Rush To Judgment: Why People Change Their Minds After Big Elections

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Bandwagon Effect and Elections

The bandwagon effect is something we’re all familiar with. We hear of ‘bandwagon fans’ when a sports team is having a good season. We hear of ‘bandwagon support’ in political campaigns as well, particularly following a recent vote. The bandwagon effect is defined as doing something because everyone else does.

Graphs like this illustrate the rise and fall of candidates as voters make decisions: Photo by Jholland18

For years, we’ve heard claims along the lines of “9 out of 10 doctors” or “4 out of 5 dentist” in our advertising. In politics, we see polling numbers, and voting results, and believe that we’re supposed to do the same as all the other people who have voted. Seeing a candidate winning 40 percent of a state can create the idea that this candidate must be the right choice.

As human beings, we want to be accepted; to be part of a group. Bandwagon effect shows these feelings of inclusion and acceptance as motivators in making a decision regarding a candidate. Polling shows trends in voters, which may change in time, but are a snapshot of the moment.

In 1998, Albert Mehrabian released a study examining bandwagon effect in politics. He referred to this phenomenon as “rally around the winner.” His examination showed that emotional decision-making played a strong role in the political bandwagon effect. The study also showed a strong correlation between winning and attracting new voters. The more a candidate won, and the larger the margin, the more the polls showed the candidate gaining popularity. Mehrabian postulated that individuals want to be associated with a winner, and will choose a candidate that appears to be winning.

More Studies Required

For all the studies that have looked into the process of making decisions, we still have more to learn, and are still not certain how each of these phenomenon overlap with one another. As a group, scientists know more today than in generations past, and new research will be able to better explain our decision-making processes. Studies looking into what types of information generates different decisions for marketing people and products will improve advertising. Other studies looking at how technology can change our minds will allow for better targeting of potential customers or voters for political candidates.

References:

McEwan, W. Brand Momentum. (2001). Gallup Management Journal. Accessed January 23, 2012.

Mehrabian, A. Effects of poll reports on voter preferences. (1998). Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Accessed January 23, 2012.

Ropeik, D. Why Changing Someone’s Mind, or Yours, Is Hard To Do. (2010). Psychology Today. Accessed January 23, 2012.

Yong, E. Why People Change Their Minds At The Last Second. (2009). ScienceBlogs. Accessed January 23, 2012.

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