The Blind Leading the Blind: Who Gets Polling Information and Does it Improve Decisions?
University of California, Davis
Mathew D. McCubbins
Department of Political Science and Law School, Duke University
July 22, 2009
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.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 46
Keywords: poll, sophistication, voter, decision-making, heuristic, cue, experiment, majority, trust
JEL Classification: C90, C91, D72, D81, D83
Date posted: January 8, 2009 ; Last revised: July 22, 2009