Wednesday, October 31, 2012

More on Likely Liars and the Ignored, Important 2.5%

Many (ok, I assume many, since I'm not sure anyone really was all that troubled by it) might have been troubled by the little bit of sleight of hand in the previous post (Likely Liars) where I magically assumed that people who ex post lie about voting have similar profiles and incentives to those who ex ante lie about expecting to vote.  Luckily, via Sasha Issenberg, we have evidence that this isn't purely speculation. A paper by Todd Rogers and Masa Aida (the wonderfully named "Why Bother Asking?" cuts directly to the point, using a similar (but temporally reversed) version of the methodology in Ansolabehere and Hersh. That is, they check the answers that pollsters received about intention to vote prior to the election against public voting databases, tabulate the discrepancies, and analyze the determinants of the differences. The key results:

First, consistent with research on social desirability, in each election a meaningful fraction of those who say they will vote, do not. Second, in each election a surprising proportion of respondents who say they will not vote, in fact, do vote -- a proportion that rivals the proportion who erroneously predict that they will vote but, in fact do not vote. Third, past vote history is a much better predictor of turnout than self-reported intention to vote.
Unfortunately, we still know precious little about the demographics that drive this decision, except that the lying decision tends to be correlated with the benefits maintaining a self-image consistent with that of an informed "voter". This is exactly the sort of mechanism driving the results in Ansolabehere and Hersh, so I'm now less troubled about the temporal inversion. I AM incredibly interested in what drives people to say they don't intend to vote (or are not likely to) but then actually vote. This isn't a huge percentage of the population (about 5%ish) but over half of them vote anyway, and we can't don't even measure their intentions.

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