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Momentum and Social Learning in Presidential Primaries

  • Brian Knight
  • Nathan Schiff

This paper provides an investigation of the role of momentum and social learning in sequential voting systems. In the econometric model, voters are uncertain over candidate quality, and voters in late states attempt to infer the information held by those in early states from voting returns. Candidates experience momentum effects when their performance in early states exceeds expectations. The empirical application focuses on the responses of daily polling data to the release of voting returns in the 2004 presidential primary. We find that Kerry benefited from surprising wins in early states and took votes away from Dean, who held a strong lead prior to the beginning of the primary season. The voting weights implied by the estimated model demonstrate that early voters have up to 20 times the influence of late voters in the selection of candidates, demonstrating a significant departure from the ideal of "one person, one vote." We then address several alternative, non-learning explanations for our results. Finally, we run simulations under different electoral structures and find that a simultaneous election would have been more competitive due to the absence of herding and that alternative sequential structures would have yielded different outcomes.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13637.

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Date of creation: Nov 2007
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Brian Knight & Nathan Schiff, 2010. "Momentum and Social Learning in Presidential Primaries," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 118(6), pages 1110 - 1150.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13637
Note: PE POL
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