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Voters have a history of jumping on the bandwagon and choosing a party with an improved poll rating
Research suggests a party's fortunes in the polls can convince more voters to back it by 'jumping on the bandwagon'. As the UK was heading for an early election, the question was: would Labour's resurgence in the surveys translate into an upset?
A large national survey of Danish voters revealed that polls make voters 'float along'. In other words, voters exposed to news of either an upward or downward movement in a party's ratings tend to shift their voting intentions accordingly. The effect is strongest when a political force gains popularity as more voters will back that party.
Well, it happens - remember last year's Brexit vote and the US presidential election? Not only pollsters but some researchers were left red faced.
A common flaw of many election prediction models is not incorporating time uncertainty. The further away in calendar time to election day, the more unstable the prediction.
There is also the issue of voters not always reporting their voting intentions. Research found that this is the case when the 'cost' of the election is high and the electorate is large. In this case respondents have a stake in influencing the voting behaviour of others by misreporting their own preferences.
Poll authors and meta-poll analysts also overlook swing voters in polls and simply assign them to candidates. But when swing voter numbers are high, these unrealistic practices bias election predictions.
Another interesting question is if betting markets predict outcomes better than forecast models. A few weeks before the 2016 Presidential, pollsters were still forecasting a Clinton victory, while bookmakers started slashing their odds, entertaining the possibility of a Trump win. However, studies show that bookies' prediction is not superior to poll-based models. Their advantage is that they can factor in the polls in their prices, whereas pollsters do not base their predictions on betting markets.
Abstract: Accounting for undecided and uncertain voters is a challenging issue for predicting election results from public opinion polls. Undecided voters typify the uncertainty of swing voters in polls but are often ignored or allocated to each candidate in a simplistic manner. Historically this has been adequate because first, the undecided tend to settle on a candidate as the election day draws closer, and second, they are comparatively small enough to assume that the undecided voters do not affect the relative proportions of the decided voters. These assumptions are used by poll authors and meta-poll analysts, but in the presence of high numbers of undecided voters these static rules may bias election predictions. In this paper, we examine the effect of undecided voters in the 2016 US presidential election. This election was unique in that a) there was a relatively high number of undecided voters and b) the major party candidates had high unfavorability ratings. We draw on psychological theories of decision making such as decision field theory and prospect theory to explain the link between candidate unfavorability and voter indecisiveness, and to describe how these factors likely contributed to a systematic bias in polling. We then show that the allocation of undecided voters in the 2016 election biased polls and meta-polls in a manner consistent with these theories. These findings imply that, given the increasing number of undecided voters in recent elections, it will be important to take into account the underlying psychology of voting when making predictions about elections.
Pub.: 28 Mar '17, Pinned: 06 Jun '17
Abstract: The Issues and Leaders model predicts the national popular two-party vote in US presidential elections from people’s perceptions of the candidates’ issue-handling competence and leadership qualities. In previous elections from 1972 to 2012, the model’s Election Eve forecasts missed the actual vote shares by, on average, little more than one percentage point and thus reduced the error of the Gallup pre-election poll by 30%. This research note presents the model’s forecast prior to the 2016 election, when most polls show that voters view Republican candidate Donald Trump as the stronger leader but prefer the Democrat’s nominee Hillary Clinton when it comes to dealing with the issues. A month prior to Election Day, the model predicts that Clinton will win by four points, gaining 52.0% of the two-party vote.
Pub.: 04 Nov '16, Pinned: 07 Jun '17
Abstract: Political candidates often believe they must focus their campaign efforts on a small number of swing voters open for ideological change. Based on the wisdom of opinion polls, this might seem like a good idea. But do most voters really hold their political attitudes so firmly that they are unreceptive to persuasion? We tested this premise during the most recent general election in Sweden, in which a left- and a right-wing coalition were locked in a close race. We asked our participants to state their voter intention, and presented them with a political survey of wedge issues between the two coalitions. Using a sleight-of-hand we then altered their replies to place them in the opposite political camp, and invited them to reason about their attitudes on the manipulated issues. Finally, we summarized their survey score, and asked for their voter intention again. The results showed that no more than 22% of the manipulated replies were detected, and that a full 92% of the participants accepted and endorsed our altered political survey score. Furthermore, the final voter intention question indicated that as many as 48% (±9.2%) were willing to consider a left-right coalition shift. This can be contrasted with the established polls tracking the Swedish election, which registered maximally 10% voters open for a swing. Our results indicate that political attitudes and partisan divisions can be far more flexible than what is assumed by the polls, and that people can reason about the factual issues of the campaign with considerable openness to change.
Pub.: 18 Apr '13, Pinned: 06 Jun '17
Abstract: Although there is a large literature on the predictive accuracy of pre-election polls, there is virtually no systematic research examining the role that a candidate’s gender plays in polling accuracy. This is a surprising omission given the precipitous growth of female candidates in recent years. Looking at Senate and Gubernatorial candidates from 1989 to 2008 (more than 200 elections in over 40 states), we analyze the accuracy of pre-election polls for almost the complete universe of female candidates and a matched sample of white male cases. We demonstrate that pre-election polls consistently underestimate support for female candidates when compared to white male candidates. Furthermore, our results indicate that this phenomenon—which we dub the Richards Effect, after Ann Richards of Texas—is more common in states which exhibit traits associated with culturally conservative views of gender issues.
