Virginia Tech student gains national following with unique election platform
November 3, 2023
As the days grow shorter and the leaves begin to fall, one Virginia Tech senior is looking forward to what he considers the most wonderful time of the year — Election Day.
For political science major Chaz Nuttycombe, the day is better than Christmas morning. Hunkered down in his apartment and fueled by Benny’s Pizza, Nuttycombe and his team will anxiously wait for election results to roll in on Nov. 7.
More importantly, Nuttycombe will be watching to see if the predictions that he made based on months of hard work are right.
It’s an interest Nuttycombe, a Hanover County native, honed during high school. But it isn’t just a hobby. In 2020, he launched CNalysis, an election forecasting online platform that specializes in state legislative races. Along with forecasting every state legislative race in the country, he also tracks gubernatorial, congressional, and presidential races.
Nuttycombe shares his election forecasts via the CNalysis website, as well as through its Discord channel, newsletters, podcasts, and an X, formerly known as Twitter, account. The website has more than 1 million page views and more than 250,000 visitors.
To say that CNalysis is a niche would be an understatement. To his knowledge, Nuttycombe is one of few analysts in the U.S. who specializes in state legislative elections.
With more than 22,000 followers on his personal X account, numerous politicians, analysts, journalists, and political fanatics follow his work. He also routinely talks with reporters from large media outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Nuttycombe said he views elections “as a sport and a science.” His predictions are based on several factors, including demographic and election data, campaign advertisement spending, and conversations with sources on both sides of the aisle.
He jokes he may have become interested in politics as early as age 5.
“My mom showed me this arts and crafts project years ago that said, ‘When I grow up, I want to be governor,’” he said. “It’s funny. But I would say the first election I remember paying attention to was in 2008. Then, I really paid attention in 2012, and especially since 2016.”
One of his proudest and most pivotal moments came in 2017 when he was a high school senior. Virginia’s House of Delegates seats were up for reelection. Out of 100 seats, he guessed 96 right — a higher rate of accuracy than most of the analysts whose work he admired.
Nuttycombe said he finds state legislative elections to be of interest in part because of how overlooked they are, noting that the majority of Americans don’t know their state legislators. But, he said more voters have started paying attention in the years since Donald Trump’s presidency.
“All politics are local, and state governments are very important,” Nuttycombe said. “It's a big part of our government that has been generally overlooked.”
Nuttycombe, who transferred to the university from J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in the fall 2021 semester, is a fourth-generation Virginia Tech student. He said the weeks following up to Election Day can be grueling, especially this year, given he is currently enrolled in a full load of 18 credit hours.
“I have a good amount of projects and midterms,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a juggle, but we have been able to get a good bit of work and data crunching done.”
Currently, he said his day-to-day life can be summed up by going to classes, going to the gym, going to more classes, eating dinner, and then working on CNalysis for a few hours before heading to bed.
Nicholas Goedert, an assistant professor of political science at Virginia Tech, teaches three of Nuttycombe’s courses, including public opinion, political parties, and voting and early elections.
Goedert said other students probably don’t know that Nuttycombe has such a national following, because he tends to keep a “pretty low profile” around his election project. He said he was familiar with Nuttycombe’s work and social media presence before becoming his professor.
“Chaz has been a great student to have in class; one unique perspective he provides is that he is often able to apply very useful anecdotes from state races to the subjects we're covering in my classes,” Goedert said.
“I think he's also carved out a terrific niche for himself in the election projection space,” Goedert said. “There's a lot of people doing this sort of thing with more experience than him, but almost all of them focus on congressional, statewide, and presidential elections. He recognized where the need was very early on, seized on it, and thus has a huge head start to build on in the future.”
Aidan Howard, a Virginia native and the site’s geographic information systems technician, graduated from Virginia Tech in 2023 with a major in geography and a minor in geographic information science. He assists with data computation, creating the website’s static maps, and ensuring data matches up with census redistricting zones.
“The joke is people only vote during presidential years,” said Howard, who is based in Northern Virginia, and met Nuttycombe at Virginia Tech. “On non-presidential years, people don’t turn out as much. But I think it’s just as an important part of our system, if not more so, because it affects us more in our day-to-day lives. But people tend to brush it off because it’s not the big one.”
Howard met Nuttycombe on a night out in 2021 when they were both looking for friends. Nuttycombe texted him a few weeks later asking for more details about his mapping background, and the two have been working together ever since.
The operation is funded by ad revenue, as well as by subscriptions and donations, which allows Nuttycombe to compensate his staffers. Currently, CNalysis is a team of eight individuals who are spread out across the country, and contribute to editing, design, mapping, data computation, and finance, along with other tasks. Some he met during his time at Virginia Tech, others he met online.
On Election Night, Nuttycombe will have volunteers stationed at registrar offices. His apartment will be packed with friends and staffers — in person and on Zoom and Discord calls — as they work to update the website.
Howard said he enjoys seeing the impact of the team’s work on election night, especially when a senator retweets the CNalysis live map.
“Seeing the work we’re doing reaching tens of thousands of people, if not more, is pretty amazing,” he said.
Nuttycombe’s excitement is palpable on election night.
“He loves getting it right,” Howard said. “And it’s very interesting to see because, of course, he is unbiased. But it’s also very funny to see him get hyped up.”
This election year is shaping up to be interesting for Virginia. Republicans could capture the Senate in a state that, between the years 2012 to 2020, leaned blue. If Republicans retain control of the House, which they won by a 52-to-48 seat majority in 2021, the GOP will have control of both state legislative chambers. Nuttycombe is also following the state legislative races in Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Jersey.
Still, “Virginia is my bread and butter,” Nuttycombe said. “It’s where I got my start. It's where I have the most connections.”
Nuttycombe believes abortion and the economy will be the dominating issues on Virginia’s ballot.
CNalysis is currently forecasting that Democrats will be slight favorites in both chambers.
This year, as the results pour in, the site will use data to predict outcomes before the races are called.
Following graduation in May, Nuttycombe plans to scale his business by adding new employees and website offerings.
“I love bringing people together to create something really cool,” Nuttycombe said of working with his team. “That’s something I’ve loved doing since I was a kid.”
Written by Kelsey Bartlett