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.
This study argues for a generic approach to selective exposure research. Empirically, we dismantle the relative importance of three different forms of selective exposure to like-minded political news that has dominated the communication literature: message cues, party cues and source cues. In a uniquely designed conjoint experiment, a large probability-based panel of Norwegian citizens was faced with news headline choices, randomly varying several different factors simultaneously. We not only show that the effects are in line with previous research but also, more importantly, that these effects are additive and distinct effects that prevail when three known countervailing forces are accounted for. We conclude that scholars should move towards a more generic and less country specific approach to selective exposure research.
We examine how descriptive representation, formal representation, and responsiveness affect the legitimacy of political decisions: Who are the representatives, how are they selected, what is the outcome of the decision-making process, and to what extent do these three aspects matter for decision acceptance among the citizens? We examine this from the citizens’ perspective, and ask whether decisions are perceived as more legitimate when they are made by groups that reflect society in certain characteristics and chosen according to certain selection procedures. In a Norwegian survey experiment, we find that people are more willing to accept a decision when it is made by a group of people like them, and who are assigned as decision makers based on their expertise. Descriptive representation also serves as a cushion for unfavorable decisions. Moreover, when asked, the traditionally less advantaged groups tend to value descriptive representation more than other citizens.
Democracies are typically considered more legitimate than other types of regimes because they allow the citizens to participate in the policy decision-making process. Others argue that the policy output matters most, and citizen influence plays a lesser role. This study presents two survey experiments on the micro foundations of these two sources of political legitimacy, thus contributing to an emerging literature that experimentally investigates the effects of democratic procedures in small-scale settings. Respondents who saw the decision going in their favour found the decision much more acceptable than the respondents who preferred another outcome. Conversely, decision-making influence generally did not serve as a legitimising factor among the respondents. This result supports the argument that citizens prefer a stealth democracy where they are minimally involved in democratic decision-making processes.
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.
Representation is at the core of the democratic process in contemporary democracies. Many scholars have consequently studied the link between citizens and their representatives, and well as between that between citizens’ preferences and policy outcomes. Scholars have aimed to identify the mechanisms under which representation works, i.e. when citizens are indeed reflected in the representative body, and their preferences in the policies that are implemented. However, we know less about what citizens want in terms of the organization of representation. In this paper, we aim to investigate the legitimacy of representation, and to identify the sources of the legitimacy of a public decision. In order to answer this question, we have designed a survey experiment for the Norwegian Citizen Panel in 2014 which allows us to isolate some of such likely sources. More specifically, we examine under which of three conditions citizens are more likely to accept decisions that are not taken by themselves directly, but which are relevant for all citizens. These three conditions are 1) the selection process of the representatives (randomly selected; popularly elected; appointed experts), 2) the composition of the representatives (mirroring the socio-economic characteristics of the population or not, i.e. descriptive representation or not), and 3) the outcome of the decision (according to the respondents preference or not). As such, we aim to contribute to our understanding of the legitimacy of the representative policy-making process. Moreover, we explore the popular evaluation of representation, which further adds to the more ‘objective’ evaluation of matching citizens to representatives, or citizens’ preferences to policy output.
In political science, it is held that a democratic regime is more legitimate than other types of regimes because it allows its citizens to take part in the policy decision-making process. Others argue that the policy output matters the most, and that citizen influence play a lesser role than recognized. This paper presents a survey experiment on the micro foundations of these two sources of political legitimacy. In a 2x2 factorial design experiment, respondents of the Norwegian Citizen Panel took part in a real decision on how to spend NOK 5000,-. The outcome of the decision and the respondents’ ability to influence the outcome were manipulated, and the respondents were asked to rate how acceptable they found the decision. It turned out that, in general, the respondents with an influence on the decision found the decision no more acceptable than those who had no influence. The only exception was those with high political interest: They tended to find the decision more acceptable if they had had the opportunity to influence the outcome than if they had not. What most respondents reacted to, however, was whether or not the outcome turned out as they had wanted it to. Those who saw the decision going against their preferences found the decision much less acceptable than the respondents whose decision was in accordance with their stated wishes. Though the robustness of these early findings must be tested, the results indicate that at the micro level, decision making influence is a less important source of political legitimacy than it is claimed to be at the macro level.
It is commonly held that democracies are more legitimate than other types of regimes because they allow the citizens to take part in the policy decision-making process. Others argue that the policy output matters the most, and that citizen influence play a lesser role than recognized. This paper presents a survey experiment on the micro foundations of these two sources of political legitimacy, thus contributing to an emerging literature that experimentally investigates the effects of democratic procedures. In a 2x2 factorial design experiment, respondents of the Norwegian Citizen Panel took part in a real decision on how to spend NOK 5000,-. The outcome of the decision and the respondents’ ability to influence the outcome were manipulated, and the respondents were asked to rate how acceptable they found the decision. What most respondents reacted to was whether or not the outcome turned out as they had wanted it to. Those who saw the decision going against their preferences found the decision much less acceptable than the respondents whose decision was in accordance with their stated wishes. Decision making influence, on the other hand, did in general not serve as a legitimizing factor among the respondents. An exception was those with high political interest, as they tended to find the decision more acceptable if they had had the opportunity to influence the outcome than if they had not. This treatment effect heterogeneity is elaborated on and discussed in the paper.