Study: Independents Most Likely To Jump On A Political Bandwagon

by Ben Hoffman

The “bandwagon effect” refers to the tendency of voters to align themselves with the largest and most successful campaign. As more and more voters express support for a candidate or measure, the group grows exponentially larger.

Several studies have tested this theory of the bandwagon effect in political decision making. In the 1994 study of Robert K. Goidel and Todd G. Shields in The Journal of Politics, 180 students at the University of Kentucky were randomly assigned to nine groups and were asked questions about the same set of election scenarios. About 70% of subjects received information about the expected winner (Goidel and Shields 807). Independents — those who do not vote based on the endorsement of any party and are ultimately neutral — were influenced strongly in favor of the person expected to win (Goidel and Shields 807-808). Expectations played a significant role throughout the study. It was found that independents are twice as likely to vote for the Republican candidate when the Republican is expected to win. From the results, it was also found that when the Democrat was expected to win, independent Republicans and weak Republicans were more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate (Goidel and Shields 808). Source

Independents are also known as “low-information voters,” since they rely on popular opinion rather than valid information when they form their opinions. The independents were largely responsible for Obama’s landslide victory in 2008 as well as the Republicans regaining control of Congress in the mid-term elections last year. The pendulum has swung back to the left in public opinion polls and unless some kind of scandal erupts in the White House, independents will probably vote for Obama’s reelection.


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