Dartmouth Student Blogger Builds a Following with Political Predictions



Harry Enten ’11 (courtesy of Harry Enten ’11)

Harry Enten ’11 had his first experience with democracy in action when he tagged along with his father at age 4 to the voting booth in 1992. For many people, that experience might affirm the importance of voting or ignite a commitment to advocacy and activism. But for Enten of Riverdale, N.Y., it opened a door to the world of political prediction.

Enten began his blog, Margin of Error, in 2009. Dedicated primarily to politics – with a little baseball thrown in – Enten’s blog crunches statistical data that reveal expected voter patterns in everything from state initiatives to the state-by-state turnout during the 2008 presidential election. Publications such as The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Daily Beast, Slate, and The Economist have referenced and linked to his work.

A government major, Enten is spending his spring and summer term interning at Pollster.com, a website that aggregates polling data from various sources to provide a fuller picture of where elections stand. In April, Enten spoke with Dartmouth’s Office of Public Affairs about his blog, modern politics, and who wields influence in today’s media:

Q: Where did you get the idea to create Margin of Error and what were you hoping to accomplish?

A: I have had an interest in political prediction dating back to when I went to vote with my father in 1992, but I finally decided to blog when I realized I had something to offer.

In the 2009 off-year elections, I started publishing political observations in my daily weather email sent out to recipients at Dartmouth. Few experts correctly called the same-sex marriage election in Maine and even fewer called the closeness of the NYC mayoral election. I began to think that maybe I should try and compete with these published experts by publishing my own material.

My goal with the blog is really a simple one: add meaning to data. If one poll has the Democratic candidate up and one has the Republican candidate up, which of the polls is likely to be correct? If two candidates are separated by a few hundred votes on election night with only a few precincts remaining to be counted, will the remaining precincts help to cut or widen the leader’s advantage?

Unfortunately, few blogs (and forget about television) do a good job at explaining these situations. That’s where I come in. Using graphs and tables, I try to give answers in these situations in an easy to understand format.

Q: What is it about politics that excites you?

A: My interest is in what many deride as the “horserace.” That is, I am interested in predicting who will win on Election Day. I find a thrill in throwing myself into data to try and get even 1 percent closer to answering that question. Knowledge is power and in a society where everybody wants to know “who is going to win,” I want to be able to provide an accurate response to that question.

Q: What social or political issue do you feel college students should be paying more attention to and why?

A: I would say the misuse of data in society. If you like following polls, as I do, you should ask yourself when a poll comes out “does this pollster work for a campaign? What is their track record? Did they ask the questions in such a way as to elicit a certain response?”

Q: How do you see social media and the online world shaping political discussion in the 21st century?

A: The only person I know who gets all of his or her news from print media or television is my 82-year-old father (bless his soul). I get, and the polling indicates many other youths get, their news from the Internet. Instead of a few news organizations deciding what is newsworthy, citizens get the choice of many websites to get their news online.

On the Internet, it is a meritocracy, at least more so than in print or television. The stories people are interested in will come to the forefront. Online journalists get the same treatment as their stories. If you are good, you float. If you stink, you sink.

Q: What do you hope to take away from your internship at Pollster.com?

A: What I really love about Pollster.com though is how it remains one of the few websites I know of that is respected by people of all political stripes. I feel one of the most important things in providing data is to appear and be non-partisan. Once there is the slightest hint of bias, you will lose trust your audience’s trust.

I want to help Pollster.com continue to provide good information to the public. Pollster.com will be instituting many new features in the next few months leading into summer, and I want to be integral in that process.

Q: Who is your favorite political pundit?

A: That used to be an easy one, but it is not really anymore. I guess it is a tie between Matt Drudge and Taegan Goddard. Their websites (drudgereport.com and politicalwire.com, respectively), especially Taegan’s, are the ones that I just keep refreshing.

Q: If you could live during any presidential administration in the country’s history, which would it be and why?

A: Right at the end of the first-half of Eisenhower’s first term, specifically 1954, specifically October. The magic of television was beginning to take hold. The Giants were still playing in New York, and they would win the championship in ’54. A completely elevated railway on 3rd Avenue in New York (and not just the Bronx) was still standing. The march toward civil rights was getting a big boost from Brown v. Board of Education that was decided five months earlier. And a very competitive midterm (just like 2010 promises to be) election in less than a month. What more could a boy want?

Latarsha Gatlin