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Voting after Watching: The Strategic Role of Election Polls

  • Sergiu Gherghina (a1) and Mihail Chiru (a2)

Abstract

The November 2009 Romanian presidential elections illustrate the process through which media exposure to exit polls during the election day allows strategic voting in the least expected situations (i.e. in the first round of a two-ballot setting). Organized in a two-round system in which the first two competitors qualify for the second round, these elections display one unsolved dilemma. The difference registered in elections between the two challengers is twice as large as the average support in the pre-election polls (a comparable difference was never registered in post-communist Romania). Our quantitative analysis uses election results from the past two decades and aggregated poll data from 2009 and reveals that a large share of the Romanian electorate avoids wasting votes and casts them for candidates with real winning chances. This article argues that polls presented to the voters, by the media during the elections, made the difference. They were used as electoral strategies to trigger strategic voting and thus promote specific candidates.

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21. Unlike the president and the liberal candidate, the social-democrats, due to the obvious communicational disadvantages of their candidate wanted to avoid a direct confrontation. For this reason, they chose first not to participate in the Cluj debate, which opposed Basescu to Anonescu, and then to dilute the final meeting by inviting as many candidates as possible. This latter strategy failed, and the discussion took place, two days before the polls opened, only between Basescu, Geoana and Antonescu.
22. Antonescu officially announced his candidature only after winning the presidency of his party at the National Congress held in March. However, the pollsters asked the people in their sample about the ‘liberal candidate’ since January, mentioning both Calin Popescu Tariceanu (the former Prime-Minister and party president at the moment) and Crin Antonescu.
23. The actual results for the first round were: Basescu: 32.44%, Geoana 31.15%, Antonescu 20.02%.
24. In the avalanche of election polls, one could hardly distinguish these differences. By comparing the 50 collected polls, we can conclude that the four institutes that conducted exit polls during election days predicted the results quite accurately.
25. The turnout during elections was similar to the one reported during the polls prior to 22 November.
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27. The only sanction was a fine from the National Audio-visual Council. Antena 3 did the same in the second round, presenting the exit polls on the ‘Sinteza Zilei’ show, before the closure of the voting stations.

Voting after Watching: The Strategic Role of Election Polls

  • Sergiu Gherghina (a1) and Mihail Chiru (a2)

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