Good call: Ottawa firm’s U.S. election prediction not far off mark

In the aftermath of a U.S. presidential election that garnered almost as many headlines for how pundits called it wrong as it did for Donald Trump’s upset victory, one Ottawa firm can say its prediction appears to be more accurate than most.

Advanced Symbolics uses artificial intelligence to forecast consumer and voter behaviour. In its pre-election analysis the day before the Nov. 8 vote, the company’s AI system predicted Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would grab 48.9 per cent of the popular vote and Republican contender Donald Trump would earn 46.2 per cent.

The system assigned a “confidence factor” of plus or minus 1.4 percentage points to those results, meaning the range of support for Ms. Clinton was 47.5 to 50.3 per cent, while for Mr. Trump the spread was between 44.8 per cent and 47.6 per cent. 

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With the final vote tally still not official on Monday, Ms. Clinton’s actual share of the popular vote was about 48 per cent to the president-elect’s 46.7 per cent – both within the range of Advanced Symbolics’ forecast.

CEO Erin Kelly said her AI’s analysis – based on an analysis of social media and blog posts from a sample of 200,000 Americans as well as other relevant blogs and news sites – was detecting a spike in Mr. Trump’s popularity as early as the summer.

“The evidence was there early if you knew how to look for it,” she said of the Republican’s upset victory, which stunned most media observers who were expecting Ms. Clinton to earn the keys to the White House. 

“I think we need to admit that the traditional ways of doing public opinion research don’t work any more. People, when they want to talk about their political affiliations, they don’t do it on the telephone – they do it online. If you really want to understand what people are thinking and how they’re feeling and how they’re voting, you need to be online and participating in that conversation.”

Mr. Trump triumphed despite capturing a smaller share of the popular vote than the former secretary of state, only the fifth time in U.S. history the candidate with the most votes failed to win the presidency. 

Advanced Symbolics’ system did not look at how popular vote tallies would translate into electoral college votes, but Ms. Kelly said the company will factor in the electoral college for the 2020 election.

She said her system also picked up on a phenomenon that much of the mainstream media ignored: Mr. Trump’s rising support among African-Americans and Hispanics as the campaign wore on.

“We saw this in August, that Trump was gaining in popularity with African-American and Hispanic voters, and yet we see the people who are commenting on the election right now saying, ‘Oh, this was the angry, uneducated white vote.’ That’s not what this was,” Ms. Kelly said. 

“It really wasn’t as simple to explain this victory as people are trying to make it out to be now. Donald Trump could not have won Michigan if he didn’t appeal to black voters.”

The company’s patented AI technology has been used in more than 100 elections in Britain, Canada and the United States. Most of its clients, however, are retailers, ad agencies and major brands such as Disney who pay the firm to predict the next big consumer trends.

Ms. Kelly said her phone has been ringing more frequently since the company’s presidential predictions started to get publicized.

“Elections are very good for us,” she said.

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