September 3, 2004

CABANA GAME BOY (via jd watson):

President Elect 2004 -- The Game (Douglas Kern, 09/02/2004, Tech Central Station)

President Elect 88 casts zero to three players in the role of campaign manager to the presidential nominees of the major parties and third parties. (Yes, zero players; the computer can simulate elections without human input.) You can choose from a set of over fifty prefabricated candidates from elections past, or create your own. Players can select any election from 1960 to 1988. At the outset of the game, the status of the economy, unemployment figures, the national mood, etc. must be provided to the computer -- or players can apply the historical information from the game's database. Based on that information, the computer gives you the initial polling data from Labor Day -- and you're off, buying commercial time, scheduling campaign stops, and strategizing for televised debates.

President Elect 88 was surprisingly successful at predicting the outcome of the 1988 election. Although the game was released prior to the 1988 election, the game designers noted in the manual that Bush would probably beat any of his likely challengers by five to seven percentage points. Not a bad bit of prediction there. [...]

I was reminded of President Elect 88 while pouring over the latest polling data from the current election. Surely, I mused, my old game could predict the outcome of the 2004 Presidential campaign as well as these useless Internet pontificators, if not more so. [...]

Bush wins. Big. Almost always.

Bush beats Kerry by an average of sixteen points. In fact, Kerry beat Bush in only one test run -- when Bush unwisely chose to make a diplomatic visit to a hostile country in October 1988, with disastrous results.

To make the experiment more interesting, I changed the parameters. I recreated Bush as a deformed hunchback with Tourette's syndrome. Result? Bush still wins in over fifty percent of the elections. I then gave Kerry superhuman powers of charm, eloquence, and stamina. Result? Bush still wins about half the time. Not until I jacked up unemployment while throttling back the mood of the country did Kerry win consistently.

So Kerry's best strategy is simple: cure cancer, give the Sermon on the Mount, and replace Bush with a look-alike chimpanzee. Otherwise, book the cheap caterer for the election party.

What's going on? It appears that President Elect 88 gives incumbents a huge amount of "credit" for economic growth, low inflation, and low unemployment. When these factors are coupled with reasonably good news during wartime, even Bozo the Clown will pull off an electoral landslide.

You'd have to think that 56% is the maximum that the President can get and the Senator can't do any worse than 40%. But you don't need maximum/minimum to get to 16% if Nader (with whom we'll include the rest of the alternative candidates) does reasonably well--say 2% or even 4% At that point you're at 54% to 42% and that seems entirely doable..

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 3, 2004 11:26 PM
Comments currently has Bush at 59 and Kerry at 42 in the two way vote split.

Posted by: jd watson at September 4, 2004 4:07 AM

Long time lurker, first time poster. Thanks for linking to my article - hope you enjoyed it.

TCS should be running a follow-up to that article very soon, with comments from a very special guest.

-Douglas Kern

Posted by: Douglas Kern at September 4, 2004 6:13 AM

jd - Would that it were true. I just checked - they have Bush with a 59% chance of winning the Presidency, a 53% of winning the popular vote, and a 45.3% chance of winning 300 electoral votes. 59% of the popular vote probably means at least 400 electoral votes, for which they give him an 8% chance.

So Bush still has plenty of room to rise at tradesports ...

Posted by: pj at September 4, 2004 7:23 AM

We had economic growth, low unemployment, low inflation and alleged peace when Gore lost to Bush in 2000, so I think we should avoid over-confidence no matter how much of a buffoon Kerry seems to be.

Posted by: Bart at September 4, 2004 10:42 AM

Did he really say that the only way that Kerry can win is if Bush is assassinated?

Posted by: brian at September 4, 2004 5:11 PM

I REMEMBER as a little child watching Cartoons of Bozo the Clown, and my Kid brother actually participated in the live studio audience once. As I distinctly recall, I believe Bozo would have made a finer candidate than Kerry.

Posted by: Ptah at September 4, 2004 8:41 PM