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Persuadable Voters, the Web, and Information Cascades

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/25/us/politics/voters-increasingly-turning-to-internet-for-information-survey-shows.html

This article discusses a survey of 500 persuadable voters in five Senate battleground states. The survey was conducted jointly by the Global Strategy Group and Public Opinion Strategies, and revealed that the information “most influential” to voters has migrated from television to social media and the web. This is significant since campaigns have historically tried to reach out to persuadable voters via television, but perhaps this is not a smart strategy as the internet becomes more of a staple in people’s lives.

This article connects to the topic of Information Networks and the World-Wide Web, as well as to Information Cascades. The fact that persuadable voters are increasingly turning to the web for information on which candidate to vote for is evidence of the emergence of “Web 2.0.” That is, a web wherein many people collectively make and share content and the online connections between people are emphasized. The content web users make and share as well as the interactions between these users can directly influence the number of votes a particular candidate receives in an election.

When a persuadable voter is not sure which candidate to vote for he can gather information from the internet, reasoning that whoever the majority of internet users support must be the desirable candidate. This is a phenomenon known as “wisdom of crowds,” which occurs when individuals make decisions under uncertainty. Although oftentimes beneficial, this phenomenon can also go awry in the form of an information cascade. This is when an individual, regardless of their own information, follows the decisions of others. This can have negative political implications in the case of the persuadable voters. That is, if a user observes that many people are choosing to vote for a certain candidate, this user may ignore their own information to follow other’s decisions, regardless of whether or not this candidate is the “right choice.”

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