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Polling disrupts voting ?

  1. Sep 18, 2004 #1


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    When did public pre-election polling first be introduced (I think Gallup, and a few others were set up in the 30s) ? I've always wondered if the knowledge of likely outcomes disrupts the idea of "voting for the person you like best among the field". And if it does, is that a bad thing ?

    Consider this scenario : There are 3 candidates A, B, and C.
    C is a radical newcomer who wants to shake things up. 45% of the people like C. The rest are absolutely afraid of him.
    A and B are unspectacular guys that share the remaining 55% say as 35% for A and 20% for B.

    If there were no polling data, and people vote as above, and C wins.
    If people had access to this information, the B supporters would ditch and vote for A instead, making A the winner.

    The polls have changed the outcome.

    So here's the question again : When public opinion polls first started, it was surely known that they would influence the outcome. So was there objection to them; did people think it was a disruption of the democratic process; or was it unanimous that polling was essential to a perfectly democratic process where information dispersal was essential to the integrity of the process ?

    Alternatively, before scientific polling began, were all elections "imperfect" ?

    Any information/opinion is welcome.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 19, 2004 #2


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    Now I'm really confused. :confused: Will someone let me know if the above question is just plain stupid...I can handle it.
  4. Sep 19, 2004 #3
    All I know is I get a good laugh during the elections watching CNN polls that add up top 104%
  5. Sep 19, 2004 #4


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    Gokul- I remember reading a "facts and figures" report on how polling, particularly exit polling influences elections. I don't think it is at all a stupid question. It was also perhaps particularly relevent in the 2000 election as early reports of who won, based on exit reports may have discouraged other voters from going to the booths in another, dominantly republican area of florida who's booths did not close until after the others did...

    not sure that makes sense...I'll try and clarify if it doesn't
    Multi-tasking tonight.....
    I'll see if I can hunt up that report sometime soon.
  6. Sep 19, 2004 #5


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    Thanks kat,

    I've tried digging up stuff in the past, but with little success.
  7. Sep 20, 2004 #6


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    I didn't find your question stupid at all.
    However, I thought most of your sub-questions were related to the history of polling (yet another realm of human knowledge of which I'm blissfully ignorant :redface:)

    As to whether polling disrupts voting is, I believe, in the eye of the beholder.
    It certainly influences voting, but whether that fact should be regarded as problematic or beneficial is perhaps a subjective judgment.

    If I should point to one effect that I think of as slightly problematic, it is the "reverse snowballing effect", in that minority canditates/alternatives tend to be ignored by the media on basis on the poll results, and hence, those alternatives remain/become invisble to the voter.
    If the polls hadn't been made, one might optimistically think that the media would try to give coverage to "thematically" distinct alternatives, i.e roughly the same coverage of the different stances the voter might take.

    I.e, the polling procedure might mislead voters in believing there exist a narrower spectrum of alternatives that really is present, since the media ignores some of those.
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