For voters, estimating beforehand which candidates will receive many or few votes in an upcoming election is valuable information. Probabilistic election forecasts help voters brace themselves for adverse outcomes or mobilize themselves to bring about favored ones, and constitute a critical prerequisite for strategic voting: By estimating which candidates stand a chance, voters can adjust their vote choices between multiple acceptable options, trying to maximize the impact of their vote. Especially in two-round voting systems such as the French presidential elections, tactical estimations of candidates’ chances are critical for making one’s vote count (Plutowski et al., 2020).
While strategic voting has been widely studied (e.g., Meffert et al., 2011), we know little about how voters rely on the news and other sources of information to gauge candidates’ differential chances at receiving a sufficient share of votes. In this study, we draw upon a four-wave panel survey coupled with a large-scale news content analysis to examine how French voters in the 2022 presidential elections predict candidates’ respective chances and adjust them over time to accommodate new developments. Using a longitudinal linkage-study design, which links voters’ expectations to the media contents that they are exposed to, we distinguish two main mechanisms that may explain voters’ differential probability estimates (Blais & Bodet, 2006): On the one hand, ongoing news coverage informs voters’ expectations, as journalists, pollsters, pundits and other commentators give visibility to those candidates deemed most relevant and expressly discuss their respective chances. On the other hand, voters have relatively stable, intrinsic reasons for believing in the viability of candidates’ bids based on their political party preference, para-social sympathies and other forms of motivated reasoning. Expanding the ongoing scholarly debate about the electoral effects of public opinion polling (e.g., Daoust et al., 2020), we investigate how both wishful thinking and different forms of current information inform the formation and updating of voters’ probabilistic estimates, eroding or reinforcing confidence in their intended vote choice.
Research in the area of human information interaction (HII) typically represents viewpoints on debated topics in a binary fashion, as either against or in favor of a given topic (e.g., the feminist movement). This simple taxonomy, however, greatly reduces the latent richness of viewpoints and thereby limits the potential of research and practical applications in this field. Work in the communication sciences has already demonstrated that viewpoints can be represented in much more comprehensive ways, which could enable a deeper understanding of users’ interactions with debated topics online. For instance, a viewpoint’s stance usually has a degree of strength (e.g., mild or strong), and, even if two viewpoints support or oppose something to the same degree, they may use different logics of evaluation (i.e., underlying reasons). In this paper, we draw from communication science practice to propose a novel, two-dimensional way of representing viewpoints that incorporates a viewpoint’s stance degree as well as its logic of evaluation. We show in a case study of tweets on debated topics how our proposed viewpoint label can be obtained via crowdsourcing with acceptable reliability. By analyzing the resulting data set and conducting a user study, we further show that the two-dimensional viewpoint representation we propose allows for more meaningful analyses and diversification interventions compared to current approaches. Finally, we discuss what this novel viewpoint label implies for HII research and how obtaining it may be made cheaper in the future.
Political choices are all about the future. Through democratic elections, citizens select which political personnel, what policies and which values will guide societies into the times that lie ahead. Yet, it remains uncertain what futures await a society, which policies will deliver what outcomes, or how elected officials will behave. To exercise their democratic rights, citizens need to imagine possible futures and evaluate these to inform their political choices.
In the present study, we investigate how voters rely on a wide range of resources and strategies to project their collective futures. We draw upon data from 25 focus group interviews, conducted over the duration of the two rounds of Israeli general elections in April and September 2019, which were marked by substantially different levels of political uncertainty. Five groups of 7-12 participants with heterogeneous political views (four groups of Jewish Israeli voters, thereof one with young adults, and one group of Arab Israeli voters) were reconvened five times each to discuss their expectations for the elections and the future course of the country. Applying an abductive discourse analytic approach, we studied participants’ discursive strategies for presenting, justifying and negotiating their respective expectations. Specifically, we identified how participants anchored their projections in available evidence, knowledge and experience, how these anchoring strategies differed under higher or lower uncertainty, and how participants’ projections, in turn, enabled them to derive political orientation and efficacy. In order to link participants’ projections to the available information environment offering possible anchors and projections, we additionally analyzed a broad repertoire of news coverage and social media feeds (by political actors, journalists, experts, other public figures).
Our analysis documents that voters rely on a broad range of anchors and inferencing strategies, routinely combining personal observations and convictions with a creative use of media narratives (or fragments thereof). Depending on the use of narrower or broader anchors, as well as the degree of political uncertainty, distinct implications arise for the specific kinds of projections that can be derived, and the degree of confidence that they inspire in the formed expectations. Given low uncertainty during the first election campaign, for instance, knowledge about the agendas and character of individual leaders sufficed to project broad governmental programs and their implementation. After the political crisis that led to the second election round, by contrast, the same knowledge carried no further than predicting parties' negotiation strategies; numerous additional anchors had to be mobilized to project broader implications for government formation and beyond. Media reliance increased with raised uncertainty, but served more to interpret present observations than to infer their future implications. Other anchors were resilient against raised uncertainty: For instance, the exaltation of specific leaders as political ‘saviors’ inspired unbroken confidence in their prowess to effect far-reaching implications. Likewise, most continuity heuristics withstood the raised uncertainty (e.g., predicting rising religious influence, stable democratic institutions, or politicians’ unchanging characters). Reviewing the underlying heuristics and interrogating those cultural scripts enabling the formation of different projections, we discuss implications of future-oriented discourse for political communication scholarship.
ECREA Political Communication Section Best Abstract Award 2021