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Visualizing the election

Red and blue will be back in fashion next Tuesday as the networks track who's winning where on Election Day. But you don't have to wait until then to find out what color your state is. Several Web sites have already color-coded the campaigns, based on traditional polls as well as online prediction markets.

I touched upon the prediction markets earlier this week - and now computer scientists from the University of Chicago and Yahoo Research are offering Flash-based maps that show the state-by-state market predictions for gubernatorial and Senate races in Democratic blue and Republican red (with periwinkle and pink for the less certain outcomes).

"The prices of the securities have in the past shown to be a surprisingly accurate prediction of future events," the University of Chicago's Lance Fortnow said in a news release issued Wednesday. "In 2004, these markets correctly predicted all but one of the Senate races and every state correctly in the Electoral College. We put the map together to highlight the importance of these markets and let people get a quick view of what the markets say."

The Chicago/Yahoo project uses securities prices from the online market, based in Ireland. But there are plenty of other prediction markets - including NewsFutures, the Foresight Exchange and the Iowa Electronic Markets, which I mentioned on Monday, as well as Inkling, which lets people create their own prediction markets.

For traditionalists, is offering its own clickable red-and-blue map of Senate races, colored to reflect the latest tracking polls rather than the prediction markets. We have our own pushpin-covered map for key political races, and The New York Times has a Flashy map that can morph between Senate, House and gubernatorial elections.

I wanted to find out whether the flap over John Kerry's flub created a run on the markets - but so far, it looks as if the market forecast is relatively stable, favoring a Democratic takeover of the House. If anything, there's an uptick in expectations that the Democrats might prevail in the Senate as well.

On Tuesday, we'll find out whether traditional polling or the prediction markets came closest to anticipating the actual returns. Next June, computer scientists are expected to delve into the market phenomenon in depth during the Conference on Electronic Commerce, sponsored in San Diego by the Association of Computing Machinery. By that time, the presidential marketplace could well be heating up - on the campaign trail as well as in cyberspace.