Claim: Early Polling Is Meaningful and Useful

Z.W. Wolf

Senior Member.
The mainstream media, and many members of the general public (those who have any interest at all in the presidential election of 2024), can't seem to break free from the idea that early polling is meaningful.

Here I explore one aspect of early polling that leads to big problems: Late Deciders who don't see their answers to a poll as important can give whimsical answers.

The basics:
A significant part of the population doesn't know who they are voting for in November, nor do they see answering a poll accurately as important to them personally. If you ask them now who they will vote for in the (perceived) distant future, you'll tend to get whimsical answers. Here I explore a number of issues that may shape these whimsical answers toward a systematic error - a consistent and predictable bias that skews the results of the poll in a particular direction. Temporary and superficial conditions can result in one candidate being up in the polls one week and down in the next.

Or longer term, there may be a split between the answers to a poll and the candidate the person will actually vote for. The importance to early polling: The closer we get to the election, the more important everything gets. The same person who gave a whimsical answer in May, can give a more earnest answer in October.

Social Desirability Bias
Overreporting Socially Acceptable Views: Respondents may give answers they think are socially acceptable rather than their true opinions, especially on sensitive topics.

Underreporting Controversial Views: People might underreport views they perceive as controversial or socially undesirable.

(There's been a long term generational shift in what people view as controversial and non-controversial. People in past decades were more earnest. There's been a long term shift toward transgressive behavior and attitudes. Paradoxically this has become the new norm. Being transgressive can be seen as socially acceptable and earnest moderates are seen as outsiders.

Shorter term, the maverick populist candidate is no longer seen as transgressive, but more accepted as the norm. His transgressive nature has been normalized.)

Cognitive Dissonance
Post-Decision Dissonance: People might adjust their stated preferences to align with their previously expressed opinions to reduce cognitive dissonance.

Commitment and Consistency: Once someone has publicly committed to a candidate, they may consistently report support for that candidate, regardless of changes in opinion.

Shy Voter Effect
Reluctance to Disclose True Preferences: Some voters might be reluctant to disclose their true voting intentions, especially if they support a controversial candidate.

Bandwagon Effect
Following the Perceived Majority: People might express support for a candidate they believe is popular, leading to an overestimation of that candidate's support.

Recency Effect
Recent Events Influencing Opinions: Polls conducted shortly after significant events may capture temporary shifts in public opinion that do not reflect long-term trends.

Nonresponse Bias
Differential Participation: Individuals who are less engaged or less willing to participate in polls may have systematically different views from those who do participate. They can view the election itself as less important and are more willing to elect a candidate due to superficial things like the recency effect, the bandwagon effect or a transgressive thrill.


Expanding on the role of salience:
Salience refers to the quality of being particularly noticeable or important. It is a key concept in understanding how the brain prioritizes and processes information. Salience determines which stimuli in our environment capture our attention and are considered significant enough to be processed more deeply.

Salience is a fundamental concept in cognitive neuroscience that explains how certain stimuli capture our attention and become the focus of our cognitive processing. It involves complex interactions between sensory input, emotional significance, and personal relevance, mediated by specific neural networks and neurochemical systems. Understanding salience can provide insights into normal cognitive functions as well as various cognitive disorders and behaviors.

Perceptual Salience: This involves how certain sensory stimuli stand out from their surroundings. For example, a brightly colored object in a dull environment is perceptually salient.

Cognitive Salience: This involves how certain pieces of information or concepts stand out in our minds due to their relevance or importance. For example, a word related to a current concern or goal is more cognitively salient.

Neural Mechanisms
Salience Network: The brain has a specific network called the salience network, which includes the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex. This network helps detect and filter salient stimuli and events from the vast array of sensory input.
Dopamine System: The dopaminergic system is involved in processing salience. Dopamine neurons signal the significance of stimuli, which can be related to reward, novelty, or threat.

Types of Salience
Bottom-Up Salience: This type of salience is driven by the inherent properties of the stimuli, such as brightness, contrast, or motion. It is automatic and does not require conscious effort.

Top-Down Salience: This type of salience is driven by our goals, expectations, and prior knowledge. It involves conscious attention and is influenced by cognitive factors.

Factors Influencing Salience
Emotional Significance: Stimuli that have emotional relevance, such as threats or rewards, are more salient.

Novelty: New or unexpected stimuli are more salient because they require additional processing to understand their implications.
Personal Relevance: Information that is personally relevant or related to our current goals and needs is more salient.

Role in Attention and Perception
Attention Allocation: Salient stimuli are more likely to capture our attention and be processed in detail. This helps us prioritize important information and ignore irrelevant background noise.

Perception and Memory: Salient information is often perceived more vividly and remembered more accurately because it receives more cognitive resources.

Salience in Cognitive Disorders
Schizophrenia: Patients with schizophrenia often exhibit abnormalities in salience processing, such as attributing excessive importance to irrelevant stimuli, leading to delusions and hallucinations.

ADHD: Individuals with ADHD may struggle with regulating attention to salient versus non-salient stimuli, resulting in distractibility and difficulty focusing on tasks.

Salience and Decision Making
Risk and Reward: In decision-making, salient outcomes related to risk or reward heavily influence choices. People tend to overestimate the importance of salient outcomes.
Marketing and Politics: Understanding salience is crucial in fields like marketing and politics, where the goal is to make certain messages or products stand out to consumers or voters.


Issue Salience
Temporary Salience: Certain issues can become temporarily salient due to recent events (e.g., a natural disaster or a political scandal). Polls conducted during these times might overstate the long-term importance of these issues to voters.

Event Salience
Recency of Events: Recent events can have a disproportionate impact on poll results due to their salience in respondents' minds. This is known as the recency effect, where recent experiences or news stories influence people's opinions more than older ones.

