Friday, February 27, 2015

The Surprised Loser

In May I'm scheduled to participate in an international panel of scholars who will discuss electoral expectations. My own part of the panel is on surprised losers. In fact, as I look at it, I'm up first. Oh great. Anyway, I'm cranking some initial data for the presentation and thought I'd share a little of it here for my tens of readers worldwide.

My presentation will:
  1. Briefly discuss how previous studies establish electoral losers are more negative about government and elections than are electoral winners. Democracy rests on the consent of the losers.
  2. Argue that losers can be divided into two types -- those who expected to lose, and those surprised by the loss.
  3. Further argue that surprised losers may explain the winner-loser differences seen in previous studies. In other words, surprised losers are more pissed by the election results, and thus more negative.
  4. Analyze data from 1952 to 2012 to examine this point.
  5. Provide a deeper analysis of the 2004 and 2012 elections in which incumbents ran for re-election, one from each party.
  6. Look briefly at the news media's role in all this.
  7. Leave and go to the beach (conference is in San Juan, Puerto Rico).
 Okay, so a few data points for your enjoyment. If we pool all the data from 1952 to 2012, we find that:
  • Of those before an election who said they would vote Democratic, 74.5 percent expected a Democrat to win.
  • Of those before an election who said they would vote Republican, 78.4 percent expected a Republican to win.
So it's safe to say people expect their own candidate to win, some years more so than others.  The graph below shows you, over time, the percentage of surprised losers, expected losers, and winners. In close election years, like 1960 or 2000, there are a lot more surprised losers in proportion to expected losers. In runaway election years, the result is more obvious and, therefore, fewer are surprised. Also, note the trend in the last few elections appears to be for more surprised folks. That's interesting, and a good hook.

On another day I'll continue this, breaking down whether surprised losers indeed differ from expected losers in terms of trust in goverment, the fairness of the election, and trust in democracy. Stay tuned.

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