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Engineering Election Debates With Subtle Cues 105

Posted by timothy
from the after-consultation-with-stephen-bury dept.
smolloy writes "A recent innovation in televised election debates is a continuous response measure (the 'worm') that allows viewers to track the response of a sample of undecided voters in real-time. A potential danger of presenting such data is that it may prevent people from making independent evaluations. Researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London, and the University of Bristol, report an experiment with 150 participants in which they manipulated the worm and superimposed it on a live broadcast of a UK election debate. The majority of viewers were unaware that the worm had been manipulated, and yet the researchers were able to influence their perception of who won the debate, their choice of preferred prime minister, and their voting intentions."
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Engineering Election Debates With Subtle Cues

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  • The Onion (Score:5, Funny)

    by benjamindees (441808) on Sunday April 03, 2011 @01:35AM (#35697962) Homepage

    Once again The Onion [youtube.com] was there first.

  • What is the world coming to. ...bah. Terrorists and earthquakes and hackers and lawsuits and big waves and big oil and radiation and no oil and ....omg.
  • by RyanFenton (230700) on Sunday April 03, 2011 @01:56AM (#35697994)

    This, along with the idea of an Overton window [wikipedia.org], and the classic approach of simply buying all the media sources available are reminders that, although we are each beings capable of making rational choices - what we see as reasonable is VERY often decided by the range of views we are exposed to.

    Watch only right/leftwing media, and someone on the other extreme will seem extremely unreasonable compared to the side you're used to - even when you agree with them.

    Live life only aware of your own nation, and all other nations will seem unreasonable and absurd, speaking their strange languages, with their scary history of violence - but your own nation's history of violence will seem a unique point of pride.

    The "worm" mentioned in this article is just an instant poll - and conflated polls have always been a tool of shaping a nation's "reasonable discourse." You don't even have to lie - When you get to select the questions in a poll, or the audience for the instant poll - you get to shape the greek chorus chanting of what is authority and reasonableness to the populace.

    That's not to say the whole system is all a sham, as would be tempting - but it is all flawed in most every direction (as it always was, and was expected to be historically). Skepticism and exposure to outside views are key to growing your mind to a state less vulnerable to such things. The Internet is actually helping here with the next generations - but open even-handed skepticism as a subject still needs a LOT more promotion in free societies, along with awareness of what works in other nations.

    We need more bologna detection kits working out there!

    Ryan Fenton

    • by ewe2 (47163) <ewetoo@nOSPAm.gmail.com> on Sunday April 03, 2011 @02:22AM (#35698034) Homepage Journal

      In every debate using the worm here (Oz), at least one media organization always accuses the others of manipulating theirs, regardless of the result. So if you weren't already influenced then you had to ignore the deliberate media muddling of the issues. On top of the normal deliberate media muddling of course. But it doesn't stop commentators twittering them as a spectator sport anyway. This may be why we had a record 1.6% deliberate donkey vote in our last federal election.

      • by strack (1051390)
        tell me about it. didnt the concept of the worm originate here in australia?
      • by woolio (927141)

        This may be why we had a record 1.6% deliberate donkey vote in our last federal election.

        Who are you to say that a donkey couldn't run a country better than previously elected humans?

    • by Colin Smith (2679) on Sunday April 03, 2011 @02:46AM (#35698076)

      That's not to say the whole system is all a sham

      It is a sham. The choice of leaders is a pretence. All of them are backed by the same groups and are obligated to those groups, not the electorate. Take a look at the enacted policies and you will be completely unable to tell the parties apart.

      • That's why the Greeks in Athens chose their office holders randomly, and offices could only be held once per person.
        • What if holding public office were regarded in the same way that most people seem to view jury duty?

          I have long been attracted to the notion that leaders should be dragged kicking and screaming into office.

          • I have thought he same thing.
          • by Anonymous Coward

            yes, There was a science fiction story that I read many years ago where the "President" was chosen at random from the population there were only two things which could get you disqualified, Being convicted of a felony and wanting the job. Always seemed like a good plan to me.

          • by itsdapead (734413)

            What if holding public office were regarded in the same way that most people seem to view jury duty?

