Statsgasm Episode 4: Best Picture Nomination Voting Simulation (Pt. 1)
by Marshall Flores
Hello friends, and welcome back for another edition of Awards Daily’s Statsgasm! On this final day of 2013, we’re going to be taking a one-episode detour away from the art and science of AD’s prediction models. Instead, our focus today will be on the instant-runoff voting (IRV, also known as ranked choice voting) system AMPAS uses when determining Oscar nominations. In the effort to better understand the mechanics of this long-winded, complicated process, we will be running our own simulation of the Best Picture nominating process. This will also allow us to test a hypothesis that has been floating around the blogosphere recently – that a stronger film year with more potential BP contenders will result in fewer BP nominees.
As we all know, the Academy moved to a preferential ballot beginning in 2009 with regards to Best Picture voting, where voters would now rank multiple films on their lists. These ballots would then be tabulated under the IRV framework. AMPAS also initially doubled the Best Picture field from 5 to 10 nominees for a couple of years, before settling on a rule that requires every BP nominee to have #1 support from at least 5% of voters. Consequently, the number of BP nominees can now also vary from 5 to 10 films.
Now, I’ve read a number of articles attempting to explain AMPAS’s version of IRV, but frankly I think the nuances are lost on a general audience when IRV is discussed abstractly. As with regression analysis and the other statistical concepts I’ve introduced during Statsgasms’s run, I feel the best way to explain the BP nominating process is to actually see it in action. Longtime ADer (and fellow numbers nerd) Rob Y has been running voting simulations for the past few years using input directly from ADers, and they’ve been an excellent demonstration of the IRV system. I hope that our simulation over the next two days will be as effective and clear of a primer.
In order to simulate the BP nomination process, we will be using end-of-the-year top 10 lists from critics and bloggers that I’ve been compiling for the past few weeks as proxy ballots. I have collected and parsed 505 of these lists in total. Admittedly, it’s been an exhausting and tedious process that has certainly tested my resistance to carpal tunnel and being cross-eyed, but it has also been an enlightening one. And yes, I know that critics and bloggers aren’t representative of AMPAS voters in many respects. Again, this is just a exercise to gives us an idea of the nuts and bolts in formulating a BP lineup.
But before we jump into the simulation, let’s see how the critics and bloggers are ranking 2013′s films on their top 10s. The following is a table displaying the overall top 20 films of these lists, ranked using a weighted score (where a #1 placement = 10 points, #2 = 9 points, #3 = 8, etc.)
Prospective BP frontrunners 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, and American Hustle are all ranked in the top 10, and as we can see, 12 Years and Slave and Gravity are *way* ahead of the others when it comes to #1 votes. Other contenders such as Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, and Nebraska are represented here as well. But the one thing to always remember is preferential balloting primarily rewards passion, i.e. #1 placements. We’ll soon see how much of this top 20 ends up making the BP lineup when our simulation is finished.
[NOTE: Since today, tonight and tomorrow are a holiday worldwide, we've decided to split this week's episode of Statsgasm into two parts. We'll ring out the old by looking back at Marshall's summary of the Academy's preferential balloting process. Then we'll ring in the new tomorrow, looking forward past herculean task Marshall has undertaken to compile 505 separate Top 10 Lists to tabulate those 'ballots' and deliver the results in the Mother of All Top 20 Charts we see above. A few hours from now Part 2 will thrust us straight into the simulated belly of the balloting beast. - Ryan]