Politics

12.30.11

Election Oracle Methodology

The Daily Beast’s Election Oracle is an innovative tool that analyzes the latest Web and social media buzz to provide insight into election dynamics, and forecast outcomes. The technology grew from the idea that the Internet is the most extensive and immediate opinion generator ever invented, and the Oracle aims to harness that 24/7 torrent of data and opinion to create a speedy, smart complement to traditional polls. 

Each day, the Oracle scrapes the Web, including some 40,000 news sites, blogs, message boards and more—along with Twitter and other social media sources—and uses its Natural Language Processor, a form of artificial intelligence, to analyze what millions of people are saying about the candidates and hot button issues online. Using technology developed by the market research firm General Sentiment, the Oracle scores every mention of the presidential candidates in those sources as positive, negative or neutral and uses that information to assign the candidates daily “favorability ratings” from -100 (all negative) to 100 (all positive). It can also assign favorability ratings to pairings of candidates and issues (whether people are speaking more favorably about Mitt Romney or Barack Obama when it comes to the economy, for instance). And the Oracle measures the volume of conversation about each candidate by counting how often each one is mentioned—a benchmark for how much buzz they’re generating.

The Oracle’s information captures the tone of the conversation online to measure who is gaining and losing traction there, and how news events are shaping the race. Because the ratings measure ambient popular opinion, all results are counted equally, from a mention in the New York Times to one in a Tweet. If the Times article is more influential, the Oracle captures that influence as the idea is repeated in other articles, tweets, and the like.

In addition to tracking favorability ratings, the Oracle also uses an algorithm to make predictions about the election outcome. By combining the favorability ratings with the latest data from the InTrade prediction market and the RealClearPolitics polling average, the Oracle offers a daily estimate of things like each candidate’s chance of claiming the Republican nomination. These predictions are expressed as a chance of winning (i.e.  60 percent means a three-in-five chance of winning the election, not 60 percent of the vote.)

The Oracle is still an experimental technology, and we are regularly refining the research model and tweaking the methodology to improve its accuracy and value. Check this page each morning for the latest from the Oracle, along with our takes on the most interesting information we’ve gleaned from consulting with it. We’re confident that collective Internet opinion will prove a key measure to watch as this year's presidential contest unfolds.