Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Election


Internet search rankings have a significant impact on consumer choices, mainly because users trust and choose higher-ranked results more than lower-ranked results. Given the apparent power of search rankings, we asked whether they could be manipulated to alter the preferences of undecided voters in democratic elections. Here we report the results of five relevant double-blind, randomized controlled experiments, using a total of 4,556 undecided voters representing diverse demographic characteristics of the voting populations of the United States and India. The fifth experiment is especially notable in that it was conducted with eligible voters throughout India in the midst of India’s 2014 Lok Sabha elections just before the final votes were cast. The results of these experiments demonstrate that (i) biased search rankings can shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20% or more, (ii) the shift can be much higher in some demographic groups, and (iii) search ranking bias can be masked so that people show no awareness of the manipulation. We call this type of influence, which might be applicable to a variety of attitudes and beliefs, the search engine manipulation effect. Given that many elections are won by small margins, our results suggest that a search engine company has the power to influence the results of a substantial number of elections with impunity. The impact of such manipulations would be especially large in countries dominated by a single search engine company.

Concepts: Search engine optimization, Voting, Elections, Election, Democracy, Voting system, Lok Sabha, Voter turnout


To assess whether voting patterns in the 2016 US presidential election were correlated with long-run trends in county life expectancy.

Concepts: President of the United States, Life expectancy, Elections, Election, Elections in the United States


Political candidates often believe they must focus their campaign efforts on a small number of swing voters open for ideological change. Based on the wisdom of opinion polls, this might seem like a good idea. But do most voters really hold their political attitudes so firmly that they are unreceptive to persuasion? We tested this premise during the most recent general election in Sweden, in which a left- and a right-wing coalition were locked in a close race. We asked our participants to state their voter intention, and presented them with a political survey of wedge issues between the two coalitions. Using a sleight-of-hand we then altered their replies to place them in the opposite political camp, and invited them to reason about their attitudes on the manipulated issues. Finally, we summarized their survey score, and asked for their voter intention again. The results showed that no more than 22% of the manipulated replies were detected, and that a full 92% of the participants accepted and endorsed our altered political survey score. Furthermore, the final voter intention question indicated that as many as 48% (±9.2%) were willing to consider a left-right coalition shift. This can be contrasted with the established polls tracking the Swedish election, which registered maximally 10% voters open for a swing. Our results indicate that political attitudes and partisan divisions can be far more flexible than what is assumed by the polls, and that people can reason about the factual issues of the campaign with considerable openness to change.

Concepts: Thought, Voting, Aristotle, Elections, Opinion poll, Poll, Election, Ideology


Democratic societies are built around the principle of free and fair elections, and that each citizen’s vote should count equally. National elections can be regarded as large-scale social experiments, where people are grouped into usually large numbers of electoral districts and vote according to their preferences. The large number of samples implies statistical consequences for the polling results, which can be used to identify election irregularities. Using a suitable data representation, we find that vote distributions of elections with alleged fraud show a kurtosis substantially exceeding the kurtosis of normal elections, depending on the level of data aggregation. As an example, we show that reported irregularities in recent Russian elections are, indeed, well-explained by systematic ballot stuffing. We develop a parametric model quantifying the extent to which fraudulent mechanisms are present. We formulate a parametric test detecting these statistical properties in election results. Remarkably, this technique produces robust outcomes with respect to the resolution of the data and therefore, allows for cross-country comparisons.

Concepts: Voting, Elections, Election, Voting system, Ballot stuffing, Sortition, Fraud


Massive amounts of fake news and conspiratorial content have spread over social media before and after the 2016 US Presidential Elections despite intense fact-checking efforts. How do the spread of misinformation and fact-checking compete? What are the structural and dynamic characteristics of the core of the misinformation diffusion network, and who are its main purveyors? How to reduce the overall amount of misinformation? To explore these questions we built Hoaxy, an open platform that enables large-scale, systematic studies of how misinformation and fact-checking spread and compete on Twitter. Hoaxy captures public tweets that include links to articles from low-credibility and fact-checking sources. We perform k-core decomposition on a diffusion network obtained from two million retweets produced by several hundred thousand accounts over the six months before the election. As we move from the periphery to the core of the network, fact-checking nearly disappears, while social bots proliferate. The number of users in the main core reaches equilibrium around the time of the election, with limited churn and increasingly dense connections. We conclude by quantifying how effectively the network can be disrupted by penalizing the most central nodes. These findings provide a first look at the anatomy of a massive online misinformation diffusion network.