Media Coverage: Extensive media coverage of certain events can make them more salient, affecting how respondents answer poll questions. For example, if the media extensively covers a candidate's gaffe, it might lead to a temporary dip in their poll numbers.

Candidate Salience
Visibility of Candidates: The amount of media coverage and public visibility of candidates can influence their salience. Candidates who receive more media attention, whether positive or negative, are more likely to be top-of-mind for respondents.
(If you're giving a whimsical answer, you'll just answer with the name of the candidate who comes to mind first. So the poll is only measuring the name that people remember better.)

Charismatic vs. Low-Profile Candidates: Charismatic candidates tend to be more salient and can dominate polls, while low-profile candidates might be underestimated.

Salience of Social Desirability
Prominence of Social Norms: When certain social norms or political correctness become highly salient, respondents might be more inclined to give socially desirable answers rather than their true opinions. This is particularly relevant for questions about race, gender, or other sensitive topics.

Shy Voter Phenomenon: If supporting a particular candidate or expressing certain views is perceived as socially undesirable, respondents might underreport their true preferences, especially if those issues are currently salient in the media.

Emotional Salience
Emotional Reactions: Events or issues that evoke strong emotional reactions can disproportionately influence poll results. For example, a terrorist attack or a major legislative victory can create a surge in support for a candidate or party, which might not persist over time.

Negative vs. Positive Emotions: Negative events often have higher emotional salience and can have a stronger impact on poll responses compared to positive events. This can lead to an overrepresentation of negative sentiments in polls conducted shortly after such events.

Salience of Identity and Group Dynamics
Identity Salience: Aspects of respondents' identities that are currently salient can influence their poll responses. For example, if there is a heightened focus on issues related to gender or race, respondents might align their answers more closely with their gender or racial identity.

Group Salience: The salience of group identities, such as political party affiliation, can also influence responses. During periods of intense partisan conflict, respondents might answer in ways that align more strongly with their group identity.

Long-term vs. Short-term Salience
Chronic vs. Temporary Salience: Some issues have chronic salience (e.g., the economy), while others have temporary salience (e.g., a specific scandal). Polls conducted during times when temporary issues are salient might not reflect voters' longer-term priorities and can lead to inaccuracies.

Changing Salience Over Time: The salience of different issues can change rapidly due to new developments, making it challenging for polls to accurately capture the shifting priorities of the electorate.

Conclusion
Salience significantly influences public opinion and can lead to inaccuracies in presidential polls due to the dynamic and often temporary nature of what issues, events, or attributes are top-of-mind for respondents. Pollsters must consider the role of salience and strive to balance the focus on current events with long-term trends to improve the accuracy of their predictions.



Exploring the Role of the Transgressive Thrill

The concept of a "transgressive thrill" refers to the sense of excitement and reward that individuals experience when they go against societal norms and expectations. This phenomenon can play a significant role in shaping behavior, including political behavior and responses in polls. Here's an exploration of the role and impact of the transgressive thrill:

Psychological Drivers
Dopaminergic Reward System: Engaging in transgressive behavior can activate the brain's reward system, releasing dopamine, which creates feelings of pleasure and excitement. The novelty and risk associated with breaking norms can be inherently rewarding.

Autonomy and Agency: Transgressive actions can foster a sense of autonomy and personal agency, as individuals feel they are asserting their independence from societal constraints and making their own choices.

Rebellion and Identity: For some, transgressing norms is a way to establish and reinforce their identity, particularly in opposition to mainstream values. This can be especially pronounced in adolescence and young adulthood, but it can persist into later life as well.

Social and Cultural Factors
Countercultural Movements: Historically, countercultural movements have thrived on the transgressive thrill, attracting individuals who are disillusioned with prevailing norms and eager to challenge the status quo.

Political Protest and Activism: Many social and political movements leverage the transgressive thrill by encouraging acts of civil disobedience and protest. These actions not only draw attention to causes but also create a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose among participants.

Subcultures and Niche Communities: Various subcultures (e.g., punk, goth, hacker communities) celebrate transgressive behavior as a core element of their identity, creating spaces where norm-breaking is both expected and rewarded.

Impact on Political Behavior
Support for Outsider Candidates: Politicians who position themselves as outsiders or anti-establishment figures can tap into the transgressive thrill. Voters may support these candidates as a form of rebellion against perceived corruption or incompetence in the political establishment.

Polarization and Populism: Populist movements often capitalize on the transgressive thrill by promoting policies and rhetoric that defy elite consensus and conventional political norms. This can energize a base of supporters who are attracted to the idea of shaking up the system.

Shy Voter Effect: The transgressive thrill can contribute to the shy voter phenomenon, where individuals are reluctant to publicly disclose their support for controversial or norm-defying candidates. This discrepancy between private preferences and public statements can lead to inaccuracies in polls.

Social Media and Digital Culture
Viral Challenges and Memes: Social media platforms amplify the transgressive thrill by providing immediate feedback and validation for norm-defying content. Viral challenges and memes often encourage users to engage in risky or unconventional behavior for likes and shares.

Echo Chambers and Filter Bubbles: Online communities can reinforce transgressive behavior by creating echo chambers where norm-breaking is normalized and celebrated. This can lead to more extreme positions and actions being taken by individuals within these groups.

Case Studies and Examples
Political Campaigns: Campaigns that use provocative or controversial messaging can generate a transgressive thrill among supporters. For instance, candidates who use inflammatory language or propose radical changes often attract attention and support precisely because they defy norms.

Social Movements: Movements like the civil rights movement, LGBTQ+ rights, and climate activism have all involved elements of transgressive thrill, as activists broke laws, defied social norms, and challenged deeply entrenched systems of power.

