Grad student creates interactive election poll

By Lana Groves, Asst. News Editor

With the 2008 presidential election approaching, a U doctoral student specializing in computer science has designed a more interactive poll result viewer analyzing how different voting demographics view the presidential candidates.

Geoff Draper used statistical data gathered by students from Brigham Young University and Utah State University about opinions of the 2007 Salt Lake City mayoral and city council elections, which he converted in the new online poll technology.

The poll allows the user to drag different links for race, gender, education, household income, occupation and other factors into the center of the circular poll and alter the data to see opinions for each voting demographic.

Draper also used poll results about Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain for the 2008 presidential elections in the new poll.

For an example, Draper dragged a box representing people with an annual income of $150,000 and above, and the poll changed to show more or less favor for both candidates.

“People who rent a home were quickly shown to be less favorable of McCain,” Draper said.

Instead of showing the average opinion for all ages, Draper can drag links for citizens older than 65 years, and then drag in a link for women to show only the results for women older than 65.

“The data was collected to analyze people’s voting status,” Draper said. “You can look at any variation.”

He will present his work Oct. 19 at a conference for computer scientists in Ohio.

Computer science professor Richard Riesenfeld supervised Draper’s project and said the work revolutionizes bar charts for the first time.

“It may not have been in color, but it’s still essentially a bar chart. The problem is, we collect more data than we have the ability to absorb,” Riesenfeld said.

With the new poll technique, viewers can absorb the information without going through each part of the poll.

“The computations are nothing intrinsically unique,” Draper said. “The main strength of the program is its simplicity.”

The interactive poll could be used for further data after the election season is over. Draper said he’s not marketing the work for sale at this time. He said the program needs more work because it takes about six hours to upload the data from statistical software to the new program.

The work will help anyone trying to find a relationship in large amounts of data, Risienfeld said.

“Much as a doctor looks at vital signs, it helps you get insight into the relationship that may exist,” he said.

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