing the presidential race neck and neck, Americans are coming up with some creative ways to predict our next president—from a psychic pet squirrel, to the number of Obama and Romney masks sold for Halloween, even to the outcome of an Ohio State Buckeye or Florida Gators football game.

However, math remains the most reliable way to predict the president. Although polling is not an exact science, CSU Fullerton civil engineering professor Chandra Putcha is using math and science to take it to another level of accuracy.

Putcha created a comprehensive way to make predicting a more scientific process. He forecasted the outcome of the Nov. 6 presidential election using his own integrated approach that includes both state polls and probability calculations based on historical information.

The winner according to Putcha’s model? Barack Obama—by a popular vote of 51.81 percent vs. 48.19 percent for Republican challenger Mitt Romney. It also places Obama’s Electoral College total at 286 and Romney’s at 252, with 270 needed to win.

Dr. Chandra Putcha

Putcha used a similar model based on probability to correctly predict the outcome in the 2008 presidential election.

In order to create the probabilities that each state’s votes would go to a certain candidate, Putcha took historical polling data from that state to come up with a mean value and standard deviation. When that probability is added to several current national and state polls, it creates a bigger picture of what the outcome should look like come Tuesday night.

But why would an engineer whose teaching and research focus on building bridges and other structures tackle trying to make a presidential election prediction? Putcha says there’s a lot in common—math.

“My research areas of interest are reliability, risk analysis and optimization. These principles can be applied to any discipline—engineering and non-engineering,” said Putcha, who’s taught at CSUF for 31 years.

In fact, Putcha’s work has resulted in more than 135 research papers in this area and he has applied these principles to other disciplines, including political science, sociology, medicine and kinesiology.

As for the psychic squirrels, football games and Halloween masks?

Putcha says that aside from their entertainment value, those predictions are essentially meaningless.

“If it can’t be connected to the election, then it will not decide it,” Putcha said, adding that subjective information including voters’ changing attitudes about issues are already reflected in the polling data.

“It’s about the math. This is what the numbers are saying,” he said.

Updated: 11/7/2012

With the national results in, Obama’s re-election once again validated Putcha’s mathematical model.

Putcha’s popular vote predictions were within one percentage point for Obama, and for Romney less than one-tenth of one percent. And with the exception of New Hampshire, Florida and Virginia, Putcha’s state predictions were spot-on.

The results again show how mathematics can be applied to real life problems, Putcha says.

“In probability models, you are never 100 percent right,” Putcha said. “However, this is about as close as it gets. Overall, the mathematical model is correct.”

Putcha’s state predictions are mapped out above. Below are his calculations for the probability percentages and the electoral vote tallies

State Winning
Candidate
Probability % Electoral
Vote R
Electoral
Vote D
Alabama Romney 100 9  
Alaska Romney 100 3  
Arizona Romney 88 11  
Arkansas Romney 82 6  
California Obama 99   55
Colorado Obama 87   9
Connecticut Obama 95   7
Delaware Obama 92   3
Florida Romney 64 29  
Georgia Romney 92 16  
Hawaii Obama 95   4
Idaho Romney 85 4  
Illinois Obama 89   20
Indiana Romney 91 11  
Iowa Obama 89   6
Kansas Romney 55 6  
Kentucky Romney 82 8  
Louisiana Romney 89 8  
Maine Obama 92   4
Maryland Obama 100   10
Massachusetts Obama 95   11
Michigan Obama 89   16
Minnesota Obama 82   10
Mississippi Romney 81 6  
Missouri Romney 69 10  
Montana Romney 82 3  
Nebraska Romney 72 5  
Nevada Obama 89   6
New Hampshire Romney 73 4  
New Jersey Obama 100   14
New Mexico Obama 93   5
New York Obama 100   29
North Carolina Romney 64 15  
North Dakota Romney 95 3  
Ohio Obama 92   18
Oklahoma Romney 90 7  
Oregon Obama 61   7
Pennsylvania Obama 92   20
Rhode Island Obama 67   4
South Carolina Romney 89 9  
South Dakota Romney 72 3  
Tennessee Romney 92 11  
Texas Romney 98 38  
Utah Romney 100 6  
Vermont Obama 91   3
Virginia Romney 52 13  
Washington Obama 99   12
West Virginia Romney 96 5  
Wisconsin Obama 95   10
Wyoming Romney 89 3  
DC Obama 100   3
Total     252 286

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