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Concept: Voting

645

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

82

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

67

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

49

Once considered provocative, the notion that the wisdom of the crowd is superior to any individual has become itself a piece of crowd wisdom, leading to speculation that online voting may soon put credentialed experts out of business. Recent applications include political and economic forecasting, evaluating nuclear safety, public policy, the quality of chemical probes, and possible responses to a restless volcano. Algorithms for extracting wisdom from the crowd are typically based on a democratic voting procedure. They are simple to apply and preserve the independence of personal judgment. However, democratic methods have serious limitations. They are biased for shallow, lowest common denominator information, at the expense of novel or specialized knowledge that is not widely shared. Adjustments based on measuring confidence do not solve this problem reliably. Here we propose the following alternative to a democratic vote: select the answer that is more popular than people predict. We show that this principle yields the best answer under reasonable assumptions about voter behaviour, while the standard ‘most popular’ or ‘most confident’ principles fail under exactly those same assumptions. Like traditional voting, the principle accepts unique problems, such as panel decisions about scientific or artistic merit, and legal or historical disputes. The potential application domain is thus broader than that covered by machine learning and psychometric methods, which require data across multiple questions.

Concepts: Voting, Democracy, Lowest common denominator

41

Overexploitation of renewable resources today has a high cost on the welfare of future generations. Unlike in other public goods games, however, future generations cannot reciprocate actions made today. What mechanisms can maintain cooperation with the future? To answer this question, we devise a new experimental paradigm, the ‘Intergenerational Goods Game’. A line-up of successive groups (generations) can each either extract a resource to exhaustion or leave something for the next group. Exhausting the resource maximizes the payoff for the present generation, but leaves all future generations empty-handed. Here we show that the resource is almost always destroyed if extraction decisions are made individually. This failure to cooperate with the future is driven primarily by a minority of individuals who extract far more than what is sustainable. In contrast, when extractions are democratically decided by vote, the resource is consistently sustained. Voting is effective for two reasons. First, it allows a majority of cooperators to restrain defectors. Second, it reassures conditional cooperators that their efforts are not futile. Voting, however, only promotes sustainability if it is binding for all involved. Our results have implications for policy interventions designed to sustain intergenerational public goods.

Concepts: Present, Time, Future, Natural resource, Sustainability, Voting, Democracy, Natural capital

36

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

34

Electoral fraud is a widespread phenomenon, especially outside the developed world. Despite abundant qualitative and anecdotal evidence on its existence from around the world, there is very limited quantitative evidence on the extent of electoral fraud. We exploit random assignment of independent observers to 156 of 3,164 polling stations in the city of Moscow to estimate the effect of electoral fraud on the outcome of the Russian parliamentary elections held on December 4, 2011. We estimate the actual share of votes for the incumbent United Russia party to be at least 11 percentage points lower than the official count (36% instead of 47%). Our results suggest that the extent of the fraud was sufficient to have had a substantial impact on the outcome of the elections; they also confirm that the presence of observers is an important factor in ensuring the integrity of the procedure.

Concepts: Voting, Russia

27

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

27

CONTEXT:: Major funding cuts have occurred throughout the United States public health system during the past several years. Funding for local public health agency (LPHA) services and programs is obtained through a patchwork of sources that vary both within and among states. Even though local city and county sources provide a significant proportion of funding for LPHAs, information available in the literature about these revenues is sparse and is not clearly described. OBJECTIVE:: This study focused on a single specific revenue stream included in the local sources (local city and county) category: funds voted on directly by the public. The primary purpose of this study was to examine whether this type of funding source provided fiscal advantages for LPHAs. Specifically, we wanted to see how sensitive levy votes were to changing general economic conditions. METHODS:: A questionnaire to collect LPHA levy data was developed, approved, and mailed to county boards of elections in Ohio (n = 88). Elections officials were asked to provide voting results for all LPHA levy ballot attempts since 1994 regardless of outcome. RESULTS:: In the study period (1994 through 2011), 250 LPHA property tax levies were placed on election ballots in Ohio. LPHAs were successful in 155 (62.0%) and unsuccessful in 95 (38.0%) attempts. Over the 18-year period, the most noteworthy outcome was a 94.6% pass rate for renewal levies. CONCLUSION:: Our study demonstrated that voter-approved tax levies provide some fiscal advantages for LPHAs: higher per capita revenues than those who have to rely on other sources of income and predictable revenue streams. This translates into more funds being available for public health programs and services. Property tax levies allow citizens to make direct investments in their local health departments.

Concepts: Health economics, Universal health care, Public health, Health, Voting, Income, Tax, Voting system

23

It is commonly assumed that how individuals identify on the political spectrum-whether liberal, conservative, or moderate-has a universal meaning when it comes to policy stances and voting behavior. But, does political identity mean the same thing from place to place? Using data collected from across the U.S. we find that even when people share the same political identity, those in “bluer” locations are more likely to support left-leaning policies and vote for Democratic candidates than those in “redder” locations. Because the meaning of political identity is inconsistent across locations, individuals who share the same political identity sometimes espouse opposing policy stances. Meanwhile, those with opposing identities sometimes endorse identical policy stances. Such findings suggest that researchers, campaigners, and pollsters must use caution when extrapolating policy preferences and voting behavior from political identity, and that animosity toward the other end of the political spectrum is sometimes misplaced.

Concepts: Meaning of life, Right-wing politics, Voting, Political spectrum, Elections, Democracy, Philosophical logic, Social democracy