Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 89 / OCTOBER 1987 / PAGE 32

President Elect: 1988 Edition

Ervin Bobo

Requirements: Apple II series (with a minimum of 48K), Commodore 64, and IBM PC and compatibles (with a minimum of 256K).

In order to fully enjoy President Elect, you must first decide what you want it to do for you. You could use it to find the strongest candidate for 1988 and place your election bets accordingly—though we'll accept no responsibility for an upset and your loss of the rent money.

Students or hobbyists in political science might wish to use the program to recreate campaigns of the past 28 years; others may wish to see the results of campaigns that never were; and still others will want to test their own campaigning skills by running against the computer or a human opponent.

President Elect will allow you to do all these things—and to do them with what we suspect is more than reasonable accuracy.

Past, Present, Or Future

To begin a contest, you first select a presidential election year between 1960 and 1988. Should you choose the future, you'll be asked a series of questions concerning unemployment, inflation, national mood, and so on—the stuff of which all campaigns are made. For past years, these parameters have already been factored in, but you'll have to make other choices, including Historical or Ahistorical, the former allowing you to place your own candidates within the framework of real history. You also must choose whether one of the candidates is an incumbent.

In an ahistorical simulation, you are not bound by the constraints of history: You may have Hubert Humphrey run as a Republican, Barry Gold-water run as a liberal, Lyndon Johnson run against Teddy Kennedy, or Gerald Ford run as a third-party candidate. These and many other permutations are possible. Additionally, you can play by “name-only,” where you and a friend do the campaigning using the candidates' names; or you can run campaigns as fully computerized simulations in which your computer knows the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate and determines the outcome of the match.

The campaign itself is composed of nine turns, each corresponding to one of the nine weeks between Labor Day and Election Day. During each turn, candidates do the usual things candidates do—such as calling for debates, spurning invitations to debates, deciding whether or not to visit a foreign country, making questionable statements, and spending campaign money (in this case, spending PAPs, or Political Action Points).

Each week begins with the results of the latest poll, showing what percent of the voters favor each candidate and then using this figure to determine the number of electoral votes each would secure if the election were held immediately. Following this update, there is a Current Events phase, and, if you are actively playing (as opposed to watching a computer simulation), you'll have to decide what you might say or do about the poll's results. Next comes the week's campaigning, during which you'll spend your PAPs where you think they'll do the most good—on a national or regional basis. You'll also decide which states might be swayed by a personal visit.

In playing against a human opponent, this part of the campaign is kept secret, each player using the computer long enough to enter his or her decisions while the other player leaves the room for coffee and doughnuts.

This sequence of plays occurs in each of the nine turns. At the end of each turn, a map displays the states favoring each candidate and the states still undecided (the only graphics display in the game), giving you a chance to formulate strategy for the next turn.

Should a debate occur, you'll be given a question which, when answered, will be rebutted by your opponent. You do not have to be a scholar to answer; you must decide only how much weight to give the five possible responses: Discuss Relevant Considerations, State Position, Attack Opponent, Kill Time, and Criticize with Witticisms. Following the debate, the media declares one of you the winner.

Then, once the campaign is over and the polls close, the preliminary results and updated projections arrive, much as they do on television. You can let this take its normal “realtime” course, which takes a few hours; or you can speed the results by a factor of ten—or you may jump to an immediate conclusion.

In setting up a simulation, demo-graphics play an important role, and while we do not know the extent to which they are used (demographics are as endless as pi), we are told in the documentation that there are different parameters used for each election year. For example, Florida, which today has 21 electoral votes, possessed only 10 in 1960. Individual states are also biased according to history, and such history becomes probability when dealing with the election of 1988.

Perhaps the most important factor is the political profile of a candidate—his stance on various issues, his poise and magnetism, his ability to speak. These things have been factored into President Elect and seem to have a different meaning in different election years.

Reagan Versus Kennedy

One of our tests involved a fully computerized 1988 matchup between Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy. Perhaps surprisingly for those of us who remember the aura of the Kennedy era, Reagan not only won the single debate but also the election—perhaps proving that communication is tougher than charisma.

However, a similar matchup against the temper of the times of 1960 had Kennedy winning by a landslide that was so great as to be embarrassing. What these simulations prove is that the database from which President Elect works is both extensive and accurate.

However the simulation is used, in historical or ahistorical mode, it is fun. And it is helped along by good documentation, including a pull-out score card (of which you'll want to make copies for successive campaigns) and a listing of recent political front runners with numerical weighting of aspects of their personal political profiles.

But where your election bet is concerned, it should be noted that neither COMPUTE! nor SSI will advance you the money.

President Elect: 1988 Edition

Strategic Simulations

1046 N. Rengstorff Ave.

Mountain View, CA 94043