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False Consensus Voting and Welfare Reducing Polls


  • Jacob Goeree
  • Jens Großer


We consider a process of costly majority voting where people anticipate that others have similar preferences. This perceived consensus of opinion is the outcome of a fully rational Bayesian updating process where individuals consider their own tastes as draws from a population. We show that the correlation in preferences lowers expected turnout. The intuition is that votes have a positive externality on those who don’t participate, which reduces incentives to participate. We study the effects of the public release of information (“polls”) on participation levels. We find that polls raise expected turnout but reduce expected welfare because they stimulate the “wrong” group to participate. As a result, polls frequently predict the wrong outcome. While this lack of prediction power is usually attributed to an imperfect polling technology, we show it may result from the reaction of rational voters to the poll’s accurate information.

Suggested Citation

  • Jacob Goeree & Jens Großer, 2004. "False Consensus Voting and Welfare Reducing Polls," Working Paper Series in Economics 9, University of Cologne, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:kls:series:0009

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. John Ledyard, 1984. "The pure theory of large two-candidate elections," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 44(1), pages 7-41, January.
    2. Colin M. Campbell, 1999. "Large Electorates and Decisive Minorities," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(6), pages 1199-1217, December.
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    Blog mentions

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    1. On false consensus
      by chris dillow in Stumbling and Mumbling on 2014-10-28 19:11:06


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    Cited by:

    1. Sayantan Ghosal & Ben Lockwood, 2009. "Costly voting when both information and preferences differ: is turnout too high or too low?," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 33(1), pages 25-50, June.

    More about this item


    Majority Voting; Correlated Preferences; False Consensus; Pre-election Polls;

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