As the popular narratives go, the 2016 elections are unpredictable, convention-shattering, an outsider’s game.
Hey wait, you think to yourself, you’re more of an outsider than sitting senators and millionaires. Perhaps this could have been your year. “What if?” you ask yourself.
A new app created by Reuters allows you to explore that counterfactual.
Called White House Run, the iPhone app is a game that allows users to run for president in a simulated election. Players create an avatar and decide on their candidate’s political and demographic composition and opinions on a number of electoral issues like immigration and gun control. The latter turn into “stump speeches,” which is where the polling data comes in.
Candidates receive an electability rating based on how their candidate’s stump speeches translate to real Reuters/Ipsos polls. The rating is based not only on pure percentages, but take into consideration the diversity of demographic groups the candidates reach as well.
“Essentially, we’re doing our best to track exactly what groups each candidate appeals to, rather than simply dividing it into ‘all Democrats’ or ‘all Republicans,'” Reuters opinion editor Jason Fields tells FishbowlDC via email.
Fields was one of the leads on the projects, which came about as a kind of stream-of-consciousness brainstorm. “The idea for the app actually came from playing with our Polling Explorer site itself,” he writes. “As I was going through the incredible amount of data we have, I started to imagine ways to get people engaged with it. I’m a lifetime video game junkie and I remember some amazing simulations, such as a game from the early 90s called Conflict: Middle East Political Simulator, where you’re the Israeli prime minister and faced with new issues every ‘day.'”
The Reuters/Ipsos database dates back to January 2012, when it started conducting a series of weekly online polls across a variety of topics, including politics, policy and pop culture. For the app, what eased the process from concept to creation was that, according to Fields, “since the Reuters/Ipsos polling database is actually built and maintained in-house, the developers who built the database were part of the process from the beginning. Reuters CTO Ken Ellis and his team made sure what we were doing would work, and also that the data would be accurate and valid.”
And it’s not just a one-time data dump that determines the course of the game. As the elections march on and will soon enough morph from primaries to the general, new polling data will continue to be added to the app.
Since it is a game, White House Run is meant to be fun, but Fields also hopes the app can help elucidate exactly what is going on this cycle.
“Users can get insight into the minds of voters through playing the app,” he writes. “Not every poll question yields the answer people would expect. Someone playing the game with a straight ‘partisan’ line may discover they don’t know the electorate as well as they think.”