And the answer is…

What was the approximate vote total difference across three key states which decided the Presidential election?

A) 10,000

B) 80,000

C) 3,000,000

If you guessed 3,000,000, don’t feel bad. That’s the approximate number by which Clinton won the popular vote. So it was a number “in the news” that many would recognize. The correct answer is B, 80,000, the total number of votes which tilted the electoral college in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan into the Trump column. That’s right. 0.06% of the vote – and 0.0012% of the American people – decided who gets to be “the leader of the free world.”

If you got it right, I tip my hat to you. You’re on your way to being “a numbers guy (or gal!)”. 

Pollsters will be smarting over the vast discrepancy between the forecasts and the outcome of the last presidential election.  But this tiny number of voters highlights what most people miss about virtually all numerical results used and abused by policy makers, academics, business associates, and even your friends and colleagues: The uncertainty and error around numerical results are as important as the numbers themselves.

Painting By Numbers coverIn Painting By Numbers: How to Sharpen Your BS Detector and Smoke Out the Experts, I give you twelve layman’s commandments for evaluating any numerical result and then demonstrating how you can apply the commandments to your daily life. When it comes to polling, pollsters typically violate many of these commandments. They don’t acknowledge error except statistical error (commandment one), they rarely identify the assumptions used in their models (commandment two), they are trying to gauge sentiment not measure a physical quantity (commandment seven), and they often start with the answer (commandment eleven) and work backwards.

Want to learn more? Painting By Numbers is available in on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback. And if you’d like to try it out before you buy, I’m giving away the first five commandments from the book for free – all you have to do is tell me where to send them

P.S. Are you an educator, blogger, or industry professional? I’d love to hear from you personally. Please contact me directly if you’d like to start a conversation, receive a free Kindle copy of Painting By Numbers, or just tell me how you use numbers in your daily life. You can reach me at jmakansi AT



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