Conclusion
The transgressive thrill plays a crucial role in human behavior by providing psychological rewards for breaking norms and challenging expectations. This phenomenon influences political behavior, social movements, and cultural trends. Understanding the appeal of transgressive actions can help explain why certain candidates and causes gain traction, particularly among those who feel disenchanted with the status quo. It also sheds light on the complexities of public opinion and the potential for discrepancies between private beliefs and public statements.

This is an important issue in this particular election because one candidate represents the status quo and one portrays himself as a transgressive maverick. However, the transgressive thrill can be whimsical. It may influence an answer to a poll, which is perceived as a trivial matter with no consequences good or bad, but not behavior at the time a ballot is cast.

Adding a layer of complexity to this: Transgression has almost become expected in popular culture. Trolling has become a way of gaining social approval. Paradoxically, people want to appear transgressive in order to be perceived as socially acceptable. But once they move from an unimportant public forum to a private act which is perceived as meaningful, this influence may dissolve.
 
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Having done some political polling, I'd agree that early polling is of very little use to most folks, especially when asking "horse race" questions, such as "Who would you vote for if the election were held today?" On the other hand it can be EXTREMELY useful to campaigns and parties to discover which issues have the most potential to help you out (or do the most damage to your opponent) and to set a bench mark for the horse race question so you can see how the campaign(s) are moving the electorate: whether what you are doing it working can be gauged as you see those numbers change over time towards where they'll be on election day.

I never had any faith at all in polling as a predictor -- too many unknown variables can crop up and change what's happening -- but as a snapshot of what's going on in the electorate and how well what you've done has worked so far, it is well worth having.

(The biggest problem I was seeing back when I got out of that business was the difficulty in building a good representative sample to poll from. Too many people were getting too good at call screening, and the increase in that skill was not homogeneous across demographics that mattered to us. Plus phony polls, where what starts off sounding like a poll turns into a pitch for donations or a scam, were making fewer and fewer people willing to "risk" talking to a pollster. Things got bad enough that I didn't feel like I had confidence in the product as an accurate snapshot, and therefore did not feel ethical selling our services. Now I fly kites. You know if a kite is working if it goes up.)
 
Drawing the discussion back to whimsical answers but also addressing concerns about building a good representative sample...

Attitudes have changed. People in past decades were earnest and civic duty was taken very seriously. One had a civic duty to get their children immunized, a civic duty to vote, a civic duty to take care of you and yours.

Engaging in a political poll and answering earnestly and thoughtfully was a civic duty.
 
Engaging in a political poll and answering earnestly and thoughtfully was a civic duty.
Within a couple of questions it usually becomes crystal clear what answers the poll is begging for. "Answering earnestly and thoughtfully" is appropriate for an earnest and thoughtful poll, but those seem to be as rare as hens' teeth.
 
Within a couple of questions it usually becomes crystal clear what answers the poll is begging for
That will be true in fake polls that will morph into a donation pitch, or a "push poll" that wants everybody to say "I'd vote for Jones!" so that Jones Campaign can release it and say "Look how popular Jones is!" Or for a badly designed poll.

We used to go to great lengths to avoid tipping our hand... we were not looking for good news, we wanted to know what was really going on! We were going to be making millions-of-dollars decisions that would winn or lose campaigns based on this info, we needed desperately for the information to be as correct as possible. In addition to trying to avoid slanting the questions, we'd do things like randomize the order in which things were mentioned so that our favorite doesn't always come first (or last!) and callers in the call center would not know who the client was (our company had a name like "Business Incorporated" to avoid the name of the contracting company filtering back to the callers and biasing them one way or the other.)
 
this guys piece has actual data in it


How predictive are early polls?​

First, I wanted to know how much I could trust these early horse-race polls, so I booted up 538's spreadsheet of historical polling data. This dataset has national polls going back to 1944 and state-level polls going back to the 1950s (though state polling really ramps up in the '70s). We can compare the averages of past polls taken around this time of year with final election results to get an informed guess at how much polls can change over the course of a year.

.....

Such a miss is not uncommon in the history of pre-election public opinion polls. In 1992, the early polls were off by 19 points; in 1972, by 12; and in 2000, by 8. Over our whole dataset, polls from mid-March have missed the final outcome of the presidential national popular vote by an average of about 8 points.

It is not surprising that early polls have a high amount of uncertainty predicting eventual election results. In many presidential election years, parties had not even selected their nominees by mid-March, making it difficult for voters to think about a choice they would make about hypothetical candidates eight months in the future. Many voters also simply aren't paying attention to the election yet.
 
That article contains a commonly expressed fallacy.

If the 2024 general election were held tomorrow, President Joe Biden would probably lose to former President Donald Trump. That's because, by 538's averaging, Biden trails in every major swing state — not to mention in national polls, too.
This is the "snapshot fallacy." (A neologism I just made up.)

This is the way things would go if the election were held today, but we have to recognize that this poll is just a snapshot in time.

The assumption is that early polls fail solely because attitudes and opinions change over time. It doesn't take into account that there's a disconnect between what people say they would do and what they would actually do. The difference, as expressed in my first post, is due to salience and all the cognitive biases I explored.

The problem is this: The crew at 538 are trained in analytical statistics but not in cognitive neuroscience, experimental design, or even basic social psychology. An example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. They don't know what they don't know. They don't even suspect there's something they don't know.

Key Aspects of the Dunning-Kruger Effect
Cognitive Bias:

Individuals with limited knowledge or skill in an area suffer from a dual burden: they make mistakes and reach poor decisions, but their incompetence also robs them of the ability to recognize their mistakes.

