Zombie on five unproven assumptions about skewed polls. He asks some compelling questions about whether those assumptions might be dead wrong:
• When a person sees that his team is in second place, he gives up and stops fighting.
Perhaps I’m different from everyone else on Earth. Maybe I’ve got grit that everyone else lacks. But when I see myself behind in an ongoing competition, I redouble my efforts in an attempt to win.
But I don’t really think I’m different at all. I think most people react exactly as I do. In fact, personnel managers often rely on this common behavioral trait to motivate employees by pitting them against each other and then implying to each one that if only he tried a little bit harder he would surpass all the other employees and win the promotion. The end result is that each employee, thinking his promotion is in danger, works more energetically to achieve hoped-for victory.
Here’s an example. Let’s just say that in some battleground state Obama and Romney are essentially tied in the raw polling data, but in an attempt to “depress the vote” among Romney supporters the media and partisan pollsters intentionally skew the results and announce that Obama is actually up by three points. What would be the group psychology consequence of this false announcement?
The Obama partisans assume that Romney supporters will see the false Romney-is-losing poll results, get discouraged, and say to themselves, “Gee, looks like Romney is going to lose. There’s no point in voting for him. I give up. I’m not going to vote on election day.” And then Obama really would win by three points.
But as he points out, most people don’t give up. They try harder. How many times have you seen this happen in sports? A team is being trounced at halftime then come out of the locker room changed. Driven. Fired-up and fighting back harder. I’ve seen it, I know you have, too.
So what if they’re wrong? What if every one of the assumptions backfires?
Go read the whole thing. Zombie is on to something here.