Probabilistic Polling and Voting in the 2008 Presidential Election: Evidence from the American Life Panel (WP-09-09)


IPR-WP-09-09

Adeline Delavande and Charles F. Manski

This paper reports new empirical evidence on probabilistic polling, which asks persons to state in percent-chance terms the likelihood that they will vote and for whom. Before the 2008 presidential election, seven waves of probabilistic questions were administered bi-weekly to participants in the American Life Panel. Actual voting behavior was reported after the election. We find that responses to the verbal and probabilistic questions are well-aligned ordinally. Moreover, the probabilistic responses predict actual voting behavior, beyond what is possible using verbal responses alone. The probabilistic responses have more predictive power in early August and the verbal responses have more power in late October. However, throughout the sample period, one can predict voting behavior better using both types of responses than either one alone. Studying the longitudinal pattern of responses, we segment respondents into those who are consistently pro- Obama, consistently anti-Obama, and undecided/vacillators. Membership in the consistently pro or anti Obama group is an almost perfect predictor of actual voting behavior, while the undecided/vacillators group has more nuanced voting behavior. We find that treating the ALP as a panel improves predictive power: current and previous polling responses together provide more predictive power than current responses alone.

Adeline Delavande, Department of Economics, Universidade Nova de Lisboa
Charles F. Manski, Professor of Economics, Northwestern University

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