Asking about social circles improves election predictions

  • Nature Human Behaviourvolume 2pages187193 (2018)
  • doi:10.1038/s41562-018-0302-y
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Election outcomes can be difficult to predict. A recent example is the 2016 US presidential election, in which Hillary Clinton lost five states that had been predicted to go for her, and with them the White House. Most election polls ask people about their own voting intentions: whether they will vote and, if so, for which candidate. We show that, compared with own-intention questions, social-circle questions that ask participants about the voting intentions of their social contacts improved predictions of voting in the 2016 US and 2017 French presidential elections. Responses to social-circle questions predicted election outcomes on national, state and individual levels, helped to explain last-minute changes in people’s voting intentions and provided information about the dynamics of echo chambers among supporters of different candidates.

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The project described in this paper relies in part on data from surveys administered by the UAS, which is maintained by the Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR) at the USC. The content of this paper is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of USC or UAS. This project was supported in part by grants from the National Science Foundation (MMS-1560592), the Swedish Foundation for the Humanities and the Social Sciences (Riksbankens Jubileumsfond) Program on Science and Proven Experience. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding agencies. We thank H. Olsson for helpful comments on a preliminary version of the paper and A. Todd for editing the manuscript.

Author information


  1. Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, NM, USA

    • M. Galesic
    •  & M. Dumas
  2. Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany

    • M. Galesic
  3. Centre for Decision Research, Leeds University Business School, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

    • W. Bruine de Bruin
  4. Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

    • W. Bruine de Bruin
  5. Center for Economic and Social Research, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA

    • W. Bruine de Bruin
    • , A. Kapteyn
    • , J. E. Darling
    •  & E. Meijer
  6. London School of Economics, London, UK

    • M. Dumas
  7. VHA Health Services Research and Development Center for the Study of Healthcare Innovation, Implementation, and Policy, VHA Greater Los Angeles Health Care System, Los Angeles, CA, USA

    • J. E. Darling


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M.G. and W.B.d.B. designed the research questions and the social-circle measures. A.K., J.E.D. and E.M. designed the data collection methods and collected the data within the USC study. M.G. and E.M. analysed the US data. M.D. translated and adjusted the materials for data collection in France and analysed the French data. All authors contributed to the writing of the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to M. Galesic.

Supplementary information

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  3. Supplementary Data