Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Optimism can lead to unrealistic voter expectations in elections

Date:
April 16, 2013
Source:
Iowa State University
Summary:
A new study looks at optimism and knowledge influence voter expectations in the weeks leading up to an election.

Iowa State psychology professor Zlatan Krizan looks at how optimism effects voter expectations at the polls.
Credit: Photo by Bob Elbert

Supporters had high expectations for a 2010 ballot initiative to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in California. Those expectations were ultimately met with disappointment when the measure failed. Regardless of the outcome, the level of optimism among supporters of the issue was intriguing to Zlatan Krizan, an assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State University.

Related Articles


"People tend to expect things they want to happen to actually happen. The reason this is interesting in elections is because your ability to make that happen, assuming you're not heavily involved with the campaign, is almost zero," Krizan said. "It makes sense that if you want to be a better musician to believe you can become a better musician, because you can control that, you can develop your skills. Voting is not quite like that."

To better understand what fuels voter optimism, Krizan and Kate Sweeny, a psychology professor at the University of California-Riverside, led a study published online in Psychological Science to see how voter expectations changed in the month leading up to the California ballot initiative. Krizan says this is a critical time when voters are finalizing their decisions about a candidate or issue and are more tuned into what is happening in the election cycle. In this case, initial poll results suggested the measure would likely pass. But that changed in October as several polls increasingly suggested it would fail.

California residents were surveyed on four separate occasions to gauge their knowledge of and support for Proposition 19. As public support for legalizing marijuana waned, Krizan said, opponents appropriately grew more optimistic that the measure would fail. However, most supporters remained optimistic that it would pass despite the fact it appeared it would be defeated.

The disappointment of defeat

The study also shows that more knowledgeable voters will typically adjust their expectations as they learn more about a candidate or issue during the course of an election. However, for supporters -- who felt conflicted by the facts and what they wanted to happen -- knowledge about the ballot initiative was not as strong of an influence.

"If you're invested in the outcome, being informed may not be enough to steer you away from your optimism regarding the election," Krizan said. "That makes sense because if you support this, you have to believe that it has a chance to pass. If you believe it's a sure loss, why waste your time?"

In fact, Krizan says candidates and campaign staffers make it a point to fuel that optimism to make sure voters turn out at the polls on Election Day. Instead of accepting unfavorable poll results, supporters will often try to discredit the results or survey methods.

Krizan used the example of John McCain in the 2008 presidential race. During campaign events leading up to Election Day, McCain acknowledged he was trailing his opponent, Barack Obama, but tried to instill optimism in his supporters by telling them, "we got them right where we want them."

"This enables supporters to maintain their optimism in spite of facts suggesting the opposite. It is important to understand that these expectations live in a dynamic environment exposed to other people's persuasion and manipulation attempts," Krizan said.

In the study, Krizan found that supporters who maintained a high level of optimism were the most likely to turn out and vote. But how supporters react when the outcome is not in their favor is important. Krizan says voters who were more optimistic and maintained high expectations were more disappointed when the election didn't go their way. In an election, disappointment can come with a price, he added.

"That disappointment after the outcome could lead to loss of engagement in the civic process," Krizan said. "Even worse, voters could believe that this was not a legitimate outcome because disappointment will lead people to question the validity or the legitimacy of the outcome."

That could make future initiatives on the issue challenging, Krizan said, if supporters feel it is not worth the fight.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Iowa State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Z. Krizan, K. Sweeny. Causes and Consequences of Expectation Trajectories: 'High' on Optimism in a Public Ballot Initiative. Psychological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1177/0956797612460690

Cite This Page:

Iowa State University. "Optimism can lead to unrealistic voter expectations in elections." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 April 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130416132733.htm>.
Iowa State University. (2013, April 16). Optimism can lead to unrealistic voter expectations in elections. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130416132733.htm
Iowa State University. "Optimism can lead to unrealistic voter expectations in elections." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130416132733.htm (accessed November 27, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Science & Society News

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Ebola Leaves Orphans Alone in Sierra Leone

Ebola Leaves Orphans Alone in Sierra Leone

AFP (Nov. 27, 2014) The Ebola epidemic sweeping Sierra Leone is having a profound effect on the country's children, many of whom have been left without any family members to support them. Duration: 01:02 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
EU Pushes Google For Worldwide Right To Be Forgotten

EU Pushes Google For Worldwide Right To Be Forgotten

Newsy (Nov. 27, 2014) Privacy regulators recommend Google expand its requested removals to apply to all its web domains. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Who Will Failed Nuclear Talks Hurt Most?

Who Will Failed Nuclear Talks Hurt Most?

Reuters - Business Video Online (Nov. 25, 2014) With no immediate prospect of sanctions relief for Iran, and no solid progress in negotiations with the West over the country's nuclear programme, Ciara Lee asks why talks have still not produced results and what a resolution would mean for both parties. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
FCC Forces T-Mobile To Alert Customers Of Data Throttling

FCC Forces T-Mobile To Alert Customers Of Data Throttling

Newsy (Nov. 25, 2014) T-Mobile and the FCC have reached an agreement requiring the company to alert customers when it throttles their data speeds. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

More Coverage


Voter Optimism Wanes in Run-Up to Election Day

Apr. 29, 2013 Voters who remain optimistic about their candidate or cause up to Election Day -- despite negative news about the chances of victor -- are more motivated to vote but also more disappointed if things ... read more

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Science & Society

Business & Industry

Education & Learning

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins