Academic journal article European Quarterly of Political Attitudes and Mentalities

Opinion Polls, Voters' Intentions and Expectations in the 2011 Croatian Parliamentary Elections

Academic journal article European Quarterly of Political Attitudes and Mentalities

Opinion Polls, Voters' Intentions and Expectations in the 2011 Croatian Parliamentary Elections

Article excerpt

Abstract

Decades of research still providing no clear answer to the question of pre-election poll influence on voter decision making, some authors have proposed the shiftin focus to be made from research of "poll effects" to research of "preconditions for poll effects". It is hypothesized that, for poll results to have any direct influence on the voters, voters must attend to published pre-election polls, they must accurately retain the results, and trust the credibility of such forecasts. Using data collected during the 2011 parliamentary election campaign in Croatia, this paper examines to what extent these preconditions are satisfied among the Croatian voters, and how they relate to certain aspects of voting behaviour, in particular, voters' intentions and expectations. Findings presented in this study demonstrate that the preconditions for poll effects are satisfied for, at most, one-third of the Croatian electorate. Additional analyses provide evidence for the presence of substantial effects of media polls on voters' expectations in the 2011 election run-up. However, with regard to voters' intentions, findings are more ambiguous, suggesting factors other than those analysed to be responsible for the observed differences in the intended electoral turnout and vote choice.

Keywords: pre-election polls; electoral behaviour; voters' expectations; preconditions for poll influence

1. Introduction

Since their inception in the early twentieth century, public opinion polls - especially surveys of vote intentions - have become an integral part of media coverage of election campaigns. Their growing prevalence, however, has led to some controversy: those conducting election polls have often been criticized for using imperfect data gathering methods, results are said to be open to manipulation, and crucially, election polls are believed to interfere with democratic integrity by influencing voter decision making either by altering voters' candidate preferences or their willingness to cast a ballot (Donsbach, 2001; Boudreau and McCubbins, 2010). The various hypothesized manifestations of the said influence can be split into two groups: bandwagon/underdog effects, and strategic (tactical) voting (Lang and Lang, 1984; Henshel and Johnston, 1987; Ansolabehere and Iyengar, 1994). Bandwagon and underdog effects refer to reactions that some voters have to the dissemination of information about voting intentions from pre-election polls. Based upon the indication that one candidate (or party) is leading and the other trailing, a bandwagon effect implies the tendency for some potential voters with low involvement in election campaign to be attracted to the leader, while the underdog effect refers to the tendency for other potential voters to be attracted to the trailing candidate (party). The notion of strategic or tactical voting, on the other hand, is based on the idea that voters view the act of voting as a means of selecting a government. Thus they will sometimes refrain from choosing their candidate or party of first preference, if they perceive it to be only weakly supported by the others, and cast their vote to another, less-preferred, candidate from strategic considerations.

A great deal of research over the past 30 years has been conducted examining the relationship between published reports of election poll data and the potential impact of poll results on voting behaviour. In some cases evidence has been found that suggests bandwagon effects are present (Marsh, 1985; Skalaban, 1988; McAllister and Studlar, 1991; Ansolabehere and Iyengar, 1994; Cotter and Stovall, 1994; Mehrabian, 1998); others have found evidence of an underdog effect (Fleitas, 1971; Ceci and Kain, 1982; Lavrakas et al., 1991); while third have shown differentiated (mixed) effects of polls on groups of voters, or have claimed no effect of polls on public opinion whatsoever (Navazio, 1977; Donsbach, 2001). Hence, in spite of decades of research, the question of "poll effects" on voter decision making remains an open one (Morwitz and Pluzinski, 1996; Blais et al. …

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