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Bandwagon and Underdog Effects in Minimal-Information Elections*

  • Daniel W. Fleitas (a1)

Abstract

This investigation is based on an experimental study of voting behavior in what the author terms a minimal-information election. This type of election is characterized by a dearth of public information about election issues and partisan considerations, so that the campaign is waged primarily on the basis of the voters' attitudes toward the candidates as personalities. In general, the minimal-information election most often characterizes local nonpartisan contests.

The experiment examined changes in voting that appeared to result from electioneering strategies designed to elicit “bandwagon” or “underdog” responses. These strategies consisted of presenting the “electorate” with the results of pre-election preferential polls, as well as qualitative information explicitly aimed at arousing the emotions of the voters.

The experiment clearly demonstrated that mere poll results are insufficient to impel would-be bandwagon or underdog identifiers to switch their votes. Rather, this type of behavior does not appear until a strong qualitative stimulus sensitizes or cues bandwagon or underdog tendencies among the voters.

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*

The research on which this paper is based is from the author's dissertation, “The Underdog Effect: An Experimental Study of Voting Behavior in a Minimal Information Election” (unpublished Doctoral thesis, Florida State University, 1970). I wish to thank Charles N. Brownstein, James W. Clarke, and James W. Dyson for helpful critiques of an earlier version of this paper.

Footnotes

References

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1 See, for example, Crossley, Archibald M. and Crossley, Helen M., “Polling in 1968,” Public Opinion Quarterly, XXXIII (Spring, 1969), 116 ; Gallup, George, “Polls and the Political Process—Past, Present, and Future,” Public Opinion Quarterly XXIX (Winter, 19651966), 544549 ; Harris, Louis, “Polls and Politics in the United States,” Public Opinion Quarterly, XXVII (Spring, 1963), 38 ; Lang, Kurt and Lang, Gladys Engel, Voting and Nonvoting (Waltham, Mass.: Blaisdell Publishing Co., 1968); Meier, Norman C. and Saunders, Harold W., eds., The Polls and Public Opinion (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1949); and Mendelsohn, Harold and Crespi, Irving, Polls, Television, and the New Politics (Scranton, Pa.: Chandler Publishing Co., 1970).

2 Bernard C. Hennessy notes that the bandwagon effect must be distinguished from the mere inclination of partisans, in conventions or in primaries, to rally to the support of a candidate who appears to have the ability to win. As he explains, “The bandwagon effect is supposed to induce the voter, regardless of party or other factors, to support a candidate simply because he appears to be a winner.” See Hennessy, Bernard C., Public Opinion (Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Co., Inc., 1965), p. 141 .

3 A more concise and mathematical delineation of the bandwagon and underdog phenomena is offered by Simon, Herbert A., “Bandwagon and Underdog Effects and the Possibility of Election Predictions,” Public Opinion Quarterly, XVIII (Fall, 1954), 245253 .

4 Some General Characteristics of Nonpartisan Elections,” American Political Science Review, XLVI (09, 1952), 773 .

5 The subject of person perception is discussed in greater detail in Warr, Peter B. and Knapper, Christopher, The Perception of People and Events (New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1948).

6 Although the discussion in this paper uses such terms as underdog, frontrunner, and bandwagon, these words were carefully avoided by the experimenter in his instructions and announcements to the voters.

7 The classic study on conformity behavior was based on a series of experiments conducted by Solomon E. Asch dealing with perceptual judgments in a group setting. The findings of that study indicate that a personal commitment is not easily shaken until one finds himself standing against a near unanimous majority. The presence of even a modicum of support seems sufficient to bolster one's confidence in his own judgments. See Asch, Solomon E., “Studies of Independence and Conformity: A Minority of One Against a Unanimous Majority,” Psychological Monographs, LXX (1956), No. 9 (Whole No. 416).

8 See Campbell, Angus, “Voters and Elections: Past and Present,” Journal of Politics, XXVI (11, 1964), 745757 ; and Converse, Philip E., “Information Flow and the Stability of Partisan Attitudes,” Public Opinion Quarterly, XXVI (Winter, 1962), 578599 .

9 This finding is similar to that of another experimental study which found that a demagogic appeal is less effective in partisan than in nonpartisan conests. See Jaros, Dean and Mason, Gene L., “Party Choice and Support for Demagogues: An Experimental Examination,” American Political Science Review, LXIII (03, 1969), 100110 .

10 See Laponce, J. A., “An Experimental Method to Measure the Tendency to Equibalance in a Political System,” American Political Science Review, LX (Deember, 1966), 982993 ; and Schuman, Howard and Harding, ohn, “Sympathetic Identification with the Underdog,” Public Opinion Quarterly, XXVII (Summer, 1963), 230241 .

* The research on which this paper is based is from the author's dissertation, “The Underdog Effect: An Experimental Study of Voting Behavior in a Minimal Information Election” (unpublished Doctoral thesis, Florida State University, 1970). I wish to thank Charles N. Brownstein, James W. Clarke, and James W. Dyson for helpful critiques of an earlier version of this paper.

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