|Title||How to Improve Elite Perceptions of Public Opinion? Experimental Evidence|
|C1 Background and Explanation of Rationale||
To be responsive, elected officials often have to rely on beliefs about public will. Previous research suggests that representatives often have distorted images of the electorate. However, it remains unclear why political elites misperceive voter preferences, and how these constraints can be overcome. I argue that misperceptions result from a combination of unequal exposure and cognitive biases.
If elected officials rely on availability heuristics to gauge public preferences, inequalities in political voice can generate distorted images of the electorate. In turn, a systematic tendency to project their own preferences on others – known as social projection – may also hinder the development of accurate beliefs.
These arguments are tested in a survey experiment with local elected officials in Switzerland. Subjects will be asked to predict the outcome of two upcoming referendums in their constituencies after being assigned to different informational nudges designed to avoid availability heuristics and social projection. Referendum results provide local-level measures of voter preferences and allow me to test the effect of the nudges in reducing misperceptions. The study also offers an opportunity to understand what explains the capacity of elected officials to gauge public preferences.
|C2 What are the hypotheses to be tested?||
Heterogeneous Treatment Effects:
Correlates of Misperceptions:
|C3 How will these hypotheses be tested? *||
Respondents and data collection
Voter preferences: Federal referendum results disaggregated at the local level. Source: Swiss Federal Statistical Office.
Dates of administration
Eligibility and exclusion criteria for participants
[Electorate composition treatment]
[For Horned Cow Initiative]
[For Self-Determination Initiative]
To give you some reference points, here are your answers along with the most recent data from the Federal Statistical Office in your municipality and in Switzerland as a whole.
[Table with respondent’s own perceptions of electorate composition alongside data from the Federal Statistical Office]
This information is intended to help you consider the preferences of the average voter in your municipality.
[Active debias treatment]
Primary and secondary outcome measures
[After being presented with the official description of the Horned Cow Initiative] It is always hard to anticipate the results of popular votes, but we would like to ask you to predict the share of voters in [CITY NAME] that will SUPPORT the Horned Cow Initiative. Please give us your best guess from 0% to 100%:
Referendum results disaggregated at the municipal level will be used to measure voter preferences in each municipality. The key outcome variable is the following measure of misperceptions: |Perceived % voter support – % voters supporting the referendum|.
H1b and H2b will be tested using OLS. H1b requires interacting the treatment conditions with a measure of the average absolute distance between the two questions on electorate composition and their true figures. Respondents in the control group are asked the same set of questions at the end of the survey, after the prediction task, to allow for this comparison. H2b is tested by interacting the treatment conditions with a binary measure that takes the value of 1 if the respondent’s position on the initiative is aligned with the revealed preferences of the majority of voters in the same municipality, and 0 otherwise.
The hypotheses on correlates of misperceptions (H3-H7) will be tested using OLS with models estimated for each initiative and a model where both initiatives are pooled. Controls: fixed effects by state, municipality size (population), distance between survey submission and referendum day, years in office, political ideology, age, sex, and education. The key predictors required to test each hypothesis are described below:
[Past electoral performance – H3]
[Issue saliency – H4]
[Professionalization – H5]
[Progressive ambition– H6]
[Representative role – H7]
|C5 Scale (# of Units)||1000-2000 local officials|
|C6 Was a power analysis conducted prior to data collection?||No|
|C7 Has this research received Insitutional Review Board (IRB) or ethics committee approval?||Yes|
|C8 IRB Number||Washington University in St. Louis IRB (#201810084); University of Geneva ethics commission (CER-SDS-12-2018)|
|C9 Date of IRB Approval||Washington University in St. Louis: 11/05/18; University of Geneva: 10/18/2018|
|C10 Will the intervention be implemented by the researcher or a third party?||Researchers|
|C11 Did any of the research team receive remuneration from the implementing agency for taking part in this research?||No|
|C12 If relevant, is there an advance agreement with the implementation group that all results can be published?||No|
|C13 JEL Classification(s)||D72|