            With or without US-style "jury selection"?

            I don't think you can get away from the fact that "leadership ability" and a certain amount of charisma are essential for the top level of government - part of their job is to "sell" the decisions once they have been made - but having some/all of parliament "conscripted" at random - rather than filled with party members obliged to follow the whip - has always seemed like an interesting idea to me. I'm sure, however, that the unanticipated consequences would be leg

            • by Alex Belits (437) *

              Solution: never elect people with any charisma, and discourage dramatic escapades from any official with actual decision-making power. Let the lackeys and journalists (who are not elected anyway) do the screaming to the masses.

              It will probably prevent dangerous psychopaths from being elected, too.

          • by osgeek (239988)

            So, you're suggesting that the old adage of: "The problem with juries is that the only people on them are folks too stupid to know how to get out of jury duty" be more widely applicable across the other branches of government?

            • No, I'm suggesting that giving power to people who actually want it is perhaps not always the best idea.

            • by tehcyder (746570)

              So, you're suggesting that the old adage of: "The problem with juries is that the only people on them are folks too stupid to know how to get out of jury duty" be more widely applicable across the other branches of government?

              That's an adage only trotted out by morons and sociopaths.

          • by tehcyder (746570)

            What if holding public office were regarded in the same way that most people seem to view jury duty?

            I have long been attracted to the notion that leaders should be dragged kicking and screaming into office.

            Yes, because people who are forced to do a task or job they have no interest in are always both highly motivated and highly skilled

        • If US citizens elected idiots like Bush (or god help us- Sarah "I can see Sparta from my... umm... Ionian buildy-thingy..." Palin) into office more regularly, I'd say sure. The thing is the average American is significantly inferior than even the mediocre politicians they elect. Tolerance for stupidity in Presidents is even more rare.

          The average Athenian was properly educated for holding office, and was far more engaged in current affairs than most Americans, who care more about who's getting kicked off o

        • Indeed, bring back Sortition! Let's get rid of political parties and electoral drama and just appoint an executive jury that actually represents the people it represents, because it *is* a sample of the people it represents.

          Being represented by someone who makes in a month what you make in a year is a sham.

          Sure, juries aren't experts in economy, industry or environment or urban development topics, but neither are politicians! We have consultants for that!

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 03, 2011 @03:48AM (#35698204)

        Ah, the famous "b... b... but both sides are the same and equally bad."

        You're right, there's no difference between them except on minor policies regarding the environment, the economy, national security, worker's rights and a few other bits of fluff. Last election, one party nominated "Harvard graduate & policy wonk" and the other nominated "Senility & nice tits", but there's no difference. One party supports increased fuel efficiency standards and research, the other is outright attempting to destroy the EPA and OSHA, but there's no difference. One party got us involved in 2 land wars in Asia (One of them based on lies) with no good way out and now has no policy on national security other than chest beating and "anything to make the black man look bad, even if it means delaying a nuclear inspection treaty with Russia," the other is trying to get us out of those land wars and is busy not starting one in Libya. One party thinks the answer to our economic problems is more deregulation, cutting taxes, and is anti-worker to the point of taking down murals from the Department of Labor for being pro-labor, to say nothing of the attempted complete no-bid sellout of Wisconsin.

        But you're right, they're both equally as bad.

        People who, like you, throw up their hands in despair because no group is perfect are the best ally the neo-fascists who've taken over the Republican party could ask for. The more people they can disgust and keep away from the polls, the fewer useful idiots they need to vote for them and therefore the more extreme/overt they can get.

        • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Sunday April 03, 2011 @04:18AM (#35698258)
          Depends how you define 'bad.' There are a lot of people who would be one-issue voters, if not for both the parties not caring about it. Take, for example, copyright reform - this being Slashdot, a lot of people here believe that some form of weakening of copyright laws would be in order to preserve freedom of innovation and because the cost of enforcement is unacceptable. But what can they do? The Republican party is in favor of even stronger copyright law, and the Democratic party is in favor of... exactly the same. They are both beholden to corporate interests, because that is where the money is - and it doesn't matter how good your policies are, you arn't going to get far in politics without the money to run a campaign. In the last presidential election, the candidates between them spent nearly three billion dollars. They differ only in exactly which corporations they serve.

