Voters overrate favorite candidates

Feb 23, 2012 By Erin White

(PhysOrg.com) -- If your political candidate of choice falls behind in the polls, will you lose faith in his ability to win? Probably not. A new study from Northwestern University suggests that people tend to believe that their preferred candidate will win an election, no matter what the polls predict.

The study was published Feb. 21 in the journal.

“People thought their preferred candidate had a higher chance of winning, in every election, no matter in which state they live, no matter who was running, no matter which political party,” said Charles F. Manski, co-author of the paper. “This is one of the strongest empirical regularities I've ever seen.”

Manski is the Board of Trustees Professor in Economics in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern. Adeline Delavande from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex is a co-author of the paper.

“It appears that Americans, despite having access to the same publicly available information, nevertheless inhabit disparate perceptual worlds,” Manski said.

For example, someone who strongly supports a Democrat candidate over a Republican will give a 20 to 30 percent higher chance, on average, that the Democrat would win the election than would someone who strongly supports the Republican.

Manski said that the findings are consistent with a psychological phenomenon called the false consensus effect, in which people project their own preferences onto others.

Previous studies on the false consensus effect have focused on topics in which there exists little or no public information about social preferences. In presidential and statewide elections there is considerable common knowledge of social preferences from data, Manski said.

The authors used data from the American Life Panel, an online survey that has been administered to several thousand adult Americans by the RAND Corporation, a policy research nonprofit. They analyzed survey responses collected around the 2008 U.S. presidential election and 2010 senatorial and gubernatorial state elections.

Regardless of gender and level of schooling, people tended to favor the electoral chances of their preferred candidate. The effect was equally strong among white and black respondents. Also, when individuals changed their candidate preferences over time, their expectations of election outcomes changed similarly.

“Many researchers are trying to understand why people vote and how they vote,” Manski said. “The false consensus effect might influence voting behavior.”

Explore further: Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Voter behavior can explain midterm mood shift

Oct 29, 2010

Based on news accounts predicting Republican gains in both houses of Congress and more energized GOP voters in Tuesday's midterm election, it appears as though the nation's political landscape could change again -- just two ...

Recommended for you

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.