You know what sounds fun? A Scatterplot competition! I know it’s not exactly a sequel to the epic Mario Kart races of 2009, but it might still be fun. This time it is a guessing game. How many members will the NRA have in June of 2013?
Place you guess along with a brief description of your methodology (if you used any) in the comments. If you modeled this instead of just taking a guess, it would be great at some point to get a write up of what you did so others, including me, can learn. You are allowed up to three guesses, but only your final one counts. If you do this really well, my guess is that you could turn it into a publication.
I would be that the NRA had about 3.1 million members at the end of 2012. That is up from 2.7 million members in 2007, but down from about 3.5 million in 2010. Since then, the NRA claims to have added 100,000 members between the Newton, CT shooting and January 10th, 2013, and then another 400,000 more by end of January. According to the NRA, this adds up to 4.5 million active members, but I’m suspicious because their claims are unverifiable and they have no incentive to tell the truth.
My stats are based on the number of reported subscribers to the NRA’s three magazines—American Hunter, American Rifleman [sic], and America’s 1st Freedom. Almost all NRA memberships come with your choice of one of those three magazines, so the total number of subscribers is a pretty good estimate of their total membership. While they don’t sell these magazines on newsstands, this still isn’t a perfect measure. It might underestimate because the NRA sometimes offers $10 memberships that don’t come with a magazine or you could elect not to receive any print magazine. It might overestimate membership because members have the option to pay an extra $10 and receive a second magazine. Based on two minutes in gun forums, I’m convinced that these sources of error are probably quite small and likely cancel each other out.
Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post has an article on the validity of using subscription data as a proxy for NRA membership. Using subscribers as a proxy for membership was originally discussed in Mother Jones. In that article, I’m an anonymous “source.” How glamorous! For the purposes of this competition, I’m counting the total number of subscribers of the three NRA magazines as the number of NRA members.
I managed to get the subscriber data from the three magazines for the last 30 years. Feel free to grab the raw data. Here’s what membership* looks like by month:
There are probably three main ways to create a prediction. The first route would be to make an informed guess. Second, would be to look at it like a day trader and estimate six months out based on historical month-to-month shifts. This sort of time-series analysis is uncommon in sociology and made trickier by all the ups and downs. The third route would be the more standard sociological method of finding a bunch of monthly covariates that are likely to be correlated with membership and trying to predict based on those. But go wild.
Guesses are due by June 1, 2013. The winner will be announced when the audit bureau release the NRA data which will probably be around the time of ASAs. The winner will get to add, “I can predict the future.” in the skills section of their CV.**
* A couple of adjustments are made to the raw figures. I interpolated the first two years of America’s 1st Freedom, when it was called American Guardian, because I only had annual data. Also, the reports in the last half of 2004 seemed to be missing 220,000 people, so I added them back in. I’m also missing data on Women’s Outlook. It was published for only three years in the2000s, and I don’t think it was that popular because it was shut down so quickly and because its circulation was never submitted to the major audit bureau. If you are a Junior member, your $15 gets you a copy of NRA InSights. About 25,000 kids get this, and I’m not counting them because I don’t have any historical data on that subscription.
** If you want an academic position and you have a skills section of your CV, you might want to cut that section out. Most brag about SPSS skills, and that won’t impress any quants. More importantly, it screams, “I used to be an undergraduate resume.“