          The problem isn't that the parties are the same - they do differ substantially, as you describe. The problem is that they are both essentially corrupt, just in different manners, because that is the only way to compete in the political arena. Winning elections takes money, and you get money by courting the rich donors and implying that you'll do something to help them if they give you enough to get in power.
          • The Republican party is in favor of even stronger copyright law, and the Democratic party is in favor of... exactly the same. They are both beholden to corporate interests, because that is where the money is - and it doesn't matter how good your policies are, you arn't going to get far in politics without the money to run a campaign.

            It's not just that. All five major TV news organizations are co-owned by five out of the six major motion picture studios. They will play up or play down issues and candidates in a way that controls public perception of the movie industry. Details [pineight.com]

        • One party got us involved in 2 land wars in Asia (One of them based on lies) with no good way out

          Are you referring to the Republicans with Afghanistan and Iraq or are you referring to the Democrats with Korea and Vietnam?

          • Korea and Vietnam were more than three weeks ago. They no longer count.

            • Tell that to everyone who lost a loved one in either conflict.
              • For the record, I mean no disrespect, only that those wars are only rarely discussed today, and indeed when they are it is usually in the context of the loss of life they engendered. The circumstances leading up to them and the steps and missteps taken before the US got involved aren't really talked about, and in my experience unless you are someone who lost a loved one there, or are really interested in the history and politics of that time, you're not likely to know much more than a vague "we sent people

        • by damienl451 (841528) on Sunday April 03, 2011 @10:51AM (#35699954)

          I don't have a dog in this fight (not a US citizen), but let me guess, you're a Democrat? I think reactions like yours are one of the main reasons why compromise has become impossible in the US. How can you make a deal when you think that the other party is a bunch of morons and "neo-fascists" (yeah, right, don't you feel a little ridiculous?). If they're so bad then they can't possibly have a point, their voters are morons and we shouldn't pay any attention to them regardless of the fact that they control half of Congress.

          First, everyone should take issue with the fact that a Harvard-man and a policy wonk are *necessarily* the best suited to run a country. Do you realize how condescending that sounds? "Oh my, this Sarah Palin only has a B.S. from the University of Idaho... How awful!". Isn't the Democratic Party supposed to be the party of the underdog?

          In terms of credentials, Bush/Cheney should have been great. Bush: Yale & Harvard, Cheney: M.A. and some doctoral coursework... All we need to do to see that the "best and the brightest" mentality does not lead to great achievements is look at the 60s with Kennedy & Johnson and the Vietnam War. The "best and the brightest" (read the book) got the US into an unwinnable war.

          I think we also have a different definition of what actions one needs to take not to start a war. By my definition, launching 100+ missiles into a sovereign country and destroying their airforce IS making war on this country. Attacking a foreign country is a very strange way of trying to keep a nation at peace. Or maybe the Japanese were also engaging in "kinetic military action" at Pearl Harbour? Have you been reading Orwell lately?

          Strangely enough, it seems to ring a bell... Didn't the previous administration also use euphemisms to hide the dirty reality of what they were doing? They didn't torture people, they used "enhanced interrogation". Likewise, the present administration is not waging war on Libya, they are engaging in "kinetic military action".

          Didn't you hear about the hawks in the Obama administration advocating military action in Libya? Do you believe that only the GOP has that kind of people?

          Anyway, you seem to focus solely on the rhethoric. I say that actions speak louder than words. There seems to be a lot of continuity between Bush & Obama. When the GOP is in power, all they do is talk about deregulation, etc. while voting for NCLB. Talk about small government while voting for the PATRIOT Act. Talk about cutting the deficit while making sure that Medicare and all the popular programs don't get cut, etc.

          Same thing for the Dems. They badmouth deregulation a lot but, you know what, they supported most of it. Airline deregulation (mind you, this was a good thing)? Carter era, sponsored by a Dem. Repeal of Glass-Steagall? Clinton era, bipartisan vote.
          And who promised to "end welfare as we know it" in his 1992 campaign?

