Skip to main content
Log in

Modeling the influence of polls on elections: a population dynamics approach

  • Published:
Public Choice Aims and scope Submit manuscript


We propose a population dynamics model for quantifying the effects of polling data on the outcome of multi-party elections decided by a majority-rule voting process. We divide the population into two groups: committed voters impervious to polling data, and susceptible voters whose decision to vote is influenced by data, depending on its reliability. This population-based approach to modeling the process sidesteps the problem of upscaling models based upon the choices made by individuals. We find releasing poll data is not advantageous to leading candidates, but it can be exploited by those closely trailing. The analysis identifies the particular type of voting impetus at play in different stages of an election and could help strategists optimize their influence on susceptible voters.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Banerjee, A. V. (1992). A simple model of herd behavior. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 107, 797–817.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Battaglini, M., Morton, R., & Palfrey, T. (2005). Efficiency, equity, and timing in voting mechanisms. Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies. Working Papers No. 81.

  • Berelson, B. R., Lazarfeld, P. F., & McPhee, W. N. (1954). Voting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Callander, S. (2007). Bandwagons and momentum in sequential voting. Review of Economic Studies.

  • Goidel, R. K., & Shields, T. G. (1994). The vanishing marginals, the bandwagon, and the mass media. The Journal of Politics, 56, 802–810.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Grosser, J., Kugler, T., & Schram, A. (2005). Preference uncertainty, voter participation and electoral efficiency: An experimental study. University of Cologne Working Paper Series in Economics, 2.

  • Hillygus, S. (2005). The dynamics of voter decision making among minor party supporters: The 2000 U.S. presidential election. British Journal of Political Science, 37, 225–244.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kunce, M. (2001). Pre-election polling and the rational voter: evidence from state panel data (1986–1996). Public Choice, 107, 21–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Larcinese, V. (2007). The instrumental voter goes to the newsagent: demand for information marginality and the media. Journal of Theoretical Politics, 19, 249–276.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McAllister, I., & Studlar, D. T. (1991). Bandwagon, underdog, or projection? Opinion polls and electoral choice in Britain, 1979–1987. Journal of Politics, 53, 720–741.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Plumb, E. (1986). Validation of voter recall: Time of electoral decision making. Political Behavior, 8, 302–312.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sudman, S. (1986). Do exit polls influence voting behavior? The Public Opinion Quarterly, 50, 331–339.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Juan M. Restrepo.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Restrepo, J.M., Rael, R.C. & Hyman, J.M. Modeling the influence of polls on elections: a population dynamics approach. Public Choice 140, 395–420 (2009).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: