Like most U.S. voters, I was planning to spend last night waiting for the results of the presidential election. From Europe, the wait is even longer, as the first results start coming in around dawn. So while I was watching the countdown to the closing of the first poll, I started to wonder whether waiting four or five more hours was a good investment of my time (vs. actually sleeping).
At that time, I had just received a message from a friend of mine forwarding a quote from Obama stating that he thought he had enough votes to win, while at the same moment, David Plouff was speaking openly about his confidence for Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia remaining blue states. This open confidence was obviously part of the last minutes of this never ending campaign, but it also was a very important signal that the statistical models available to them were showing very little uncertainty compared to what “we” were feeling.
While still debating whether it was time to go to bed, I went to the NYT on my iPad and I read this post from the now famous FiveThirtyEight blog. As typical of his very well written blog, Nate Silver describes the data available, helps to explain and interpret the data and, basically, tells us that in the end, the election is not as undecided as we all thought. At that point I made up my mind and went upstairs.
I think that in addition to President Obama, the 2012 election had another big winner: “Big Data”. Polls have been extremely precise throughout the campaign to identify mood swings, trends, etc. and, at the end of the day, they were next to perfect in predicting the outcome. And this is only the beginning.
As I wrote in a previous post, I am very confident in how the integration of unstructured information will improve the quality of human behavior prediction models, and I am very excited by the effect that unstructured information will have in terms of the costs of feeding data to these systems. This will mean less doubt about who the next president will be come this time four years from now, and greater ability to predict, with significant precision, the success of a product in the market with very limited investment, for example. This is to me is almost as exciting as waking up to the news of who I already knew was going to be the president for the next four years!