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How Do Campaign Polls Influence Election Results?

As Israel enters the home stretch of its election campaign (and as Canada and the United States prepare for their national elections, in October, 2018 and November 2020 respectively), traditional and social media platforms have been awash with polling information.
But how does the rash of polling data impact the way we actually vote? Can polls be used to influence our voting behavior? A research team comprising Prof Kobi Gal and MSc student Roy Fairstein of the Dept. of Software and Information Systems Engineering at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, together with Dr. Reshef Meir of The Technion attempted to answer this question using artificial intelligence (AI).

The researchers presented thousands of study participants with a range of polling data about fictional characters and collected information on how the subjects had decided to vote. The reward for participants was determined by the position of the winning candidate in their preferences. The participants had no knowledge of the voting preferences of other people in the group.

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At the same time, the researchers built a theoretical model to allow for predicting how each participant would vote in a wide range of situations after observing only a small number of votes. The model proved highly accurate and gave insight into the considerations that guide peoples’ voting patterns.

“Most people tried to balance their personal preferences for a particular candidate and the candidates’ chance of winning the election, while some consistently preferred the candidate that was expected to win,” says Prof. Gal. “That illustrates for us the ‘bandwagon effect,’ which clouds rational thinking and causes some people to completely ignore their preferred candidate and to support whatever candidate appears to be leading in the polls.

“Interestingly, when the respondents were asked to describe their decision-making process during actual election campaigns, they claimed not to have done this, in direct contrast to their behavior during the research project,” Prof. Gal added.

The study, funded by the Israel Science Foundation and about to be presented at a prestigious conference in Montreal, Quebec, sheds light on the way people make strategic decisions under conditions that are unsure and are expected to impact the way in which we understand the connection between elections polls and actual voting.

Click here for the full study



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