Projecting Confidence: How the Probabilistic Horse Race Confuses and Demobilizes the Public

38 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2018 Last revised: 8 Feb 2019

See all articles by Sean Westwood

Sean Westwood

Dartmouth College

Solomon Messing

Pew Research Center - Data Labs

Yphtach Lelkes

University of Pennsylvania

Date Written: February 2, 2019

Abstract

Recent years have seen a dramatic change in horserace coverage of elections in the U.S.---shifting focus from late-breaking poll numbers to sophisticated meta-analytic forecasts that emphasize candidates' chance of victory. Could this shift in the political information environment affect election outcomes? We use experiments to show that forecasting increases certainty about an election's outcome, confuses many, and decreases turnout. Furthermore, we show that election forecasting has become prominent in the media, particularly in outlets with liberal audiences, and show that such coverage tends to more strongly affect the candidate who is ahead---raising questions about whether they contributed to Trump's victory over Clinton in 2016. We bring empirical evidence to this question, using ANES data to show that Democrats and Independents expressed unusual confidence in a decisive 2016 election outcome---and that the same measure of confidence is associated with lower reported turnout.

Keywords: Political Behavior, Electoral Behavior, Public Opinion, Political Psychology

Suggested Citation

Westwood, Sean and Messing, Solomon and Lelkes, Yphtach, Projecting Confidence: How the Probabilistic Horse Race Confuses and Demobilizes the Public (February 2, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3117054 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3117054

Sean Westwood (Contact Author)

Dartmouth College ( email )

Department of Sociology
Hanover, NH 03755
United States
7752293205 (Phone)
7752293205 (Fax)

Solomon Messing

Pew Research Center - Data Labs ( email )

1615 L St NW #800
Washington, DC 20036
United States

HOME PAGE: http://solomonmessing.wordpress.com

Yphtach Lelkes

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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