- LAST REVIEWED: 08 February 2021
- LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0023
- LAST REVIEWED: 08 February 2021
- LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0023
Election forecasting appeals to a basic human urge to peek into the future. Ever since elections were invented to choose leaders, humans have been tempted to find ways that would tell them with some degree of certainty who would win an election. The highly quantitative nature of elections aids them in such an endeavor. Few phenomena of interest to a social scientist lend themselves so readily to forecasting than electoral contests. In a two-party competition they produce a clear winner, and in multiparty settings they produce numerical shares for each of the contenders. With the advent of statistical techniques, electoral data have become increasingly easy to handle. It is no surprise, then, that election forecasting has become a big business, for polling firms, news organizations, and betting markets as well as academic students of politics. There are three major types of election forecasting. Perhaps the best known to the general public involves polls of the voting public. The growth of polling is supplying a near-endless stream of data on candidate and party support that can be marshaled for predictions of electoral outcomes. During a national election campaign in the United States and many other countries, a new poll is reported every day showing the current state of the “horse race.” Though not strictly a forecast, the poll result, or an average of the latest polls, is widely seen as the best guess of who is going to win and by how much. On election night, as the nation eagerly awaits the result, news organizations rely on exit polls to project the winner of a particular electoral contest. Alongside predictions of outcomes from samples of voters (or polls taken beforehand), academic scholars have constructed models of voting behavior to forecast the outcomes of elections. These forecasts are derived from theories and empirical evidence about what matters to voters when they make electoral choices. The forecast models typically rely on a few predictors in highly aggregated form, with an emphasis on phenomena that change in the short-run, such as the state of the economy, so as to offer maximum leverage for predicting the result of a specific election. Finally, betting markets provide forecasts of election outcomes based on the buying and selling of candidate futures with real money. These markets have witnessed a resurgence with the advent of the Internet, but their operations face legal obstacles in the United States.
The author of Bean 1948 may have been the first to publish a book using the phrase, “how to predict elections” in the title. Bean is best remembered for an approach that searches for the locality (state, county) whose vote matches most closely the national vote division. Such “bellwethers,” he believed, would provide a highly efficient way of forecasting the overall outcome, with little lead time, if all people vote on the same day. With an article published in the 1970s, Fair founded the econometric school of forecasting presidential elections, using mainly aggregate economic measures along with political variables and extending the time horizon back to the 1916 election. This approach is detailed in Fair 2002. In addition, Fair has kept his model up to date and lets users calculate their own forecasts on his website. Lewis-Beck and Rice 1992 is the first book-length overview of the various approaches to election forecasting. It establishes clear statistical criteria for building forecast models with proven determinants of the vote choice, such as economic conditions and presidential approval. The book is also valuable for applying the forecast model to congressional elections, as well as elections outside the United States. Jones 2002 extends the scope of forecasting to trial heats (polls), exit polls, expert judgments, cycles, and the nomination process. Norpoth 2014 demonstrates the predictive utility of electoral cycles with an analysis of nearly 200 years of US presidential elections. Holbrook 2010 covers forecasts through betting markets and state-level models. The template for using all the states in presidential election forecasting was first presented in Rosenstone 1983. Such a model would be able to forecast not only the national popular vote, but also the Electoral College vote, which ultimately elects a president. The introduction to an issue on a symposium, Lewis-Beck and Stegmaier 2014 presents a recent assessment of the various approaches to election forecasting.
Bean, Louis H. How to Predict Elections. New York: Knopf, 1948.
A pioneering work in election forecasting, using past election results to identify states that are most typical for the national outcome of presidential elections (“bellwethers”). Maine’s early vote at that time put that state in a special role (“As Maine goes, so goes the nation”).
Fair, Ray C. Predicting Elections and Other Things. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002.
A pioneer in election forecasting presents his model, which heavily relies on measures of economic performance and covers elections from 1916 on. Also discusses the theoretical and methodological foundations of forecasting elections as well as other things. Fair’s website lets users calculate their own forecasts of upcoming elections.
Holbrook, Thomas. “Forecasting US Presidential Elections.” In The Oxford Handbook of American Elections and Political Behavior. Edited by Jan Leighley, 346–371. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
An assessment of the state of election forecasting as of 2010. Examines and compares the accuracy of presidential election forecasts from 1996 to 2004, with special attention to the lessons learned from the 2000 election; also considers alternatives such as political markets and state-level forecasting.
Jones, Randall J. Who Will Be in the White House? Predicting Presidential Elections. New York: Longman, 2002.
A comprehensive and highly readable overview of the various approaches to election forecasting, from bellwethers to trial heats, presidential approval, and economic models, to name a few, with their respective forecast scenarios for the 2004 presidential election.
