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Funhouse Mirrors: Do Polls Reflect Public Opinion or Refract Democracy?

ASU Author/Contributor (non-ASU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Michael Matthew Ragozzino (Creator)
Institution
Appalachian State University (ASU )
Web Site: http://www.library.appstate.edu/
Advisor
Todd Hartman

Abstract: The news media’s dissemination of public opinion polls has increased exponentially over the past decade. While most citizens treat polls as reliable sources of information upon which to base their political decisions, political scientists have decried polls as plagued by inaccuracies and biases. This paper investigates the impact the “bandwagon effect,” the tendency for people to modify their beliefs in order to conform to the majority opinion presented by a poll. Drawing from social identity theory and self-categorization theory, I hypothesize that the bandwagon effect impacts those individuals who seek to enhance their connection to their national and political groups. I further hypothesize that the strength of group opinion moderates the impact of the bandwagon effect. With three unique experiments, I find that social identity does, in fact, moderate the impact of bandwagon effect. Self-identified political partisans change their attitudes to conform to those of their fellow Republicans or Democrats. Interestingly, Americans do not change their attitudes to conform to the opinions of their fellow Americans. I also find that the strength of group opinion does not moderate the impact of the bandwagon effect, and that people who change their attitudes are unaware of the influence of the opinion poll.

Additional Information

Publication
Thesis
Ragozzino, M.M. Funhouse Mirrors: Do Polls Reflect Public Opinion or Refract Democracy? Unpublished master’s thesis. Appalachian State University, Boone, NC.
Language: English
Date: 2012
Keywords
Bandwagon Effect, Public Opinion, Opinion Polls, Social Identity Theory, Media Persuasion