MSU PLS professors create Election Madness game to teach students to learn, play and most importantly, care, about political campaigns

October 18, 2020 - Karessa Weir

When COVID-19 hit the United States, the shutdown caused the cancellation of that beloved spring rite of March Madness where people across the nation try to determine the winners of the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament.

But in its place this fall is a political junkie’s 2020 version – Election Madness

MSU Political Science Associate Professor Eric Gonzalez Juenke came up with the idea of creating a bracket system similar to the NCAA’s to determine winners in close elections for public office across the country. This summer, he narrowed it down to 21 races and asked fellow political science professors to share it with their students and peers.

The result is more than 3,000 students and countless others having a vested interest in a wide variety of national seats other than their own district.

“These elections were chosen because of interesting dynamics or, at the time, the experts were forecasting these as very close races and we are asking players to choose the winners,” Dr. Juenke said Friday as he described the game to the “State of the State” podcast with WKAR.

Election Madness ( is set up with a point system based on odds of an upset. If you pick the upset as the winner, you receive more points. For instance, when the game was set up in July, Dr. Juenke had given U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham 80-20 odds of keeping his seat against challenger Jaime Harrison. So if you pick Harrison and he wins, you would receive 8 points.

“Like in March Madness, we’ve calibrated our favorites and upsets and sometimes upsets happen and if that happens, you win the points,” Dr. Juenke said. “The (Graham/Harrison) race has really tightened up and so seems like a prime candidate for an upset. This would be a good upset pick.”

In Michigan races, Dr. Juenke included Democrat Hilary Scholten versus Republican Peter Meijer in the open 3rd Congressional seat with Meijer favored 6/4. Dr. Juenke calls the race a “coin flip election” right now but says Meijer retains a slight edge in the race due to a Republican leaning district and the recognition of the name “Meijer.” Peter Meijer is the grandson of supermarket founder Fred Meijer.

Dr. Juenke was assisted in the creation, selection and distribution of the game by MSU Political Science Professor Matt Grossmann.

“By playing, you will be competing against students and faculty. You can test your skills against fellow Spartans and challenge national forecasting experts. In the process, you will learn about the many factors experts consider in judging elections. Perhaps they will be surprised again,” wrote Dr. Grossmann in an essay for the MSU Alumni Association.

The website includes instructor resources to allow political science professors to use the website and the game as part of a class, either as a shared experience or as a vehicle for in-depth research on close national races. There are also links to election forecasts, political science resources, scorecards and points calculators.

Entries need to be completed by Oct. 26. Winners will be selected by Drs. Juenke and Grossmann after the election and no, there is no prize money.

“We do not condone betting. This is for educational purposes only,” Dr. Juenke said with a laugh. “(However) I do have some friendly wagers with my colleagues and friends.”

If you want to create a “pool” team with friends and family, James Sprague created an app. for everyone to use to play together:

Dr. Juenke specializes in Latinx politics, U.S. electoral institutions, state and local elections, legislative and bureaucratic minority representation, Black politics, and democratic theory. He has published his research in The American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics,  Politics, Groups and Identities, and Political Research Quarterly. He received his doctorate from Texas A&M University in 2005, and worked at the University of Colorado at Boulder before coming to Michigan State University in 2009.

Dr. Grossmann is Director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research and a prolific writer and scholar. His research has earned the support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation. He is published in the Journal of Politics, Policy Studies Journal, Perspectives on Politics, American Politics Research and 15 other outlets. He is also a regular contributor of op-eds in The New York Times and The Washington Post.