Startup from Huntsman Business School succeeds at predicting election outcomes

LOGAN, Utah, May 24, 2012 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Question: Can social media predict election outcomes? Answer: Yes, at a Huntsman School startup at Utah State.

It’s the puzzle so many are trying to solve–seeing the future. Can “Twitter sentiment” accurately predict the movement of Facebook’s stock price? Can the Romney campaign reliably forecast a Super Tuesday win based on social media trending?

Firms such as Gallup, A.C. Nielsen, Attensity, Netvibes, DataSift and Lithium are racing for the answer. But a small startup called PoliticIt at Utah State University in northern Utah got there first.

In the last month, PoliticIt examined its data on more than 90 upcoming primary races all across the nation–races for the Senate, the House and for governor–and it correctly predicted the outcome in a remarkable 87 percent of those races. PoliticIt accurately called the results in 100 percent of Utah primary campaigns, including in three “upset” cases that traditional polling got totally wrong.

How did this six-month-old startup, created by five Jon M. Huntsman School of Business students and Professor John D. Johnson, develop a functioning political crystal ball before giant firms such as A.C. Nielsen?

Well, some firms analyze just one or two social media channels; DataSift and Attensity, for example, analyze just Twitter.

The more ambitious approach is to build an analysis machine that swallows “big data” from all of the sources–from all across the Internet, from many forms of social media, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, InTrade, Wikipedia and more, and from the vast numbers of traditional media. Then the challenge is to understand that data, identify the powerful “influencers,” read the “word clouds” and build a statistical model that predicts the outcome.

That’s what PoliticIt has done.

“We add over 30 megabytes of text and data every day to our database, which is now close to three terabytes,” said Josh Light, co-founder and CEO.

After that, it’s all about the algorithm, as the Google boys, Brin and Page, like to say.

PoliticIt has a powerful algorithm that can measure “digital influence” by calculating an “It Score”–a number from one to 100 that signifies a candidate’s digital influence. These “It Scores” accurately predict, significantly in advance, both poll and election results, says Sterling Morris, co-founder and chief marketing officer of the company.

The Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University seeks to inspire and equip students to become innovative, ethical leaders with refined analytical skills that will help them understand and succeed in the global marketplace. The Huntsman School of Business is one of eight colleges at USU, located in northern Utah. More information on the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business may be found on the web at www.huntsman.usu.edu.

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