Concepts: Sociology, English-language films, Elections, Election, Twitter, Presidential election


Is social media a valid indicator of political behavior? There is considerable debate about the validity of data extracted from social media for studying offline behavior. To address this issue, we show that there is a statistically significant association between tweets that mention a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives and his or her subsequent electoral performance. We demonstrate this result with an analysis of 542,969 tweets mentioning candidates selected from a random sample of 3,570,054,618, as well as Federal Election Commission data from 795 competitive races in the 2010 and 2012 U.S. congressional elections. This finding persists even when controlling for incumbency, district partisanship, media coverage of the race, time, and demographic variables such as the district’s racial and gender composition. Our findings show that reliable data about political behavior can be extracted from social media.

Concepts: United States, Sociology, Race, Elections, Election, United States House of Representatives, Preselection, Representative democracy


Nowadays, a large number of countries combine formal democratic institutions with authoritarian practices. Although in these countries the ruling elites may receive considerable voter support, they often use several manipulation tools to control election outcomes. A common practice of these regimes is the coercion and mobilization of large numbers of voters. This electoral irregularity is known as voter rigging, distinguishing it from vote rigging, which involves ballot stuffing or stealing. We develop a statistical test to quantify the extent to which the results of a particular election display traces of voter rigging. Our key hypothesis is that small polling stations are more susceptible to voter rigging because it is easier to identify opposing individuals, there are fewer eyewitnesses, and interested parties might reasonably expect fewer visits from election observers. We devise a general statistical method for testing whether voting behavior in small polling stations is significantly different from the behavior in their neighbor stations in a way that is consistent with the widespread occurrence of voter rigging. On the basis of a comparative analysis, the method enables third parties to conclude that an explanation other than simple variability is needed to explain geographic heterogeneities in vote preferences. We analyze 21 elections in 10 countries and find significant statistical anomalies compatible with voter rigging in Russia from 2007 to 2011, in Venezuela from 2006 to 2013, and in Uganda in 2011. Particularly disturbing is the case of Venezuela, where the smallest polling stations were decisive to the outcome of the 2013 presidential elections.

Concepts: Voting, Elections, Poll, Election, Democracy, Voting system, Ballot stuffing, Voter turnout


Undecided voters represent a major challenge to political pollsters. Recently, political psychologists have proposed the use of implicit association tests (IAT) to measure implicit attitudes toward political parties and candidates and predict voting behavior of undecided voters. A number of studies have shown that both implicit and explicit (i.e., self-reported) attitudes contribute to the prediction of voting behavior. More importantly, recent research suggests that implicit attitudes may be more useful for predicting the vote of undecided voters in the case of specific political issues rather than elections. Due to its direct-democratic political system, Switzerland represents an ideal place to investigate the predictive validity of IATs in the context of political votes. In this article, I present evidence from three studies in which both explicit and implicit measures were used ahead of the vote on four different referendums. Explicit measures predicted voting better than implicit attitudes for decided voters while implicit and explicit attitudes were equally good predictors among undecided voters. In addition, implicit attitudes predicted voting behavior descriptively, but not significantly better for undecided voters while, also from a descriptive point of view, explicit attitudes predicted voting better for decided respondents. In sum, results suggest that, as argued in previous research, the predictive value of implicit attitudes may be higher in the context of issue-related votes but still not as high as initially hoped-for.

Concepts: Scientific method, Prediction, Futurology, Future, Prophecy, Voting, Elections, Election


In societies involved in an intractable conflict, there are strong socio-psychological barriers that contribute to the continuation and intractability of the conflict. Based on a unique field study conducted in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we offer a new avenue to overcome these barriers by exposing participants to a long-term paradoxical intervention campaign expressing extreme ideas that are congruent with the shared ethos of conflict. Results show that the intervention, although counterintuitive, led participants to express more conciliatory attitudes regarding the conflict, particularly among participants with center and right political orientation. Most importantly, the intervention even influenced participants' actual voting patterns in the 2013 Israeli general elections: Participants who were exposed to the paradoxical intervention, which took place in proximity to the general elections, reported that they tended to vote more for dovish parties, which advocate a peaceful resolution to the conflict. These effects were long lasting, as the participants in the intervention condition expressed more conciliatory attitudes when they were reassessed 1 y after the intervention. Based on these results, we propose a new layer to the general theory of persuasion based on the concept of paradoxical thinking.

Concepts: Idea, Voting, Second Intifada, Proposals for a Palestinian state, Elections, Election, Peace, Gaza War


Population wellbeing, an aggregate measure of positive mental, physical, and emotional health, has previously been used as a marker of community thriving. We examined whether several community measures of wellbeing, and their change since 2012, could be used to understand electoral changes that led to the outcome of the 2016 United States presidential election. We found that areas of the US which had the largest shifts away from the incumbent party had both lower wellbeing and greater drops in wellbeing when compared with areas that did not shift. In comparison, changes in income were not related to voting shifts. Well-being may be more useful in predicting and understanding electoral outcomes than some more conventional voting determinants.

Concepts: Game theory, United States, Elections, Election