11 May 2013

How We Remember Voting in 2012

It’s quite eye-opening to compare actual election results to how people say they remember voting. People are eager to report that they voted, and also to have voted respectably, however they perceive that.

A Wall Street Journal poll from late February (PDF download) asked registered voters whom they had voted for four months earlier. The results:
  • Barack Obama: 43%
  • Mitt Romney: 36%
  • Someone else: 5%
  • Voted, but not sure for whom: 7%
  • Did not vote: 8%
  • Not sure whether they voted: 1%
Of course, the actual turnout among registered voters was closer to 58% than to the 91% who told this pollster they’d voted, or even the 84% who could remember whom they voted for. In other words, if someone tells you he voted, there’s higher than a one-in-four chance he’s not telling the truth.

If we take just those respondents who could clearly remember voting for someone, then Barack Obama won a little over 51%—an accurate reflection of the actual election. But Mitt Romney’s percentage dips from 47% to 43%. And the “Someone else” category pops from under 2% of the real total to nearly 6% of the claims. That leads to two conclusions:
  • A significant number of people shy from admitting they voted for Mitt Romney.
  • If someone tells you she voted for a third-party candidate in 2012, in almost two out of three cases she’s not telling the truth.

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