          Are the two parties the same? Of course not. But the policies they implement are reasonably similar. I'm not convinced that the US would be a very different place if the GOP had won the 2008 elections. Now with Libya, you can't even say that Obama will not engage in military action without the approval of Congress...

          • For someone who accuses others of focusing on rhetoric, you sure fell into that trap easily.

            George W. Bush was a C average (75%) student who got accepted into elite schools only thanks to his father. In their 2000 primary Republicans chose him over McCain- a far superior candidate both in ability and experience. Then to follow up, they did their damnedest to elect Palin who you wouldn't trust to run a burger shack, let alone a large nation. You tell me what that says about them. Contrast these pinnacles

          • by tehcyder (746570)

            Do you realize how condescending that sounds? "Oh my, this Sarah Palin only has a B.S. from the University of Idaho... How awful!". Isn't the Democratic Party supposed to be the party of the underdog?

            The problem with Sarah Palin isn't the quality of her degree, it's the lack of quality of her mind. She's almost as thick as George W Bush.

        • by 517714 (762276)
          If Harvard grad is so important to you, I suppose you voted for George W. Bush?

          It is very easy to cite specific issues to demonize one party:

          • One party wants to legalize and promote the killing of unborn babies.
          • One party passed legislation that they had not read and called it a health care "plan".
          • One party thinks it is more important to protest the removal of a mural in Maine than representing their constituents. Otherwise how can one explain a drop of that party from 62% to 48% in the House and 57% to
        • by osgeek (239988)

          Wow. The article shows research that demonstrates the lemming-like nature of political opinions and you provide an excellent real-world example of it by stridently defending your political party of choice rather than thinking for yourself and realizing that political party support gets us nowhere.

          For example, you think that Obama is "busy not starting [a war] in Libya"? Obama has us there now and anyone without political blinders on could tell from the beginning that putting one pinky into the Libyan situ

      • That's not to say the whole system is all a sham

        It is a sham. The choice of leaders is a pretence. All of them are backed by the same groups and are obligated to those groups, not the electorate. Take a look at the enacted policies and you will be completely unable to tell the parties apart.

        That's what they want you to think.

        • That's what they want you to think.

          for they in "jews" "freemasons" "the illuminati" "al quaeda" "jews" ...

      • by funkatron (912521)
        I think you need to look again; the sides are different but they're different flavours of shit.
      • by tehcyder (746570)

        That's not to say the whole system is all a sham

        It is a sham. The choice of leaders is a pretence. All of them are backed by the same groups and are obligated to those groups, not the electorate. Take a look at the enacted policies and you will be completely unable to tell the parties apart.

        Not everyone lives in the US you know. In Europe there are (admittedly minority) green, communist, and socialist parties too.

    • We've been knowing that since 1994 [wikipedia.org] in Italy. I wish some footage of that time's Italian TV was available in English, too. Popular TV shows (think "who wants to be a millionnaire") were regularly interrupted by political ads and statements by the anchorman such as 'Berlusconi will run the country as well as he ran his business, he hasn't fired a single worker in the last X years".
    • by lalcan (822159)

      I see two problems:

      1.- It makes easy to be a sheep.
      You don't have to think, you just check the "worm".

      2.- Changes the main influencer.
      Before, someone interested in voting but without a clear decision, would talk with their friends and family, now they can just read the worm and get the feeling of getting the real social trend.

    • The REAL IMPORTANT question is how long will democracy last against the march of the social sciences?

      Will computer science give us machine overlords before our "free will" is subverted by the oligarchy? That is, assuming we have any free will at all.... will we have 2 classes of people-- ones raised to rule and ones raised to be "free" within their cages?

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Sunday April 03, 2011 @02:16AM (#35698022)

    Political debates are pretty useless anyway.

    At best all you get to learn is how good a debater each candidate is. The only reason to watch a debate is the same reason people really watch NASCAR races - for the occasional flameout like Jan Brewer in the Arizona debate [csmonitor.com] but even that wasn't a fatal crash as she went on to win the election anyhow...

    • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Sunday April 03, 2011 @03:45AM (#35698198)

      Debates are only useless to people who follow politics. For that person with only a casual interest, they're very revealing snapshots. I learned this after talking to a friend after the last election. For those of us who are interested in politics beyond the headlines, we have a bad habit of forgetting how uninformed most of the public is. And, I wouldn't use anything from Arizona as a model for the rest of the nation!

      The problems start when we stop having real debates and the "safe" crap like the Bush-Kerry debates.

      • For that person with only a casual interest, they're very revealing snapshots.

        What do they reveal, apart from who is best at certain soft skills that correlate positively with sociopathy?

        Certainly very little about their policies.

        • They also reveal which one is handsomer...

          • by 517714 (762276)
            In the Nixon-Kennedy debate, radio listeners said Nixon won, television viewers said it was Kennedy. So the question is should we listen to debates or watch them?
            • We should read the transcripts. I don't care if someone looks like Natalie Portman or sounds like Walter Cronkite, but I do care about their ability to put ideas together in coherent sentences.

              • by tehcyder (746570)

                We should read the transcripts. I don't care if someone looks like Natalie Portman or sounds like Walter Cronkite, but I do care about their ability to put ideas together in coherent sentences.

                I think that puts you in a tiny minority on slashdot. Most people here would vote for Natalie Portman even if it turned out she'd organized the 9/11 attacks.

                • Touche. The funny thing is that I probably would vote for, just based on the little I know of her, over my current choices. I'll just be over here telling myself that doesn't have anything to do with appearance...

            • Kennedy knew how to use the camera to his advantage and wore makeup. I'm pretty sure Nixon was sweating during the debate and thus looked terrible on TV.
      • The problem is that these uninformed people then go and vote based on their impressions. I don't mind people voting for a different candidate to me - that's one of the risks of democracy - but I wish they'd vote based on their interests or ideals, not based on propaganda. There was a survey after the 2000 US election which showed a staggering proportion of the surveyed electors had voted for a candidate who stood for almost the exact opposite of what they thought that he stood for. We saw the same thing
      • by overshoot (39700)

        And, I wouldn't use anything from Arizona as a model for the rest of the nation!

        Thank you SOOOO very much!

        You can laugh -- I'm stuck living here. For at least a little while longer, anyway.

      • For that person with only a casual interest, they're very revealing snapshots.

        The problem is there is so much BS flung around in the debates with such little depth that any naive viewer is at least as likely to come away misinformed about any particular candidate as they are to actually get something meaningful out of it. Without context, the debates are just gussied up "he said / she said" contests.

    • At best all you get to learn is how good a debater each candidate is.

      If you want to have your constituency's views heard in the legislature, you need a master debater representing you.

      • If you want to have your constituency's views heard in the legislature, you need a master debater representing you.

        Not really. By and large that stuff's just for the cameras - unless you literally want them heard. If you want them effected, you need a wheeler-dealer type.

  • This sort of thing is exactly why I have been against televised exit polls and election returns on national elections in the US while the polls are still open.

    Exit polls and even preliminary poll results from the east coast are being broadcast while the polls are still open in other states, which influences the voters who have yet to cast their vote.
    • by plover (150551) *

      Any polls, really. They all impact people to some degree. Too many people are afraid of voting for the person they agree with if they think there's little chance they'll win, and for whatever reason, people only want to vote for a winner. I'd love to see those people simply excluded from voting, personally, but that won't happen either.

      It seems like it would be a lot more accurate if people would be able to form their own opinions, rather than being handed the group zeitgeist. But then we'd have the sam

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Seumas (6865)

      If you're two hours away from voting and you haven't make up your mind, you should be kicked in the fucking head with a steel toed boot.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by paper tape (724398)
        If there are only two choices, I don't disagree - but if there are three or more choices, and everyone is telling you the one you really want to vote for doesn't have a chance, then the logical thing to do is pick the least bad of the remainder. It is exactly that sort of manipulation that has given us more of the same, election after election.
        • by 517714 (762276)
          That, and the fact that "convenience voting" (AKA absentee ballots) tends to further reinforce "picking the least bad of the remainder". The 2010 Maine gubernatorial election with five candidates might have gone to an Independent if those voters had realized that the Democratic candidate had no chance. The irony is that it was Democrats, not Independents who threw their votes away.
        • by tragedy (27079)

          Which is only the case because the US uses simple plurality voting, which is the perfect method when there are exactly two choices (such asvoting yea or nay on a bill), but is actually the worst possible method (outside of methods that are actually crazy like throwing darts at photos of candidates). The paradox you mentioned, where you have to choose the lesser evil out of two rather than choosing the candidate you actually want (because that way the candidate you _least_ want will win), is the most serious

  • an experiment with 150 participants in which they manipulated the worm and superimposed it on a live broadcast of a UK election debate.