Lewis-Beck, Michael S., and Tom Rice. Forecasting Elections. Washington, DC: CQ, 1992.
A classic book-length work of election forecasting. It presents an overview of approaches to election forecasting, focusing on the theory and statistical procedures of forecasting while covering models of presidential elections, but also including House, Senate, and state contests as well as elections abroad (France).
Lewis-Beck, Michael S., and Mary Stegmaier. “US Presidential Election Forecasting: Introduction.” PS: Political Science and Politics 47.2 (April 2014): 284–288.
An introduction for a symposium in this issue on forecasting presidential elections, with coverage of approaches using fundamentals, polls, prediction markets, and cycles.
Norpoth, Helmut. “The Electoral Cycle.” PS: Political Science and Politics 47.2 (April 2014): 332–335.
An autoregressive model for presidential elections from 1828 to 2012 shows the predictive power of the two previous outcomes, allowing for an early forecast. The White House party is favored after one term while change is more likely after two terms.
Rosenstone, Steven J. Forecasting Presidential Elections. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983.
This book presented the first state-level model to predict the vote in presidential elections, using a pooled cross-sectional design, and covering elections from 1948 to 1972. Key predictors are issues, state of the economy, and incumbency. The model was used to forecast both the 1976 and 1980 presidential elections.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Advanced Democracies, Electoral System Reform in
- Advanced Democracies, Public Opinion and Public Policy in
- Advertising and Election Campaigns in the United States
- Africa, Comparative Politics of
- Africa, Public Opinion in
- Africa, Women’s Political Representation in
- African Development, Politics of
- American Indian Politics
- Ancient Chinese Political Thought
- Arab Spring, The
- Arab-Israel Conflict, The
- Arendt, Hannah
- Argentine Government and Politics
- Aristotle's Political Thought
- Arms Race Modeling
- Asia, Water Politics in
- Asian American Mobilization and Political Identities
- Australia and New Zealand, Comparative Politics of
- Authoritarian Regimes, Lawyers in
- Authoritarianism in Russia
- Authoritarianism in the Public
- Authoritarianism in Turkey
- Bicameralism in Stable Democracies
- Big Data in Political Science Research
- Biopolitics and State Regulation of Human Life
- Birthright Citizenship
- Brazilian Foreign Policy
- Brazilian Political Development
- Brexit, British Politics, and European Integration
- Business-State Relations in Europe
- Campaign Finance in the Era of Super-PACS
- Canadian Foreign Policy
- Candidate Emergence and Recruitment
- Caribbean, Elections and Democracy in the
- Celebrities in US Politics
- Channels of Electoral Representation in Advanced Industria...
- China, Political Economy of
- China's One-Child Policy
- China-Taiwan Relations
- Chinese Communist Party
- Chinese Economic Policy
- Chinese Nationalism
- Civil Society in South Asia
- Civil War in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Civil-Military Relations in Asia
- Civil-Military Relations in Latin America
- Class in American Politics
- Climate Change and Politics
- Collective Memory
- Comparative Capitalism Theory
- Comparative Industrial Relations in Europe
- Comparative Political Economy of Resource Extraction
- Comparative Politics of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bis...
- Comparative Politics of Chile and Uruguay
- Comparative Politics of Federalism
- Comparative Politics of the Middle East and North Africa
- Computational Social Science
- Congress, Defense, and Foreign Policy
- Congressional Reassertion of Authority
- Conservative Litigation Strategies and Groups in US Judici...
- Constitutional Politics in Asia
- Corruption in China
- Cosmopolitan Political Thought
- Crisis of European Integration in Historical Perspective, ...
- Critical Elections, Partisan Realignment, and Long-Term El...
- Critical Theory and the Frankfurt School
- Cuban Political Development
- Cycles of Protest
- Democracy and Authoritarianism, Empirical Indicators of
- Democracy and Authoritarianism in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Democracy and Dictatorship in Central Asia
- Democracy and Minority Language Recognition
- Democracy in Latin America
- Democratic Citizenship
- Democratic Consolidation
- Democratic Peace Theory
- Democratic Theory
- Democratization in Africa
- Democratization in Central America
- Democratization in Mexico
- Democratization in the Muslim World
- Development of Survey Research
- Diasporas and Politics
- Direct Democracy in the United States
- Dual Citizenship
- East Africa, Politics of
- East and Southeast Asia, Political Party Systems in
- East and Southeast Asia, Women and Politics in
- East Asia, Civil Society and Social Movements in
- Economic Voting
- Effects of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks on American Public O...
- Election Forecasting
- Election Laws in Democracies
- Election Observation and the Detection of Fraud
- Electoral and Party System Development in Sub-Saharan Afri...
