Projecting Confidence: How the Probabilistic Horse Race Confuses and Demobilizes the Public.
With Sean Westwood and Yphtach Lelkes
– Media coverage: Washington Post, FiveThirthyEight’s Politics Podcast, New York Magazine, Political Wire.
Abstract: Horse race coverage in American elections has shifted focus from late-breaking poll numbers to sophisticated meta analytic forecasts that often emphasize candidates’ probability of victory. We place this “probabilistic horeserace” in the context of Riker and Ordeshook (1968), and hypothesize that it will lower uncertainty about an election’s outcome (perceived potential pivotality), which lowers turnout under the model. After demonstrating the prominence of probabilistic forecasts in election coverage, we use experiments to show that the public has difficulty reasoning about the probability of a candidate’s victory. Critically, when one candidate is ahead, win-probabilities convey substantially more confidence that she will win compared to vote share estimates. Even more importantly, we show that these impressions of probabilistic forecasts cause people not to vote in a behavioral game that simulates elections. In the context of the existing literature, the magnitude of these findings suggests that probabilistic horse race coverage can confuse and demobilize the public.
“Friends that Matter: How Social Influence Drives Attention in Social Media”
With Sean J. Westwood
Abstract: Social media is becoming an increasingly important channel by which political news and opinion reaches the public. This work shows how the strength of the relationship between the sharer and the viewer has a powerful effect on selectivity in the realm of traditional news and opinion content in social media. It relies on a Facebook application that utilizes the OpenGraph framework to construct an experimentally controlled replica of the Facebook newsfeed interface, providing unparalleled ecological validity. By randomizing the assignment of articles to be recommended by weak- or strong-tie Facebook contacts, it dissociates social influence from interest-homophily as the causal factor responsible for this effect.