This cognitive bias leads to inflated self-assessment among the unskilled.
Metacognition:

The effect is partly due to deficits in metacognition, which is the ability to evaluate one's own thoughts and performance accurately.

Those who lack skills in a domain also lack the ability to evaluate their own performance accurately in that domain.

Incompetence and Confidence:

Incompetent individuals often exhibit high confidence because they are unaware of their lack of knowledge or ability.

Competent individuals may exhibit lower confidence because they recognize the vastness of what they do not know.

Example: One of those guys who goes around singing off key. He sings off key because he has a tin ear. He thinks he's singing just fine because he has a tin ear and can't hear that he's off key. Comically frustrating. That was a plot element in two different episodes of the Andy Griffith Show, btw.

They think this is all just an exercise in following the math. They know all about the pitfalls due to statistical errors, but they don't consider confounding factors due to human psychology.

(Confounding factors, also known as confounders or lurking variables, are variables that influence both the dependent variable and independent variable in an experiment or poll, potentially leading to erroneous conclusions about the relationships among these variables. These factors can obscure the true effects of the variables being studied, making it difficult to establish clear cause-and-effect relationships.)

There's a psychological difference between an early poll and a poll held just before the election. An early poll is weak predictor of behavior, not just of attitude. As polling draws closer to the election, it becomes a better predictor of behavior, not just attitude. It's because there's an increase in salience. You're not just measuring whimsical things such as who comes to mind first because the poll respondent has been hearing about the candidate more often in the last few days. Late polls are taken more seriously and there's more earnest, sober thought.

An important issue is the difference between system 1 thinking and system 2 thinking.
See: https://www.metabunk.org/threads/re...mous-idea-christine-garwood.7950/#post-205390

People are more likely to stay with system 1 when dealing with an unimportant issue and more likely to switch into the more effortful system 2 when dealing with an issue they perceive as important. System 1 thinking is the realm of unexamined cognitive biases.

As bad as the 538 crew are missing the bus, it's a steep drop off from there when you get to outlets like CNN or Fox... or to the Average Joe.
 
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The problem is this: The crew at 538 are trained in analytical statistics but not in cognitive neuroscience, experimental design, or even basic social psychology. An example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. They don't know what they don't know. They don't even suspect there's something they don't know.
I don't think your assessment about 538 is correct.

What they do have is lots of experience and data on how early poll results correlate with eventual election outcomes (including the 2016 presidential election prediction failure). You haven't given us any data to support your psychological hypotheses.
 
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I don't think your assessment about 538 is correct.

What they do have is lots of experience and data on how early poll results correlate with eventual election outcomes (including the 2016 presidential election prediction failure). You haven't given us any data to support your psychological hypotheses.
There are several claims in @Z.W. Wolf's post that 538 should have enough data to answer numerically already - do they have a forum where they can be encouraged to look at their data from a new perspective? From a strictly mathematical stance, I'm drawn to most of his claims simply because they do not mention the size of the effect, and therefore even an only just measurable effect would make the claim true. I don't see a great need for what people say they would do, and what they eventually do, to be perfectly correlated, I find that freakishly robotic behaviour that would need convincing evidence to bring me round to.

Alas, I think the situation is even more complex than just one of the foibles of human psychology, because this isn't a *decision problem*, it's a *game theory problem*. It's dynamic and interactive. Most people seem to view it as merely a decision problem, and thus fall for the Robinson Crusoe Fallacy. The early polls will decide the actions that the parties take in order to perturb the eventual votes away, in their favoured direction, from those early polls. If the early polls match the eventual results, that would be evidence for the parties failing to do somthing they specifically try to do (in nett equal measures). Except in corner cases, all rational parties should want the early polls to be wrong. Of course, one of the corner cases is where the Ming Vase Strategy seems optimal, and clearly that is in active use in the UK right now (and has been for at least 3 years).
 
Let's clarify the issue. And remember that I'm addressing one factor that I think is underappreciated or not even recognized.

My issue with this article: https://abcnews.go.com/538/trump-leading-polls-plenty-time-biden-catch/story?id=108062780

This attitude is expressed: Early polls are poor predictors of the final attitudes of voters on election day because attitudes change. True.

This is unstated, but implied: This is the only reason why early polls are weak predictors of election results. False. My opinion is that this false assumption comes from the naivete of the author. Where else would this false assumption come from but the Dunning-Kruger effect? Deliberate fraud?

My position: Early polls are also poor predictors of voter behavior. If the election were held today, the election results would not be in line with the current early polls. Early polls are not "a snapshot in time." I think that's a naïve opinion. There's more than one source of systematic error.

Citations added...

Analysis of Early Poll Predictive Inaccuracy and Systematic Errors Due to Late Deciders and Salience

Early polls often fail to accurately predict voter behavior compared to those conducted closer to the election. This inaccuracy can stem from various factors, including whimsical answers from late deciders, social desirability bias, and cognitive dissonance. Let's look at the influence of salience and the concept of transgressive thrill.

Late Deciders and Whimsical Answers

Whimsical Answers: Late deciders, or those who have not firmly made up their minds early in the election cycle, may provide whimsical or non-serious answers to polls because they do not yet see the importance of their response. This can lead to a high level of noise and variability in early poll results.

Impact of Salience: As the election approaches, the salience or perceived importance of the poll questions increases, leading late deciders to provide more earnest answers. This shift in response accuracy is why polls closer to the election tend to be more predictive.

Study: A study by Gelman and King (1993) highlights that polls conducted earlier in the election cycle are less predictive due to greater volatility and whimsical responses from undecided voters. Similarly, Erikson and Wlezien (2012) discuss how the timeline of presidential campaigns impacts voter behavior and poll accuracy, showing that early polls reflect more fluid and unstable preferences compared to later, more stable polling data.