- Electoral Assistance
- Electoral Change in Latin America
- Electoral Institutions and Women’s Representation
- Electoral Reform and Voting in the United States
- Electoral Volatility in the New Democracies of Latin Ameri...
- Electronic Voting Systems
- Emotion and Racial Attitudes in Contemporary American Poli...
- Environmental Governance
- Environmental Politics among Advanced Industrial Democraci...
- Ethnic Diasporas and US Foreign Policy
- Ethnic Politics
- Eurasia, Comparative Politics of
- European Parliament, The
- European Social Democracy
- European Union, Politics of the
- Extension of Voting Rights to Emigrants
- Failed and Weak States in Theory and Practice
- Far-Right Parties in Europe
- Federalism in the United States
- Feminist Political Thought
- Field Experiments
- Filibuster, The
- Framing Effects in Political Communication
- Gender and Electoral Politics in the United States
- Gender and International Relations
- Gender and Political Violence
- Gender and Politics in South Asia
- Gender, Behavior, and Representation
- Gender Gap in US Public Opinion
- Gender Stereotypes in Politics
- Genetic Underpinnings of Political Attitudes and Behaviors
- German Politics and Government
- Global Inequality
- Globalization and the Welfare State
- Globalization, Health Crises, and Health Care
- Governance in Africa
- Governmental Responses to Political Corruption
- Gridlock and Divided Government in the U.S.
- Health-Care Politics in the United States
- Historiography of Twentieth-Century American Conservatism,...
- Hobbes’s Political Thought
- Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of
- Hume’s Political Thought
- Hybrid Regimes
- Ideal Point Estimation
- Identity and Political Behavior
- Ideological Reasoning in Politics
- Illiberal Democracies and Democratic Backsliding
- Immigrant Incorporation in Canada
- Immigrant Incorporation in Western Europe
- Immigration and European Politics
- Immigration and International Relations
- Immigration Politics and Policy in the United States
- Impact of Campaign Contributions on Congressional Behavior...
- Impact of C-SPAN on US Democracy
- Implicit Attitudes in Public Opinion
- Income Dynamics and Politics in North America and Europe
- Income Inequality and Advanced Democracies
- Income Inequality in the United States, The Politics of
- Independent Voters, The Study of
- Indian Democracy
- Indigenous Politics and Representation in Latin America
- Indigenous Rights and Governance in Canada, Australia, and...
- Indonesia, Politics of
- Informal Practices of Accountability in Urban Africa
- Institutional Change in Advanced Democracies
- Institutional Factors Affecting Women’s Political Engageme...
- Intellectual Property in International Relations
- Interest Groups and Inequality in the United States
- Interest Groups in American Politics
- Interethnic Contact and Impact on Attitudes
- International Conflict Management
- International Criminal Justice
- International Law
- International NGOs
- International Political Economy of Illegal Drugs
- Internet and Politics, The
- Intersectionality in Political Science
- Interstate Border Dispute Management in the Indo-Pacific
- Iran, Political Development of
- Israeli Politics
- Italian Politics and Government
- Judicial Supremacy and National Judicial Review
- Judiciaries and Politics in East Asia
- Kant's Political Thought
- Labor Migration: Dynamics and Politics
- Labor Politics in East Asia
- Land Reform in Latin America
- Latin America, Democratic Transitions in
- Latin America, Electoral Reform in
- Latin America, Environmental Policy and Politics in
- Latin America, Guerrilla Insurgencies in
- Latin America, Social Movements in
- Legal Mobilization
- LGBT Politics in the United States
- Liberal Pluralism
- Local Governments in the United States
- Machiavelli’s Political Thought
- Malaysian Politics and Government
- Marx's Political Thought
- Mass Incarceration and US Politics
- Mechanisms of Representation
- Media Effects in Politics
- Media Politics in South Asia
- Mexican Political Development
- Minority Governments
- Minority Political Engagement and Representation in the Un...
- Mixed-Member Electoral Systems
- Modern Dynastic Rule
- Modern Elections and Voting Behavior in Europe
- Motivated Reasoning
- Narrative Analysis
- National Interbranch Politics in the United States
- NATO, Politics of
- Negative Campaigning
- Neoclassical Realism
- New Institutionalism Revisited, The
- North America, Comparative Politics of
- Oil, Politics of
- Online Public Opinion Polling
- Organized Criminal Syndicates and Governance in Mexico and...
- Origins and Impact of Proportional Representation, The
- Outcomes of Social Movements and Protest Activities
- Partisan and Nonpartisan Theories of Organization in the U...
