Picking the Winner: How Polls Affect Elections

Nov 9, 2015

Three polls conducted since the October 24th primary show Democrat John Bel Edwards continuing to lead Republican David Vitter in the contest for governor. Edwards received 40-percent to Vitter’s 23-percent of the primary vote, and leads by a margin of anywhere from eight to 20 percent for the runoff, according to those polls.

But are the polls merely reflective of voter leanings, or do the polls somehow influence how people vote?

“Under certain conditions, the polls can have an influence,” according to LSU political science professor Robert Hogan.

He says research indicates some voters use polling information as they might use product reviews before buying something online.

“People sometimes do look at the polls and decide to base their decision on what the majority of people want,” something he says usually happens when people don’t have enough information about the candidates.

And a certain small percentage of voters view the polls much as the media does -- like a handicapper’s report on the horses in a race: in other words, helping to pick the winner.

“People somehow don’t want to be associated with the losing side. They’re hoping to cast their vote with the winner.”

But, Hogan says, that view doesn’t control the end election result.

“The research suggests that this is not a major factor.”

He says a more subtle, but stronger influence on which candidate voters choose is “the whole notion of the candidate likeability factor.” He explains that as asking yourself, ‘would I enjoy sitting down for a beer with this guy?’

Overall, however, Hogan says, “Voters respond to a wide variety of things, but the fundamentals in most races are things like partisanship and ideology.”

The bottom line being, is there an “R” or a “D” after his name?