Other Cognitive Biases Which Can Cause Systematic Errors in Early Polls

Social Desirability Bias

Overreporting Socially Acceptable Views: Respondents may overreport support for socially acceptable candidates or positions, skewing poll results.

Underreporting Controversial View: Conversely, respondents might underreport support for controversial candidates due to fear of social judgment.

Cognitive Dissonance

Post-Decision Dissonance: Once individuals publicly commit to a candidate, they may continue to report consistent support to avoid cognitive dissonance, even if their private opinions change.

Commitment and Consistency: Publicly stating a preference early on can lead to a bias where individuals feel compelled to stick with their initial choice.

Shy Voter Effect

Reluctance to Disclose True Preferences: Some voters may be hesitant to disclose their true voting intentions, particularly if they support a controversial candidate, leading to underreporting in polls.

Bandwagon Effect
Following the Perceived Majority: People might express support for a candidate they believe is popular, which can artificially inflate the perceived support for that candidate.

Recency Effect
Influence of Recent Events: Polls taken shortly after significant events can capture temporary shifts in public opinion that may not last.

Nonresponse Bias
Differential Participation: Individuals less engaged or less willing to participate in polls may have systematically different views, skewing results.

Study: Studies such as those by Mutz (1998) and Pew Research Center (2016) highlight how social desirability and shy voter effects can distort poll results. Bandwagon and recency effects are discussed in studies by Ansolabehere and Iyengar (1994), which show how these biases can lead to systematic errors in polling data.

The Role of Salience

Issue Salience

Temporary Salience: Certain issues gain temporary prominence due to recent events, which can lead to overestimation of their long-term importance in early polls.

Event Salience: Recent events can disproportionately affect poll results due to their salience in respondents' minds, known as the recency effect.

Media Coverage
Visibility of Candidates: Candidates who receive more media coverage, whether positive or negative, are more salient and likely to be top-of-mind for respondents. This can result in polling that reflects media attention rather than stable voter preferences.

Studies such as those by Iyengar and Kinder (1987) and McCombs and Shaw (1972) explore how media coverage and issue salience affect public opinion and poll accuracy.

Exploring the Role of Transgressive Thrill
Psychological Drivers

Dopaminergic Reward System: Engaging in transgressive behavior can trigger the brain's reward system, providing feelings of pleasure and excitement.

Autonomy and Agency: Transgressive actions can foster a sense of autonomy and personal agency.

Rebellion and Identity: Transgressing norms helps establish and reinforce identity, particularly in opposition to mainstream values.

Social and Cultural Factors
Countercultural Movements: Historically, these movements have leveraged the transgressive thrill, attracting those eager to challenge the status quo.

Political Protest and Activism: Movements often encourage norm-breaking to draw attention to causes, fostering camaraderie among participants.

Impact on Political Behavior

Support for Outsider Candidates: Politicians who defy norms can tap into the transgressive thrill, attracting voters disillusioned with the political establishment.

Shy Voter Effect: The transgressive thrill contributes to the shy voter phenomenon, where individuals are reluctant to publicly disclose support for controversial candidates.

Study: Research by Marcus (2000) and Popkin (1991) discusses how emotional and psychological factors, including the thrill of transgression, influence political behavior and polling accuracy.

Conclusion

Early polls are less accurate predictors of voter behavior due to whimsical answers from late deciders, systematic biases, and the varying salience of issues and events. Understanding these factors, including the psychological dynamics of transgressive thrill, helps explain why early polling data often diverges from election outcomes. As the election date approaches, increased salience and reduced cognitive biases lead to more accurate and earnest responses, improving the reliability of late polls.

Citations

1. Gelman, A., & King, G. (1993). Why are American Presidential Election Campaign Polls so Variable When Votes are so Predictable? Public Opinion Quarterly, 57(3), 348-357.
2. Erikson, R. S., & Wlezien, C. (2012). The Timeline of Presidential Elections: How Campaigns Do (and Do Not) Matter. Journal of Politics, 74(4), 1188-1202.
3. Mutz, D. C. (1998). Impersonal Influence: How Perceptions of Mass Collectives Affect Political Attitudes. Cambridge University Press.
4. Pew Research Center. (2016). The Shy Trump Voter: A Shy Voter Theory of Trump’s Victory.
5. Ansolabehere, S., & Iyengar, S. (1994). Riding the Wave and Claiming Ownership Over Issues: The Joint Effects of Advertising and News Coverage in Campaigns. Public Opinion Quarterly, 58(3), 335-357.
6. Iyengar, S., & Kinder, D. R. (1987). News that Matters: Television and American Opinion. University of Chicago Press.
7. McCombs, M. E., & Shaw, D. L. (1972). The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media. Public Opinion Quarterly, 36(2), 176-187.
8. Marcus, G. E. (2000). Emotions in Politics. Annual Review of Political Science, 3, 221-250.
9. Popkin, S. L. (1991). The Reasoning Voter: Communication and Persuasion in Presidential Campaigns. University of Chicago Press.

These citations are not easily accessed... so are they of any use? Not really, I'm afraid. In addition, I asked GPT-4o to rewrite my original post so that it could put in citations. I can't promise these citations would really support my argument in a way that would pass peer review.

Metabunk is a forum for intellectual discussion, but it's not a scientific journal. It's a hobby not a job.

The only thing I can hope for is that my argument makes sense. I do have a formal education and everything I'm arguing is based on established principals. That's all I can say. If my argument isn't convincing... it's just going to have lie there like a dead possum in the road. It's real, but not alive.
 
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In my opinion Allan Lichtman's 13 Keys to the White House system has done a lot better job of minimizing systematic error. His basic argument is that elections are primarily decided by voter perceptions of how well the incumbent party has governed. (A question I would like to ask Lichtman is why this factor is not considered: Has the incumbent party been in office for 8 years? If you look at the pattern, Dems and Reps switch the presidency every 8 years pretty consistently.)

