2018 | Schools

Montgomery Blair High School Students Launch Online Model Predicting Outcomes of Congressional Races

Political statistics class hopes to provide information, encourage people across the country to vote Tuesday

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Teacher David Stein and students in his political statistics class have created an interactive model that predicts the outcome of races in each congressional district in Tuesday's general election.

CAITLYNN PEETZ

Curious how the Maryland congressional elections will shake out Tuesday?

Montgomery Blair High School students might have the answer, plus potential results of every other congressional race across the country.

A group of about 70 students taking teacher David Stein’s political statistics class at the Silver Spring school created BlairOracle, an interactive model that predicts the outcome of races in each congressional district based on former election results, polling data, demographics and other factors. In the hotly contested District 6 race in Maryland, for example, the students’ model predicts Democratic candidate David Trone of Potomac will beat Republican Amie Hoeber, also of Potomac, garnering 57.8 percent of the vote to Hoeber’s 42.2 percent.

Beginning on the first day of school, students have spent much of the school year researching, gathering data and designing the model, which was recently made available to the public.

“The idea is to take a very complicated question for which there isn’t a clear answer, and it’s not obvious how to answer it, and find a way to take data and make a model,” Stein said. “The election is obviously topical and to predict 435 races is really difficult in terms of weighing the politics, math, coding and communicating, so it’s a perfect problem for this class.”

Students say what sets their model apart from others is their commitment to transparency and lack of bias.

For each congressional district, students outline a short description of the candidates and their history, then predict the percentage of votes each candidate will receive, along with the chance of each candidate winning his or her respective race.

Senior Ian Rackow said the model isn’t intended to be perfect, though it would be great if it was. Rather, it is supposed to encourage voters to be more informed when they head to the polls.

“We want people to know there are predictors, but there a lot of different ways to interpret the information, and that voting is really important,” Rackow said.

Students said they compare their model to that of FiveThirtyEight, an established and well-known political election forecaster. The BlairOracle closely mirrors FiveThirtyEight’s predictions, but differs slightly and students said they’re excited for election results to roll in on Tuesday to see whose predictions are the closest to being correct.

Along with compiling the data and making it easily understandable, students were tasked with transmitting their final product to the public, via social media and regular blog posts about various issues and factors involved in election results. The goal is simple: Reach as many voters as possible.

“We’re hoping that people become more aware of what happens in the election and, at the same time, we’re trying to get people to vote while promoting education and statistics,” senior Steven Qu said.

And, so far, their work has generated mostly positive feedback, earning a shout-out on Twitter from U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Takoma Park, various Montgomery County Board of Education members and community members.

Senior Abigail Lo said she hopes all of those people remember that a group of high school students, who can’t yet vote, created the model, so anyone else who is inclined to find information can do it, too.

“I think there is a lot of misinformation and miscommunication, and I think hard data will help voters know what to do and keep them informed as to what actually is happening,” she said. “Stay informed and don’t go into the polling place uninformed.”