The Blind Leading the Blind: Who Gets Polling Information and Does it Improve Decisions?

46 Pages Posted: 8 Jan 2009 Last revised: 22 Jul 2009

Cheryl Boudreau

University of California, Davis

Mathew D. McCubbins

Department of Political Science and Law School, Duke University

Date Written: July 22, 2009

Abstract

We analyze whether and when polls help citizens to improve their decisions. Specifically, we use experiments to investigate 1) whether and when citizens are willing to obtain polls and 2) whether and when polls help citizens to make better choices than they would have made on their own. We find that citizens are more likely to obtain polls when the decisions they must make are difficult and when they are unsophisticated. Ironically, when the decisions are difficult, the pollees are also uninformed and, therefore, do not provide useful information. We also find that when polls indicate the welfare-improving choice, citizens are able to improve their decisions. However, when polls indicate a choice that will make citizens worse off, citizens make worse decisions than they would have made on their own. These results hold regardless of whether the majority in favor of one option over the other is small or large.

Keywords: poll, sophistication, voter, decision-making, heuristic, cue, experiment, majority, trust

JEL Classification: C90, C91, D72, D81, D83

Suggested Citation

Boudreau, Cheryl and McCubbins, Mathew D., The Blind Leading the Blind: Who Gets Polling Information and Does it Improve Decisions? (July 22, 2009). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1324318 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1324318

Cheryl Boudreau (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis ( email )

One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616
United States

Mathew D. McCubbins

Department of Political Science and Law School, Duke University ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

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