Opinion polls can be defined as a method of collecting and gathering information about the views and beliefs of a group of people. Opinion polls are designed to represent the sentiments of a group by carrying out a series of questions and generalizing in ratio or within confidence intervals. The information gotten from opinion polls can be used to shed light on and allow conclusions to be drawn about certain characteristics of a larger population. Political opinion polls, therefore, mean the standardized series of political questions that are asked and analyzed to draw a conclusion on the topic and have an idea of the view of the public.
Voter behavior on the other hand is a form of electoral behavior. Voting behavior in simple terms is the different ways in which people tend to vote. Voter behavior can explain why certain decisions were made by the public decision-makers and how these decisions come about. Voter behavior has been a source of concern for political scientists, politicians, and the electoral body.
Opinion polls become an important part of analyzing voter behavior as they can help to understand why people make their political decisions such as why they vote for different political parties. Voting behavior is not only limited to opinion polls. It can also be a result of long and short-term influences including social class, gender, race, culture, religion, housing, governing party, the image of the party leaders, war or economic crises, and so on.
Quite a number of opinion polls are published during election campaigns. The influence of opinion polls on the behavior & decisions of the voter is a complicated matter. This is owing to the fact that the accuracy of the polls has been questioned and is now a subject of contentious debate.
While political opinion polls are not the exact reflection of the public’s opinions it does not mean that it has no effect on the decision-making process of the voters.
Political opinion polls can negatively affect voters’ behavior because it is capable of swaying voters’ opinions on some issues, it can also motivate them not to vote, voters’ views on candidates can also be influenced and the polls can persuade people to view particular issues and candidates.
Different variables at work can negatively affect the process of an election. There are two types of effects when it comes to political opinion polls which are contagion and bandwagon effects.
The bandwagon effect
The bandwagon effect is regarded as the situation where voters who think a particular political party will win end up switching their votes for that party or candidate during elections. It can also be argued that despite inclining who will win the election, voters might not change their votes. The impression of the social and media environments on who is going to win the election is a greater influence on the bandwagon effect. To eliminate this effect, countries like India and Australia have laws regulating political polls during elections because of the fear that political opinion polls during active elections can tilt the democratic process.
The Contagion Effect
The Contagion effect and strategic voting are intertwined. Strategic voting is a form of voting effect that is motivated by the intention of the voters to affect which party and candidates will win the election. Contagion is the move of voters to the view of the perceived majority. Voters are known to switch sides to feel accepted and a part of the winning team. Voters also search for the wisdom of the crowd when they analyze poll results because they value the opinion of experts more than that of their peers.