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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Brian Knight & Nathan Schiff, 2007. "Momentum and Social Learning in Presidential Primaries," NBER Working Papers 13637, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13637
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Eddie Dekel Jr. & Michele Piccione Jr., 2014. "The Strategic Dis/advantage of Voting Early," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 6(4), pages 162-179, November.
    2. Emilio Barucci & Marco Tolotti, 2012. "Identity, reputation and social interaction with an application to sequential voting," Journal of Economic Interaction and Coordination, Springer;Society for Economic Science with Heterogeneous Interacting Agents, vol. 7(1), pages 79-98, May.
    3. Hummel, Patrick, 2012. "Sequential voting in large elections with multiple candidates," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(3), pages 341-348.
    4. Hummel, Patrick & Holden, Richard, 2014. "Optimal primaries," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 109(C), pages 64-75.
    5. Deniz Selman, 2011. "Optimal Sequencing of Presidential Primaries," Working Papers 2011/09, Bogazici University, Department of Economics.
    6. Denter, Philipp & Sisak, Dana, 2015. "Do polls create momentum in political competition?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 130(C), pages 1-14.
    7. Andrew T. Ching & Tülin Erdem & Michael P. Keane, 2013. "Learning Models: An Assessment of Progress, Challenges and New Developments," Economics Papers 2013-W07, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
    8. Denter, Philipp & Sisak, Dana, 2013. "Do Polls Create Momentum in Political Campaigns?," Economics Working Paper Series 1326, University of St. Gallen, School of Economics and Political Science.
    9. Daniel Stone & Basit Zafar, 2014. "Do we follow others when we should outside the lab? Evidence from the AP top 25," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 49(1), pages 73-102, August.
    10. Ariel Guerreiro & Joao Amaro de Matos, 2013. "Referenda outcomes and the influence of polls: a social network feedback process," FEUNL Working Paper Series wp578, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Faculdade de Economia.
    11. Meredith, Marc & Malhotra, Neil, 2008. "Can October Surprise? A Natural Experiment Assessing Late Campaign Effects," Research Papers 2002, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
    12. Robert Akerlof & Richard Holden, 2016. "Movers and Shakers," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 131(4), pages 1849-1874.
    13. Nathan Yang, 2011. "An Empirical Model of Industry Dynamics with Common Uncertainty and Learning from the Actions of Competitors," Working Papers 11-16, NET Institute.
    14. Gelder, Alan, 2014. "From Custer to Thermopylae: Last stand behavior in multi-stage contests," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 87(C), pages 442-466.
    15. S. Ali & Navin Kartik, 2012. "Herding with collective preferences," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 51(3), pages 601-626, November.
    16. Andrea Mattozzi & Fabio Michelucci, 2017. "Electoral Contests with Dynamic Campaign Contributions," CERGE-EI Working Papers wp599, The Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education - Economics Institute, Prague.
    17. Robert Hodgson & John Maloney, 2013. "Bandwagon effects in British elections, 1885–1910," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 157(1), pages 73-90, October.
    18. Andrew T. Ching & Tülin Erdem & Michael P. Keane, 2016. "Empirical Models of Learning Dynamics: A Survey of Recent Developments," Economics Papers 2016-W12, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
    19. Patrick Hummel & Brian Knight, 2015. "Sequential Or Simultaneous Elections? A Welfare Analysis," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 56, pages 851-887, August.
    20. Jeffrey Ely & Alexander Frankel & Emir Kamenica, 2015. "Suspense and Surprise," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 123(1), pages 215-260.
    21. Enrico Moretti, 2011. "Social Learning and Peer Effects in Consumption: Evidence from Movie Sales," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 78(1), pages 356-393.
    22. Yasutora Watanabe & Kei Kawai, 2010. "Voter Turnout and Social Learning in Sequential Election: The Case of U.S. Presidential Primaries," 2010 Meeting Papers 874, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    23. repec:aea:aecrev:v:107:y:2017:i:7:p:1824-57 is not listed on IDEAS
    24. Halberstam, Yosh & Montagnes, B. Pablo, 2015. "Presidential coattails versus the median voter: Senator selection in US elections," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 121(C), pages 40-51.
    25. González-Díaz, Julio & Herold, Florian & Domínguez, Diego, 2016. "Strategic sequential voting," BERG Working Paper Series 113, Bamberg University, Bamberg Economic Research Group.

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    JEL classification:

    • D7 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making
    • D8 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty

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