Erik Voeten

Recent Articles

Can Google Search Behavior Predict Political Behavior?

One of the driving forces behind the creation of Google Insights was the observation that Google searches can predict flu epidemics more quickly than other types of observations. Shauna Reilly , Sean Richey , and Benjamin Taylor have a forthcoming article (nongated), which suggests that political behavior too can be predicted from search terms. In particular they find that the level of Google searches on ballot questions taken one week before Election day correlates with actual participation on those ballot measures. The authors highlight that this illustrates that measures based on Google search data may be valid measures of behavioral intentions (see yesterday’s post on racially charged search terms). Yet, it also suggests that search data can be used for forecasting. just for fun, I created a simple chart (sorry, can’t figure out how to embed it) for search behavior for Gingrich. It seems to track changes in the polls pretty well: Gingrich first started making inroads in polls...

Forecasting Elections with Real-Time Economic Data

This post is jointly written with Anton Strezhnev , a very bright Georgetown undergraduate. One of the challenges in forecasting elections is that economic data are often inaccurate when first released. Some of the adjustments are substantial. Just to illustrate this point, the image below ( source ) shows the change from original issue to current estimate in a composite index of economic performance: the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI). The magnitude of some of these adjustments could potentially affect forecasts in what the models predict to be a close election . Moreover, there is serial correlation in the direction of the errors. So, if you are rooting for Obama you may think that the more recent positive adjustments mean that Obama has a slightly better chance than the models predict. If you are a forecaster, the serial correlation may allow you to better predict adjusted values. Economists have long recognized that the use of real-time versus ex post adjusted values...

How Violence in Mexico is Designed to Work

We are delighted to welcome back UCSD professor Barbara Walter and her colleague, professor Alberto Díaz-Cayeros . Professor Díaz-Cayeros is an expert on Mexico and professor Walter is an expert on insurgency. Below they combine their respective sources of expertise and analyze the violence in Mexico as a form of insurgency. ## President Obama and his Secretary of State had their first public disagreement last year – not over Iraq or Afghanistan, but Mexico. Hillary Clinton argued that Mexico was increasingly in the midst of an “insurgency.” President Obama argued that the drug killings in Mexico, whose numbers far exceed U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan, is not. That’s because the drug trade organizations (DTO’s) have only financial goals, not political ones. The Mexican government has consistently agreed with President Obama, repeatedly rejecting any suggestion that an insurgency is taking place. The violence in Mexico may not be a classic insurgency , but it is certainly being...

The World’s Most Bizarre Political Ads, Part II

My call last week for bizarre political ads from across the globe received a fair number of peculiar and sometimes downright frightening examples. Especially popular were singing politicians, like these German Social-Democrats and Iceland’s Best Party , which actually won the mayoral election for which the ad was made although, according to commenter Sona, they failed to deliver on their campaign promise to bring a polar bear to Reykjavik’s zoo. The prize in this category, however, goes to this Polish politician who “sang” his campaign message accompanied by a death metal band. Other political campaigns thought it would be a good idea to feature talking fish , yogi jumpers , and wrestlers . The scariest electoral broadcast by far was by this Japanese politician.

The Palestine UNESCO Vote

Permanent delegate of the U.S. to UNESCO David Killion, center, reacts as delegates vote on the Palestinian membership, during a session of UNESCO's 36th General Conference, in Paris, Monday October 31, 2011. Palestine became a full member of the U.N. cultural and educational agency Monday, in a highly divisive move that the United States and other opponents say could harm renewed Mideast peace efforts. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Yesterday the membership of UNESCO voted to grant Palestine full membership, triggering a U.S. decision to cut funding to the organization. The vote is important not just for the future of UNESCO but also because it reveals how states are likely to vote on the bigger issue of UN membership and Palestinian membership in other treaty organizations, such as the International Criminal Court. The graph below (click to enlarge) shows how countries voted on the UNESCO question by their overall record on UN votes on Palestine (Security Council members are depicted by red crosses). I explained the methodology in an earlier post but the basic idea is that the further to the right a country is on the horizontal axis, the more favorable to Israel was its voting behavior in the UN General Assembly. The model expected all countries to the right of Australia to vote no on Palestinian membership. The fact that Australia also voted no is not a big surprise as it is pretty close to the cutting line (i...