UW computer whiz runs ongoing cyber-poll

Brian Caldwell

May 10, 1999

It's part opinion poll, part shouting match.

And in the middle of it all, loving every minute of the action, is an engaging young man who appointed himself referee.

Milton Chan, 20, is a bit of a techno-whiz, a second-year student in the prestigious computer engineering program at the University of Waterloo.

He's also a hopeless political junkie who throws himself into "any campaign I can get my dirty little hands on."

To serve both interests, Chan stuck them together in cyberspace and created a novel Internet Web site on the provincial election.

Basically, it's a running, riding-by-riding prediction of who will win when Ontario voters go to the polls June 3.

Chan, who has spent hundreds of hours doing research and setting up the site since January, is the final arbiter.

But before making his calls, he sifts through the scuttlebutt from anybody and everybody who wants to make submissions in each of the province's 103 ridings.

The site is picking up steam as word spreads, now registering more than 1,000 "hits'' or visits a day.

Up to 50 people a day are also taking time to send the Vancouver resident an opinion or pass on tidbits of factual information.

Based on their submissions, which he weights for reliability, plus formal opinion polls and other research, Chan now has the Tories slightly ahead with 32 seats, followed by the Liberals at 31 and the NDP at seven.

Thirty-three ridings, according to his analysis, remain too close to call.

"I don't just pull them out of a hat,'' he said. "I can defend every single decision I have made.''

That's an important point, since Chan is an avowed Liberal working as a volunteer for two Toronto-area candidates.

He also works for the party surfing the Web for libel or blatant factual errors on hundreds of other election sites created by interest groups, individuals and candidates.

Chan got his prediction idea from a Canadian student at Harvard University who used a similar site to gauge the outcome of the 1997 federal election, claiming an 87 per cent success rate.

Unless there's a sweep in the offing, he hopes to get 90 per cent of his picks right by tuning in to the buzz out in the ridings.

But his supervisor on the project, UW political science professor Bob Williams, won't be betting any big money on it. He still considers the site nothing more than an interesting experiment.

"Will he have picked up any rumbles out there that traditional sources have missed? We just won't know until the numbers are in.''

Whether he's bang on or out to lunch, actually, Williams will be more interested in what happens after Chan has made his final predictions.

To get academic credit for the project, he'll have to submit a 35-page analysis of his analysis.

Chan's election Web site is at: www.arts.uwaterloo.ca/~m6chan

©Kitchener-Waterloo Record 1999
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