It's a historical pattern recognition approach. It was inspired by a methodology developed by Vladimir Keilis-Borok, a geophysicist, for predicting earthquakes based on large data sets.

Lichtman's system is derived from a detailed historical analysis of every U.S. presidential election from 1860 onwards. He examined the conditions and outcomes of these elections to identify recurring factors that consistently predicted the winning party. It's based on listening to the data, not based on things people feel should be important. People are pretty bad at guessing stuff on an ad hoc basis. All they really bring to the table is cognitive biases.

Binary Indicators: The "13 Keys" are formulated as a series of true/false statements, which Lichtman identified as critical indicators. These indicators encompass a range of political, economic, and social factors.

Allan Lichtman argues his "13 Keys to the White House" system has predictive value due to its foundation on historical patterns and the real structural factors that influence presidential elections. He says that polls and pundits lack predictive value because they focus on factors that seem to be important to most people but do not really determine the outcome of elections.

Features:
1. Historical Analysis: Lichtman's system is based on an extensive historical analysis of U.S. presidential elections from 1860 to the present. It focuses on identifying patterns and factors that have consistently influenced election outcomes.

2. Structural Factors: The 13 keys are structural indicators rather than momentary opinions. They encompass aspects such as the incumbent party's performance, the presence of significant third-party candidates, major policy changes, and social unrest, which have a lasting impact on the electoral landscape.

3. Non-Partisan Approach: The system is non-partisan and does not rely on the popularity or personality of individual candidates. Instead, it examines broader systemic factors that transcend individual election cycles.

13 Keys Indicators

The keys are designed to assess the incumbent party's strength and are formulated as true/false statements. If six or more keys are false, the incumbent party is predicted to lose. Some of the keys include:
- Incumbent party mandate (holding more seats in the House after midterm elections)
- Lack of primary contest for the incumbent party
- Incumbent seeking re-election
- No significant third-party or independent campaign
- Short-term economic performance
- Long-term economic performance
- Major policy change
- Social unrest
- Scandal
- Foreign or military success/failure

What Lichtman says about polls and pundits:

1. Short-Term Fluctuations: Lichtman argues that polls are often affected by short-term events, media coverage, and temporary shifts in public opinion that do not necessarily reflect the underlying factors that determine election outcomes.

2. Pundit Predictions: Pundits often rely on their personal biases, selective data interpretation, and the current media narrative, which can be misleading. Their predictions are frequently based on surface-level analysis rather than in-depth historical patterns.

3. Lack of Long-Term Perspective: Both polls and pundits tend to focus on the immediate context and fail to account for the deeper, structural elements that Lichtman's keys address. This makes them less reliable for predicting the final election results.

Empirical Success

Lichtman has correctly predicted the outcome of every U.S. presidential election since 1984 with one miss. He missed Bush versus Gore in 2000. His model successfully makes post hoc predictions for every presidential election from 1860 to 1980.


Origin in Earthquake Prediction
Vladimir Keilis-Borok: Keilis-Borok applied pattern recognition techniques to the study of earthquakes. His methods involved identifying patterns and precursors in seismic data that could indicate an impending earthquake. This approach relies on historical data and the recognition of key indicators or "keys" that signal significant events.

Application to Political Prediction: Lichtman, working with Keilis-Borok, realized that similar principles could be applied to the political domain. They saw that just as earthquakes have certain precursors, presidential election outcomes might also have identifiable predictors based on historical patterns.

Qualitative Judgment: Lichtman's approach involves qualitative judgment in determining the true/false status of each key for a given election. This judgment is based on historical context and events leading up to the election.

Binary Model: The model is binary, meaning each key is either true or false. If six or more keys are false, the incumbent party is predicted to lose.

Difference from Factor Analysis
Factor analysis is a statistical method used to identify underlying relationships between variables by reducing a large number of variables into fewer factors. It relies on quantitative data and statistical correlations.

Lichtman’s "13 Keys" approach does not use statistical factor analysis. It's based on a historical qualitative analysis where he identified specific factors (keys) through the examination of historical election outcomes.

Lichtman can't make a prediction much more than two months ahead because the factors might change. He says he'll probably make his call in August this time. But so far, "A lot would have to go wrong for Biden to lose."
 
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The mainstream media, and many members of the general public (those who have any interest at all in the presidential election of 2024), can't seem to break free from the idea that early polling is meaningful.
My issue here is that we are not discussing specific claims.
This thread should at the very least start with an actual quote that assigns a meaning to an early poll, and then use evidence to show that it is bunk.
I've not seen any claim quoted, even though you made it the title of this thread.
(Well, you've now quoted one, but you agreed with it, you merely found the explanation overly simplostic.)

The problem is this: The crew at 538 are trained in analytical statistics but not in cognitive neuroscience, experimental design, or even basic social psychology. An example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. They don't know what they don't know. They don't even suspect there's something they don't know.
And this statement requires at the very least a quote from Nate Silver and its full debunk to not be libelous. But you have not put up any quote on what 538 thinks of the significance of early polls.
 
My issue here is that we are not discussing specific claims.
This thread should at the very least start with an actual quote that assigns a meaning to an early poll, and then use evidence to show that it is bunk.
I've not seen any claim quoted, even though you made it the title of this thread.
Okay

"I think early polls are meaningful and useful." - A guy on TV

Are you really asking for something like that? What are you asking for? I'm not sure.
 
