Those watching President Barack Obama’s inauguration may see a familiar face in the crowd: Helen Hutchens ’15 (Lancaster, Pa.). The mechanical engineering major won tickets to the inauguration ceremony and official inaugural ball, both on Jan. 21, plus a prize of $1,000, in the Election Forecasting Contest sponsored by the Policy Studies program in connection with the College’s student-run election-night telecast Nov. 6.
This year’s “50 States of Grey” election broadcast marked the third election Lafayette students have covered as part of an economics course taught by Mark Crain, Simon Professor of Political Economy and chair of policy studies. Dozens of students from a variety of majors researched the issues and candidates, wrote scripts, created pre-recorded and live segments, and trained behind and in front of the camera. And, for the first time, the College teamed with WLVT Channel 39, the PBS affiliate in the Lehigh Valley, to produce the two-hour broadcast, which was available to millions of viewers through Channel 39 and by live-stream on the College’s website.
The forecasting contest involved predicting the winners of Senate and House races and the outcome of the Electoral College vote in selected states. Hutchens’ tickets are being provided by Peter G. Jacoby ’81, vice president of federal relations at AT&T.
“It is important for undergraduates to develop the interest and the skills to be engaged and informed citizens while in college so that that interest will stay with them throughout their lives,” says Jacoby, who also provided tickets to the 2008 election forecast winner, Darlene Cerullo ’11. “Candidates, political campaigns, and elections are all really about presenting different choices that will impact the future quality of life for these undergraduates. Encouraging their interest and developing their skills to evaluate those choices is critical. If having the opportunity to participate in the inaugural events encourages healthy political engagement by Lafayette’s undergraduates, then it’s nice to be able to help with that incentive.”
Just like a campaign, Hutchens’ victory in predicting the winners of 30 races (10 U.S. House races, 10 U.S. Senate races, and 10 states in the presidential election) was a team effort. That’s why her brother, Mark, will accompany her.
The pair decided to use “informed statistics” to make their predictions. They used RealClearPolitics.com, New York Times writer Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog, and Wikipedia as sources. If they couldn’t predict a race, they flipped a dime as Franklin D. Roosevelt had the best record of any president. With good research and a little luck, they only missed five races.