Information Cascades and Major Elections

Later this year, we will once again engage in a major, national election. There are plenty of seats in the House and the Senate up for grabs in the swing states. Whoever wins these seats can potentially change the power structure of the Congress. The Republicans hold the House by a moderate majority and the Democrats hold the Senate by also a moderate majority. As we learned from the text and some of the homework problems, the opinions of a few can cascade and change the opinions of others who are on the fence on certain issues, such as who to elect or pick for a certain job. Thus, the two major political parties should (and they probably do) focus on creating information cascade to capture voters on the fence.

In areas where one party dominates, little campaigning is required and a small fraction of differentiating opinions won’t sway the outcome of the election. However, as stated, areas where the majority or a significant fraction of voters are on the fence should be the targets for political campaigns. These areas are often in swing states and these swing states determine the polarity of Congress.

As shown in the text, information cascades triggered by a minority can sway the opinions of the majority. However, the trick is creating the cascade to secure a victory. Both parties also presumably know the other side is attempting to do the same thing (so now, we have a little game theory creeping in too). Tools such as social media enable both parties to create these cascades. As a matter of fact, part of the reasons why Barack Obama won the election back in 2008 was a massive social media campaign that spread through the farthest reaches of social media. Through social media outlets, the campaign created a frenzy for the president and captured key swing voters quickly. Thus, the 2008 campaign created a massive information cascade that lead to a landslide victory.

Fast forward a few years later, both parties are using social media outlets to create the effect the 2008 Obama campaign did on all electoral levels. In just a few short months, we can expect to see both parties trying to create these cascades through: television and radio ads, social media outlets, and news coverage. As that historic campaign proved, especially in today’s tech centered world, information cascades win elections.


4 thoughts on “Information Cascades and Major Elections”

  1. I was looking for an article about information cascades but couldn’t find anything. It is interesting to see it in terms of politics. Social Media is such a valuable tool especially in elections. It is kind of scary to think that information cascades choose our countries leaders but it is defiantly true. It reminds me of Obama care, you can ask people what they think and it is usually negative but if you ask why most people don’t know they just hear that it is.

  2. This is a really good point Dan. I feel like we all knew this kind of stuff happened with elections, we just never connected to these principals. I found my self asking myself why I didn’t think of this. This can also explain why campaign slogans are created. They get people talking about certain candidates and before you know it, everyone, regardless of the party knows the campaign slogan. I don’t think anyone will ever forget “Change”. That was so successful that even people who had no interest in voting for Obama were still talking about it, unknowingly continuing the cascade and adding to the potential number of Obama voters. Its almost as if these cascades are calculated to work so that the candidates basically get free advertising from both parties.

  3. I had an article about how housing bubbles begin with informational cascades as well, but this article was a good read about how it affects the political atmosphere. I noticed that even when I listen to Spotify, I’ll often get a political message for a 30 second ad which is very annoying, but I have listened to the ad so many times, I know what the message is just from hearing the first few words. Also, because Spotify is a popular media source, I wouldn’t doubt popularity like the pagerank discussion in class takes a large part in choosing what social media to best post political ads in affects the informational cascade to another level.

  4. I disagree that an election is an example of an information cascade. In the text, we read that information cascades are based on private information that outsiders observe. Voters do not directly observe the choices of others – no person reaches inside an urn, looks at a marble and says “majority Democrat.” Instead, voters go to booths only over the course of a day. These booths are private, with private votes being cast, and there is no way to observe the pattern of voting.

    In fact, it is only until the end of the day that we start seeing the actual outcome of votes. If we were able to see, in real time, that votes were going one way or the other, then we may observe some herd behavior. However – at least in the Presidential elections – we only see the electoral college votes after voting ends in the various states, as well as the total popular vote.

    Even still, I do not think we’d see herd behavior in voting if voting was done in real time with the current observable outcome available before you vote If I were a Republican, and the person in front of me voted Democrat, why would I vote Democrat? I already have a set of preferences that makes me want to vote Republican.

    Perhaps for those who are completely undecided, or are on the margin of voting one way or the other will follow the herd. And all those on-the-margin voters will follow the cascade. However, the staunch Republican or staunch Democrat will disrupt any herd behavior, similarly to how someone saying “majority red” when pulling out a blue marble from the urn will disrupt the information cascade.

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