September 30, 2004


How Would a Computer Pick the Prez? (Nelson Hernandez, Sr., 09/29/2004, Tech Central Station)

TCS contributor Douglas Kern's recent article ("President Elect - 2004") regarding the success of Commodore 64-era political game President Elect 1988 in predicting elections prompted a search by TCS staff for the designer/programmer of that game, Nelson Hernandez, Sr. We tracked him down. In this article, the man who banged out the original BASIC source code in 1981 on his Apple II+ computer explains who he thinks will win -- and why.

-- The editors

My comments on Doug Kern's experimentation with my game must be general; a detailed critique of his methodology would be an impenetrably esoteric discussion for most readers. But the main point I would like to make is that the game indeed projected the 1988 election with uncanny success well in advance, but it cannot be applied to the 2004 election.

In real life as well as in President Elect 1988, each presidential election takes place within a certain contextual background wherein the electorate subjectively evaluates the relative success or failure of the incumbent party, which is then politically rewarded or punished. In every election cycle the voting population arrives at a collective answer to candidate Reagan's famous 1980 debate question, "are you better off today than you were four years ago" well before the election takes place. PE 1988 knew the actual situation in 1984 with perfect hindsight and could quantify the incumbent party's relative success or failure in 1988 based on hypothetical economic/situational inputs using a fairly simple mathematical formula I created to compare the current overall "state of the union" to what it was in the previous election.

However using PE 1988 to project 2004 is problematic because the economic and national security/foreign situation inputs Kern was plugging for 2004 were being compared to the state of the union in 1984 instead of the one which prevailed in 2000. This mismatch alone renders his experiment moot.

Mr. Hernandez then sort of runs the experiment himself--interesting...

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 30, 2004 9:05 AM

From the article: This year ideology is a ticklish question because Sen. Kerry is currently the most liberal Senator in Congress based on his voting record, certainly in the 90s overall. However he has assiduously tried to mitigate this disadvantage in 2004 by seldom discussing his Senate record and offering multiple nuanced policy variants on high-profile issues, particularly the War on Terror.

Without knowing Hernandez, I can't tell if this is the stilleto attack it would be if someone here said it.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 30, 2004 11:14 AM