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One in a Million: Field Experiments on Perceived Closeness of the Election and Voter Turnout

Alan Gerber, Mitchell Hoffman, John Morgan, Collin Raymond

NBER Working Paper No. 23071
Issued in January 2017, Revised in June 2017
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies, Public Economics, Political Economy

A common feature of many models of voter turnout is that increasing the perceived closeness of the election should increase voter turnout. However, cleanly testing this prediction is difficult and little is known about voter beliefs regarding the closeness of a given race. We conduct a field experiment during the 2010 US gubernatorial elections where we elicit voter beliefs about the closeness of the election before and after showing different polls, which, depending on treatment, indicate a close race or a not close race. We find that subjects update their beliefs in response to new information, but systematically overestimate the probability of a very close election. However, the decision to vote is unaffected by beliefs about the closeness of the election. A follow-up field experiment, conducted during the 2014 gubernatorial elections but at much larger scale, also points to little relationship between poll information about closeness and voter turnout.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23071

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