    Look, I know it's fascinating, and possibly addictive, but I think the field of wank research is well tapped out... Anyhow, what sort of research are you playing at wot involves 150 folks "manipulating" their "worms" all over a live election broadcast.

    I take it they're electing porn-stars now?

  • eThat's what to get that a link ,...like a manolo blahnik [manoloblahnik2012.com]
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Warning: Link is not a proper goatse at all -- just some lame pics of women's shoes.

  • Right. This real time response analysis is going to be the cause of people failing to "making independent evaluations". After all, they aren't already contracting their thought processes out to their religious texts, religious leader, party leader, opinionated bloviator, unions, or other deciders to make such determinations for them.

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Sunday April 03, 2011 @04:36AM (#35698286)
    I doubt that all the different influencers are cumulative. I have a sneaking suspicion that if people are indecisive (and receptive) enough to be influenced by a "worm" during a TV debate, that influence will only last up until the next influencer gets hold of them.

    Unless one single party has the ability to pound away at the electorate, to the exclusion of all other parties and opinions then I doubt that anything except the final exhortation to "vote for me" that they see on the way to the polling station, will have any lasting effect. Elections are like athletics: it doesn't matter who's in the lead at any time, except right at the end.

    • I strongly disagree with your conclusion. People, almost all people, are susceptible to group-think. It's built into our genes that we want to agree with those around us, a sort of empathy. This may seem counterintuitive because it is a well known fact that most people are resistant to persuasion, but this sort of group influence relies on a lack of an opinion prior to the influence.

      One thing that always bothered me was that after political debates all the networks want to show me a group of "independents"

    • There are idiots who just want to have voted for the winner. I don't understand why but they undoubtedly exist.

  • by Fuzzums (250400) on Sunday April 03, 2011 @05:00AM (#35698356) Homepage

    Asch Conformity Experiment : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYIh4MkcfJA [youtube.com]

  • Although, to be fair, there's not a lot of room for manipulating his audiences.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The majority of viewers were unaware that the worm had been manipulated, and yet [*] the researchers were able to influence their perception of who won the debate

    ( [*] What does "and yet" mean here? If people had been aware of the manipulation it would have been even more effective?? )

    A political debate is not an argument over facts that can be verified, it's all about impression and rhetoric. The candidate who leaves the best impression in an audience is the one who "wins" the debate. So if people are given a purportedly live data feed of audience sympathy towards the candidates, isn't that a much better measure for "who won the debate" than one's own impression?

  • Like the studies that show how you phrase a question can have a noticeable effect on the poll answers, just more sophisticated.

  • Is this how Palpatine so expertly handled political affairs? I miss the Emperor's worm and Luke's trampoline.
  • Just goes to show you that most people can't or won't think for themselves. Most people just follow the herd, no matter what that herd is... and if you disagree with that herd you are a moron or an idiot, etc. Another posted mentioned " what we see as reasonable is VERY often decided by the range of views we are exposed to" and I think he's got it spot on precisely b/c people don't think critically and usually aren't informed (but are more that willing to render an opinion.)

    The problem is probably due to th

  • This is the basis of all the conflicting polls that come out before elections. Most people are influenced by what they think everyone else thinks. The more you can make people believe everyone else thinks something, the more people you will get to vote that way.
  • Get them out of the hands of the Commission on Presidential Debates (i.e. a coalition of the Republican and Democratic parties) [wikipedia.org] and back into the hands of a neutral non-partisan (note that I said non, not bi) group. Maybe we'd have a more diverse political landscape if we stopped censoring ideas that didn't neatly fit into the Democrat or Republican ideology.

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