- Partisan Polarization in the US Congress
- Partisan Polarization in the US Electorate
- Party Networks
- Party System Institutionalization in Democracies
- Peace Operations
- Personality and Politics
- Personalization of Politics
- Plato’s Political Thought
- Policy Feedback
- Policy Responsiveness to Public Opinion
- Political Ambition
- Political Economy of Financial Regulation in Advanced Ind...
- Political Economy of India
- Political Economy of Taxation, The
- Political Geography in American Politics
- Political Humor and Its Effects
- Political Institutions and the Policymaking Process in Lat...
- Political Obligation
- Political Parties and Electoral Politics of Japan
- Political Roles and Activities of Former Presidents and Pr...
- Political Thought, Hegel's
- Political Thought of the American Founders, The
- Politics and Policy in Contemporary Argentina
- Politics, Gender Quotas in
- Politics of Anti-Americanism
- Politics of Class Formation
- Politics of Disaster Prevention and Management
- Politics of Ethnic Identity in China
- Politics of Financial Crises
- Politics of Foreign Direct Investment in South Asia
- Politics of Higher Education in the U.S.
- Politics of Internal Conquest in the United States and Can...
- Politics of Japan
- Politics of Natural Disasters, The
- Politics of North Korea
- Politics of Science and Technology
- Politics of South Africa
- Politics of Southern Africa
- Politics of the American South
- Politics of the Philippines: From Rizal to Duterte
- Politics of the US-Mexico Border
- Populism in Latin America
- Positive and Negative Partisanship
- Postcolonial Political Theory
- Postcolonialism and International Relations
- Post-Communist Democratization
- Preferential Trade Agreements, Politics of
- Presidential Candidate Selection in Comparative Perspectiv...
- Presidential Persuasion and Public Opinion
- Presidential Primaries and Caucuses
- Private Governance
- Protest Participation
- Public Opinion in Affluent Democracies
- Public Opinion in Europe toward the European Union
- Public Opinion in New Democracies and Developing Nations
- Public Opinion on Immigration
- Public Opinion toward the Environment and Climate Change i...
- Public Presidency, US Elections, and the Permanent Campaig...
- Qualitative Methods, The Renewal of
- Race in American Political Thought
- Racial and Ethnic Descriptive Representation in the United...
- Recruitment and Selection for Elected Office
- Redistricting and Electoral Competition in American Politi...
- Referendums and Direct Democracy
- Regime Transitions and Variation in Post-Communist Europe
- Regional Integration
- Regional Integration in Latin America
- Regional Security
- Regulating Food Production
- Religion and Politics in Latin America
- Religion in American Political Thought
- Religion in Contemporary Political Thought
- Religion, Politics, and Civic Engagement in the United Sta...
- Rousseau’s Political Thought
- Rule of Law
- Russia and the West
- Science and Democracy
- Science and Social Movements
- Secession and Secessionist Movements
- Semi-Presidential Systems
- Social Networks, Mass Publics, and Democratic Politics
- Social Policy and Immigrant Integration
- South Asian Political Thought
- South Korea, Politics of
- Southeast Asian Politics
- Spectacle, The
- Sport and Politics
- State Building in Sub-Saharan Africa
- State Formation
- State, The Nature of the
- State-Society Relations in South Asia
- Stereotypes in Political Reasoning
- Supreme Court and Public Opinion
- Supreme Court of the United States, The
- Systemic Theories of International Politics
- Taiwan, Politics of
- Tea Party, The
- Thailand, Politics of
- The Crisis of European Integration in Historical Perspecti...
- The New Right in American Political Thought
- The Politics of Parenthood: Attitudes, Behavior, Policy, a...
- The Politics of Waste and Social Inequalities in Indian Ci...
- Third-Party Politics in the United States
- Tocqueville’s Political Thought
- Transboundary Pollution
- Transitional Justice
- Transnational Private Regulation
- Trust in Latin American Governing Institutions
- Turkey, Political Development of
- US Military Bases Abroad
- US Politics, Neoliberalism in
- US Presidency, The
- US Presidential Campaigns and Their Impact
- Venezuela, The Path Toward Authoritarianism in
- Voter Support for Women Candidates
- Voter Turnout
- Voter Turnout Field Experiments
- Voting Technology and Election Administration in the Unite...
- Welfare State Development
- Welfare State Development in Latin America
- Welfare State Development in Western Europe
- West Africa, Politics of
- White Identity Politics
- Women and Conflict Studies
- Women’s Inclusion in Executive Cabinets
- Women’s Legal and Constitutional Rights
- Women’s Political Activism and Civic Engagement in Latin A...
- Women’s Representation in Governmental Office in Latin Ame...
- Women’s Representation in the Middle East and North Africa
- Workers’ Politics in China
- Youth and Generational Differences in US Politics