The issue with polling as prediction of future behavior (specifically of voters in this discussion) is that it does not and cannot predict all the crazy stuff that goes on during a campaign. It can't predict that Reagan will get off the great line during the debates where he addressed the age issue with his "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience." It can't predict that Michael Dukakis will look silly in a tanker's helmet, not a particularly important thing objectively, but a moment which crystalized opinion about him for some voters. It can't predict Ford's Poland Is Free gaffe, nor his huge reluctance to fix the problem after it happened, letting it fester. It can't predict that Nixon will get sick just before history's first televised presidential debate, and then decline the services of a makeup artist , while Kennedy will be healthy and tanned and accept makeup, leaving Kennedy looking good and Nixon looking haggard. It can't predict the effective an ad buy, or the outbreak of a virus, or the start of a war.

A well-designed poll can tell you a great deal about where you are today, and how effective what you did last week was. (Though, I believe just based on personal experience, not as much as polls once could, for reasons already discussed in this thread.) It cannot tell you what will happen in the future. It can be a combination Polaroid camera and history book, it is not a crystal ball.
 
Okay

"I think early polls are meaningful and useful." - A guy on TV

Are you really asking for something like that? What are you asking for? I'm not sure.
Well, if I had context, I could examine what meaning the guy on TV ascribes to the poll, and what they think it could be used for. I'm still in the dark about that.
 
The issue with polling as prediction of future behavior (specifically of voters in this discussion) is that it does not and cannot predict all the crazy stuff that goes on during a campaign. It can't predict that Reagan will get off the great line during the debates where he addressed the age issue with his "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience." It can't predict that Michael Dukakis will look silly in a tanker's helmet, not a particularly important thing objectively, but a moment which crystalized opinion about him for some voters. It can't predict Ford's Poland Is Free gaffe, nor his huge reluctance to fix the problem after it happened, letting it fester. It can't predict that Nixon will get sick just before history's first televised presidential debate, and then decline the services of a makeup artist , while Kennedy will be healthy and tanned and accept makeup, leaving Kennedy looking good and Nixon looking haggard. It can't predict the effective an ad buy, or the outbreak of a virus, or the start of a war.

A well-designed poll can tell you a great deal about where you are today, and how effective what you did last week was. (Though, I believe just based on personal experience, not as much as polls once could, for reasons already discussed in this thread.) It cannot tell you what will happen in the future. It can be a combination Polaroid camera and history book, it is not a crystal ball.
I don't think any of those things were really meaningful. Those elections broke the way they were always going to break. People just looked for a reason that seems meaningful. Those elections were either predicted by the 13 Keys to the White House System or can be given a post hoc prediction using the 13 keys system.

Narrative fallacy. This bias involves creating a coherent story or explanation after an event has occurred, even if the true causes are not understood or recognized. The narrative fallacy leads people to believe that the constructed story is meaningful and accurate, when in fact the real reasons behind the event may be different or unknown.

The 13 keys system has had wild cards thrown in.

1960: Election fraud favoring Kennedy in Illinois.

2000: Election fraud favoring Bush in Florida.
 
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Is it really necessary, though? "Early polls are meaningful" is in the category of Flat Earth.
Yes, but if the topic of your thread is "early polls are not meaningful", you named it wrong and placed it in the wrong section.

Our Flat Earth threads do start with a claim of evidence.

I don't think it's meaningful to "debunk" a straw man.
 
1988 election: GHW Bush had these keys going his way:

No primary contest: There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination. Bush got more than twice the delegates that Dole and Robertson did combined. No contest.

Strong short-term economy: The economy is not in recession during the election campaign.

Strong long-term economy: Real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.

No third party: There is no significant third party or independent campaign.

Major policy change: The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy.

No social unrest: There is no sustained social unrest during the term.

No foreign/military failure: The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs.

The election was already called for Bush with 7 keys in his favor.

This was just a bonus:
Uncharismatic challenger: The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero. And Dukakis was not done in on this factor because of the bobblehead incident. He wasn't charismatic before the incident or after it. It was a stable factor.

Nor was Dukakis done in by the Willie Horton campaign commercials. Campaigns are window dressing.

With 8 keys in his pocket, Bush won by a landslide.
 
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The issue of voter suppression during the 2000 U.S. presidential election in Florida has been widely documented and analyzed. Reports highlighted several key issues:

  1. Purging Voter Rolls: A significant number of voters, particularly African Americans, were erroneously purged from voter rolls, preventing them from voting.
  2. Voter Intimidation: Instances of police roadblocks and identity checks near polling stations in predominantly minority neighborhoods were reported.
  3. Confusing Ballots: The infamous "butterfly ballot" led to confusion and misvotes, particularly in Palm Beach County.
Citation:

 
Bandwagon Effect
Following the Perceived Majority: People might express support for a candidate they believe is popular, leading to an overestimation of that candidate's support.

I recall at the last election in the UK, opinion polls consistently showed the Liberal Democrats had 25 - 30% actual support when people were asked who they wanted to win.....but only 10% or some such figure when people were asked who they thought would actually win.

Thus you have the absurdity that a party that could actual win if all the people who wanted it to win actually voted for it....ends up completely losing because those people don't vote for it because they don't think it is going to win.

For that very reason I would ban all electoral opinion polls. People should not be voting according to how they think others will vote. The only viable opinion poll is the election itself.
 
I recall at the last election in the UK, opinion polls consistently showed the Liberal Democrats had 25 - 30% actual support when people were asked who they wanted to win.....but only 10% or some such figure when people were asked who they thought would actually win.
That doesn't seem odd... I am very clear which candidate for congress here I would like to see win, and will vote for them, and are very sure that they will not win. Or, looked at outside politics for an example, this Fall I will root for the beloved Carolina Panthers, and hope they win every game. I do not expect them to win very many, though. But I'll cheer 'em on anyway.

