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Ph.D in Biotechnology who has joined a eCommerce startup in Hong Kong


The science behind elections. Follow this board to stay abreast of new research.

The world is in a political fever. In the wake of Brexit and Trump’s America, the stakes for democracy in western world are high. In a modern political climate where people feel empowered to have their voice heard, yet disenfranchised by their governments, citizens around the world are feeling the importance of tactically understanding how to cast their votes ahead of elections.

In the November 2016 US elections, we saw how the polls struggled to match election results for Clinton vs. Trump. Was this error due to the fact of an inherent bias, or are polls a 'black art' to influence voting behaviour? Now, the world is waiting and watching to see how France and the UK will fair their elections amidst the EU political agenda. Could a widespread tactical voting strategy be effective in helping France form an alliance against Le Pen, and Britain form an alliance against the Tories?

It has perhaps never before been so important to ask such questions, and never been as possible to better understand the science behind forecasting elections. In our online lives, we are bombarded with bias and political new day in and day out, which makes it difficult to discern our own opinions from fact and fiction. Rather than drown in the noise, this curated collection of scientific research papers can help us get down the facts.


How the polls can be both spot on and dead wrong: using choice blindness to shift political attitudes and voter intentions.

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: 25 Apr '17

Biased polls and the psychology of voter indecisiveness

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: 25 Apr '17