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date: 15 May 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Numbers are bandied about persuasively in the run-up to elections. Political parties read the tea leaves of past elections and current polls, and voters tune in for the news media’s horse race coverage of political campaigns. The numbers fixation goes into overdrive in view of election cascades, as exemplified by presidential primaries in the United States and Land (regional state) elections in Germany. An unexpectedly good or bad showing in one election creates positive or negative momentum in the next, and regional elections serve a barometer function for national elections. As if the system isn’t already busy enough generating numbers, the political parties sponsor cascades of straw polls (“if the election were held today, whom would you vote for?”). The overall picture is one of an electorate endlessly jabbering away in a multilogue with itself and the political parties. In the end, notwithstanding the inordinate amount of numbers sloshing around in the system, election day is always good for a surprise, for every now and then, the underdog wins.—What are we to make of this racket? The literature on political persuasion zig zags between two opposite and equally unsatisfying explanations, namely, mindlessly conformist bandwagons and rationally uninformative information cascades. To fill this explanatory void, this chapter draws on the protest movement literature for its revolutionary bandwagons and turbulent information cascades. Suites of elections (primary and general, regional and national) and the attendant pre-election public opinion polls unearth hidden knowledge, which is why numbers are meaningful and influential.

Keywords: bandwagon effects, Bradley effect, German Land elections, horse race media coverage, information cascades, momentum effects, Overton window, preference falsification, spiral of silence, US Presidential primaries

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