Friday, October 26, 2012

David M. Rothschild — Understanding How Polls Affect Voters

Confirming past studies, we find strong evidence of an overall bandwagon effect; people become more supportive of policies that have more general support. We further find that both social acceptance and social learning drive the bandwagon effect. However, the effect of social learning is significantly and substantially stronger than that of social acceptance. Thus, the main reason that people conform to majority opinion in the political domain is that they believe there is information about the quality of the candidates or policies to be learned from mass support. We find no evidence for the third mechanism -- that people conform because they want to reduce cognitive dissonance related to not supporting a candidate that will likely win or policy that will likely be implemented.
The idea of the bandwagon effect seems disheartening for democracy if conformity pressures silence minority opinions. However, this research has given us a reason for optimism; people seem to be conforming not only because they see normative value in being part of the majority but also because they believe that there is information in collective opinion. Citizens want to be informed and the collective wisdom of their fellow citizens is just one source of information on which they have learned to rely.
Understanding How Polls Affect Voters
David M. Rothschild | PhD in Applied Economics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Economist with MicroSoft Research-NYC, and a fellow at the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia.

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