I thought I’d take a moment to explore one of the areas that I actually have some background in: Mathematics and statistics. According to the web site fivethirtyeight.com, as of when I published this post, Donald Trump has approximately a 12% chance of winning the November 3rd election.
Incredible, some might say, Joe Biden is going to win the election. Not so fast! 12%, while heavily favoring Biden, doesn’t mean that Trump is necessarily going to lose. The image of this post (I love MS paint sometimes) represents approximately a 12% chance for the Orange lunatic to win the election. It’s unlikely, but far an insurmountable lead.
What does 12% actually mean, and how we can relate it to the real world? It turns out that 12% is very close to exactly 1 in 8. It also turns out that 1 in 8 in very close to 1 in 6 (for estimating purposes, since 1 in 6 is 16.6%.) In other words, Trump’s chances to win the election are not too far removed from rolling a 6 single sided die and coming up with a 6. Again, unlikely but not impossible. For something you can try yourself, it’s also very close to your chances of flipping a fair coin three times and having each flip come up heads.
Here are some other close approximations of what a 12% chance actually lookls like:
- From a standard deck of cards pulling out any of the ace though 6 of diamonds (actually 1 in 8.6, or about which is 11.5%)
- That an American living in the US (or it’s territories) in 2018 lived in California (approximate 39 million out of 331 million, which is just under 12%)
- Selecting a random day of the year and having that day be a Monday (actually 1 in 7, which is 14.2%.)
- There is apparently a 1 in 8 chance that a solar mega storm will happen in the next decade
- 538 provides the example of rain in Los Angeles. It apparently rains 36 days per year, meaning that there’s about a 1 in 10 chance of any day being rainy, which is only slight worse than Trump’s chances.
Statistics can be interesting stuff. We just need to be careful that we don’t misinterpret what the numbers mean. Having a sense of how odds work, and being able to relate them to the real world, can make mathematics much less confusing and more relatable.