Pub.: 16 Sep '10, Pinned: 06 Jun '17
Abstract: In this paper we assess opinion polls, prediction markets, expert opinion and statistical modelling over a large number of US elections in order to determine which perform better in terms of forecasting outcomes. In line with existing literature, we bias‐correct opinion polls. We consider accuracy, bias and precision over different time horizons before an election, and we conclude that prediction markets appear to provide the most precise forecasts and are similar in terms of bias to opinion polls. We find that our statistical model struggles to provide competitive forecasts, while expert opinion appears to be of value. Finally we note that the forecast horizon matters; whereas prediction market forecasts tend to improve the nearer an election is, opinion polls appear to perform worse, while expert opinion performs consistently throughout. We thus contribute to the growing literature comparing election forecasts of polls and prediction markets. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Pub.: 11 Nov '15, Pinned: 06 Jun '17
Abstract: This article investigates how election information such as opinion polls can influence voting intention. The bandwagon effect claims that voters ‘float along’: a party experiencing increased support receives more support, and vice versa. Through a large national survey experiment, evidence is found of a bandwagon effect among Danish voters. When voters are exposed to a news story describing either an upwards or downwards movement for either a small or large party, they tend to move their voting intentions in the according direction. The effect is strongest in the positive direction – that is, when a party experiences increased support, more follows. Consistent effects are found across two different parties for a diverse national sample in a political context very different from earlier research on the bandwagon effects. Considering previous research and the fact that evidence is not found that suggests that the effect of polls vary across sociodemographic groups, the results imply that bandwagon behaviour is based not on social or political contingencies, such as media or political institution, but on fundamentals of political cognition.
Pub.: 15 May '17, Pinned: 06 Jun '17
Abstract: We examine the ability of pre-election polls to aggregate information about voter preferences. We show that if the electorate is small and voting costs are negligible, then an equilibrium exists in which citizens report their true political preferences. If the electorate is large or voting costs are significant, however, then no such equilibrium exists because poll respondents possess incentives to influence the voting behavior of others by misreporting their true preferences. We find that when a truthful equilibrium does exist, a poll can raise expected welfare by discouraging turnout among members of the minority.
Pub.: 06 Jun '08, Pinned: 06 Jun '17
Abstract: This article investigates possible bandwagons in actual elections rather than the usual opinion poll data. Until 1918, British general elections were staggered over a fortnight or more. We use the eight general elections between 1885 and 1910 to investigate whether there was a general bandwagon or underdog effect as the election progressed. We find that any bandwagon effect was in favor of the party which eventually won the election, not the party gaining seats compared with last time. We also find that a typical election featured an initial bandwagon effect which peaked about halfway through the election and then declined. Its decline appears to be due both to declining enthusiasm for the leading party and to later polls occurring in places where voters were less prone to get on a bandwagon in the first place. The weakening of the bandwagon was correlated to distance of the constituency from London, although it revived to some extent in Scotland.
Pub.: 19 Oct '12, Pinned: 07 Jun '17
Abstract: We present novel methods for predicting the outcome of large elections. Our first algorithm uses a diffusion process to model the time uncertainty inherent in polls taken with substantial calendar time left to the election. Our second model uses Online Learning along with a novel ex-ante scoring function to combine different forecasters along with our first model. We evaluate different density based scoring functions that can be used to better judge the efficacy of forecasters. We also propose scoring functions which take into account the entire density of the forecast rather than just a point estimate of the value. Finally, we consider this framework as a way to improve and judge different models performing a prediction on the same task.
Pub.: 09 Apr '17, Pinned: 06 Jun '17
Abstract: Do polls simply measure intended voter behavior or can they affect it and, thus, change election outcomes? Do candidate ballot positions or the results of previous elections affect voter behavior? We conduct several series of experimental, three-candidate elections and use the data to provide answers to these questions. In these elections, we pay subjects conditionally on election outcomes to create electorates with publicly known preferences. A majority (but less than two-thirds) of the voters are split in their preferences between two similar candidates, while a minority (but plurality) favor a third, dissimilar candidate. If all voters voted sincerely, the third candidate — a Condorcet loser — would win the elections. We find that pre-election polls significantly reduce the frequency with which the Condorcet loser wins. Further, the winning candidate is usually the majority candidate who is listed first on the poll and election ballots. The evidence also shows that a shared history enables majority voters to coordinate on one of their favored candidates in sequences of identical elections. With polls, majority-preferred candidates often alternate as election winners.
Pub.: 01 Jul '93, Pinned: 06 Jun '17
Abstract: We examine forecasting performance of the recent fractionally cointegrated vector auto-regressive (FCVAR) model. We use daily polling data of political support in the UK for 2010–2015 and compare with popular competing models at several forecast horizons. Our findings show that the four variants of the FCVAR model considered are generally ranked as the top four models in terms of forecast accuracy, and the FCVAR model significantly outperforms both univariate fractional models and the standard cointegrated vector auto-regressive model at all forecast horizons. The relative forecast improvement is higher at longer forecast horizons, where the root-mean-squared forecast error of the FCVAR model is up to 15% lower than that of the univariate fractional models and up to 20% lower than that of the cointegrated vector auto-regressive model. In an empirical application to the 2015 UK general election, the estimated common stochastic trend from the model follows the vote share of the UK Independence Party very closely, and we thus interpret it as a measure of Euroscepticism in public opinion rather than an indicator of the more traditional left–right political spectrum. In terms of prediction of vote shares in the election, forecasts generated by the FCVAR model leading to the election appear to provide a more informative assessment of the current state of public opinion on electoral support than the hung Parliament prediction of the opinion poll.
Pub.: 21 Nov '16, Pinned: 06 Jun '17
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