"Projecting Confidence: How the Probabilistic Horse Race Confuses and Demobilizes the Public." Journal of Politics, 2020.

Sean Jeremy Westwood, Solomon Messing, and Yphtach Lelkes

Recent years have seen a dramatic change in horse-race coverage of elections in the United States—shifting focus from late-breaking poll numbers to sophisticated meta-analytic forecasts that emphasize candidates’ chance of victory. Could this shift in the political information environment affect election outcomes? We use experiments to show that forecasting increases certainty about an election’s outcome, confuses many, and decreases turnout. Furthermore, we show that election forecasting has become prominent in the media, particularly in outlets with liberal audiences, and show that such coverage tends to more strongly affect the candidate who is ahead—raising questions about whether they contributed to Trump’s victory over Clinton in 2016. We bring empirical evidence to this question, using American National Election Studies data to show that Democrats and Independents expressed unusual confidence in a decisive 2016 election outcome—and that the same measure of confidence is associated with lower reported turnout.