Opinion polls may inadvertently affect public opinion, as people may change their attitudes after learning what others think. A disconcerting possibility is that opinion polls have the ability to create information cascades, wherein the majority opinion becomes increasingly larger over time. Testing poll influence on attitudes toward Syrian refugees and mandatory measles vaccination, we field survey experiments on a probability-based online survey panel. Through a novel automated procedure labeled the dynamic response feedback, we measure whether the answers from early poll respondents can influence the opinions of subsequent respondents who learn the answers of the previous respondents. Using this procedure, no feedback loops are identified.
A widespread cultural phenomenon – and/or individual disposition – is the idea that one should never try to be more, try to be different, or consider oneself more valuable than other people. In Scandinavia this code of modesty is referred to as the ‘Jante mentality’, in Anglo-Saxon societies the ‘tall puppy syndrome’, and in Asian cultures ‘the nail that stands out gets hammered down’. The study reported here examines how this modesty code relates to generalized trust. We argue, prima facie, that a positive and a negative relationship are equally plausible. Representative samples of the Norwegian population were asked about their agreement with the Jante mentality and the extent to which they have trust in other people. Two population surveys were conducted; one measuring individual level associations and another measuring aggregate level associations. It was found that the relationship between having a Jante mentality and trust is negative, at both levels of analysis and, furthermore, that the Jante mentality – this modesty code assumed to be instilled in Scandinavians from early childhood – is a powerful predictor of generalized trust.
When people form their preferences on political issues, other people’s opinions matter to them. There is thus a potential self-reinforcing mechanism at play when individuals form their political preferences, where the aggregate level of support and opposition shaping public opinion. In this paper we present an experiment where we inform the treatment groups with a skewed distribution of opinions about a political issue, and then track the treatment effect over a sequence of polls with the aim of exploring the effect of the treatment over time. The research design of the presented experiment gauges to what extent knowledge of opinion polls as such have a lasting impact on people’s political preferences. Can polls themselves change the dynamics of public opinion formation among the citizens? To facilitate the implementation of the experimental design, we introduce a technical innovation which we label the Dynamic Response Feedback. This procedure automatically generates a pie chart with poll distributions from previous responses and uses it as information to respondents who are taking the survey in present time. By repeating this procedure several times a series of poll distributions are created within one survey wave. The survey experiment is conducted on 2500 respondents in The Norwegian Citizen Panel, which is a probability based web panel of Norwegian residents. The paper presents results from an experiment on the question of whether or not the respondents think that measles vaccination of children should be compulsory. We find that when respondents are presented with a poll that is slightly skewed in the sense that it displays a higher share of supporters for the issue than the true share (as found in the control group), the aggregate mean of the treated respondents also becomes higher. Moreover, the effect of the initial poll distribution has a diminishing effect over time which resembles a fading autoregressive (AR1) process becomes a factor of its own.