10 October 2014

Making agents

The first (and long) step in moving towards agent-based modeling is the creation of the agents themselves. While fictional, they must be representative of reality – meaning they need to behave like actual people might.

In developing a proof of concept of our simulation platform (which we’ll lay out in some detail soon), we’ve created 10,000 agents, drawn randomly from the 542 census tracts (CTs) that make up Toronto per the 2011 Census, proportional to the actual population by age and sex. (CTs are roughly “neighbourhoods”.) So, for example, if 0.001% of the population of Toronto are male, aged 43, living in a CT on the Danforth, then roughly 0.001% of our agents will have those same characteristics. Once the basic agents are selected, we assign (for now) the median household income from the CT to the agent.

But what do these agents believe, politically? For that we take (again, for now) a weighted compilation of relatively recent polls (10 in total, having polled close to 15,000 people, since Doug Ford entered the race), averaged by age/sex /income group/region combinations (420 in total). These give us average support for each of the three major candidates (plus “other”) by agent type, which we then randomly sample (by proportion of support) and assign a Left-Right score (0-100) as we did in our other modeling.

This is somewhat akin to polling, except we’re (randomly) assigning these agents what they believe rather than asking, such that it aggregates back to what the polls are saying, on average.

Next, we take the results of an Elections Canada study on turnout by age/sex that allows us to similarly assign “engagement” scores to the agents. That is, we assign (for now) the average turnout by age/sex group accordingly to each agent. This gives us a sense of likely turnout by CT (see map below).

There is much more to go here, but this forms the basis of our “voter” agents. Next, we’ll turn to “candidate” agents, and then on to “media” agents.

Happy thanksgiving!

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