Could the “worm” really change an election outcome?

Could the “worm” really change an election outcome?

Are researchers stretching conclusions too far?

There’s an academic report out that suggests that devices such as the “Worm”, seen in some of the broadcasts of last April’s leaders’ TV debates, could influence the views of voters and possibly change an electoral outcome.

Professor Jeff Bowers of Bristol University and Professor Colin Davis, from Royal Holloway, carried out their study by manipulating a worm and superimposing it on a live broadcast of the final election debate in Bristol.

Two groups of 75 viewers took part; in one group, the worm favoured Gordon Browm, in the other group it favoured Nick Clegg.

Professor Davis said: “We were amazed by the size of the effect that our worms had on viewers’ opinions of who won the debate, and even on their choice of preferred Prime Minister. If our results were to generalise to the population at large, a biased worm in a debate shortly before polling day could determine the result of a close election.”

I’m not convinced. It might be that the worm could have had a temporary effect on the polls – particularly the online ones. Actually turning out to vote is a very different matter.

It is a real pity that the project did not involve, apparently, any effort try to find if the worm did indeed influence voting behaviour.

The participants could have been interviewed before the test to establish their then voting intentions and then after the election to find out what they actually did.

Certainly, last April, the “fact” that Clegg was seen in all the polling to have won the first debate did have a direct affect on voting intention polls. YouGov saw its numbers move to CON 31: LAB 26: LD 34 five days later. That was the best share for the yellows by any pollster – but by election day Clegg’s party finished up with 23.6% of the GB share.

It was also noticeable that a large part of the Clegg bounce was amongst the young age groups – the segment which had the worst turnout record.

  • Hat-tip to Gadly for alerting me to this research.
  • Mike Smithson

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