Thus you have the absurdity that a party that could actual win if all the people who wanted it to win actually voted for it....ends up completely losing because those people don't vote for it because they don't think it is going to win.
With the understanding that I don't know exactly how British elections work, still 25-30% seems low to support a claim that they could win if all of the one-quarter of voters who like them voted for them. I suppose a plurality is sufficient to call it a win amongst multiple parties?
(And, see above, I'm not sure the correlation between voting and thinking your side will win is overwhelming -- and of course the opposite happens with people thinking they need not bother to vote because they are sure their side will win anyway. I suspect that was a factor in Sec. Clinton's loss over here in 2016, for example.

For that very reason I would ban all electoral opinion polls. People should not be voting according to how they think others will vote. The only viable opinion poll is the election itself.
I'm not big on banning speech, or knowledge. But I agree, the only poll that ultimately counts is the one on election day. maybe rather than banning stuff, educating the public (and a goodly portion of the political professionals) on the uses and limits of polling would be better?
 
Z.W.Wolf: "Voting Irregularities"
are not what I'd call
Z.W.Wolf: "Election fraud"
thank you for clarifying
If you stop reading at the title, you're going to miss not just a lot of the contents, but all of the contents.

Would "violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) occurred", in particular where there has been "action that has the effect of denying a citizen the right to vote" count as election fraud? (The quoted phrases are from the contents.)

External Quote:
Electoral fraud is illegal interference with the process of an election.
-- https://ballotpedia.org/Electoral_fraud
 
Would "violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) occurred", in particular where there has been "action that has the effect of denying a citizen the right to vote" count as election fraud? (The quoted phrases are from the contents.)
I do not see that quoted in this thread. What "contents" did you quote it from?

Here's a citation I found:
Plaintiffs challenge the state's certification and approval, and the local Defendants' selection and use of: (1) punch card voting systems, (2) voting systems that lack effective error notification, and (3) voting systems with inadequate education of voters, inadequate training of and assistance from election judges, and inadequate ballot design. Plaintiffs allege that all of these systems violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and that the State's approval of these different systems violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Now I look at the following list from the ballotpedia page you cited, and I'm having trouble determining who interfered here doing what.

Types of electoral fraud

The following list provides examples of different types of alleged electoral fraud:[1][2]

• Ballot stuffing: Casting illegal votes or submitting more than one ballot per voter.
• Votes cast in the names of deceased people: The name of a deceased person remains on a state's official list of registered voters and a living person fraudulently casts a ballot in that name.
• Felon vote fraud: The casting of a ballot by a person convicted of a felony who is not eligible to vote as a result of the conviction. Voting rights for convicted felons vary by state.
• Voter suppression: A variety of tactics aimed at lowering or suppressing the number of voters who might otherwise vote in a particular election.
• Voter registration fraud: Filling out and submitting a voter registration card for a fictional person, or filling out a voter registration card with the name of a real person but without that person's consent and forging his or her signature on the card.
• Voter impersonation: A person claims to be someone else when casting a vote.
• Vote-buying: Agreements between voters and others to buy and sell votes, such as a candidate paying voters to vote for him or her.
• Fraud by election officials: Manipulation of ballots by officials administering the election, such as tossing out ballots or casting ballots in voters' names.
• Absentee ballot vote fraud: A person attempts to fill out and turn in an absentee ballot containing false information. For example, this can occur when a person attempts to fill out and turn in an absentee ballot with the name of a false or non-existent voter. The term can extend to manipulation, deception, or intimidation of absentee voters.


Note that the Wikipedia editors hold that "[Electoral fraud] differs from but often goes hand-in-hand with voter suppression" ("Electoral Fraud", wikipedia).
 
I do not see that quoted in this thread. What "contents" did you quote it from?
The thing you only read the title of. Hence my comment about you only reading the title.

Now I look at the following list from the ballotpedia page you cited, and I'm having trouble determining who interfered here doing what.

• Voter suppression: A variety of tactics aimed at lowering or suppressing the number of voters who might otherwise vote in a particular election.
AKA "denying a citizen the right to vote".
 
The thing you only read the title of. Hence my comment about you only reading the title.
You mean, The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, "Voting Irregularities in Florida During the 2000 Presidential Election."? It does not mention electoral fraud. Instead, it states, "The VRA does not require intent to discriminate."

Compare:
Intent is a crucial factor in fraud cases. The government must prove that the accused acted with the specific intent to defraud someone else.
 
You mean, The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, "Voting Irregularities in Florida During the 2000 Presidential Election."? It does not mention electoral fraud. Instead, it states, "The VRA does not require intent to discriminate."
It does mention electoral fraud, it just doesn't mention is using those two words. They're called synonyms:
External Quote:
a word or phrase that has the same or nearly the same meaning as another word or phrase in the same language
https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/synonym

Compare:
Intent is a crucial factor in fraud cases. The government must prove that the accused acted with the specific intent to defraud someone else.

Nope, that's not the same. "electoral fraud" is not "fraud" in an "electoral" context, it is its own fixed phrase with its own definitions, and its own set of laws - in the US it's Title 52 where fraud itself is in Title 18.
 
Nope, that's not the same. "electoral fraud" is not "fraud" in an "electoral" context, it is its own fixed phrase with its own definitions, and its own set of laws - in the US it's Title 52 where fraud itself is in Title 18.
I looked up title 52, and https://www.justice.gov/crt/title-52-voting-and-elections-subtitle-i-and-ii always associates the word "fraud" with something like "knowingly or willfully" or similar, signaling intent. I hate arguing with people who can't be bothered to do the source work.
 
This seems to be devolving into bickering. My point is that the 13 Keys to the white house system can be vulnerable to wild cards that lie outside of the norms.
 
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