The Quantum Effect of Polls

If you ask 10,000 people who they are going to vote for, and 6000 say Blue, and 4000 say Red, then within a very small margin of error, you can predict that out of a million voters, around 600,000 will vote Blue, and 400,000 will vote Red.

Donald Trump's unexpected victory is the fourth time we have recently seen the pollsters and political commentators get it absolutely wrong.

The Brexit shock, the British National Elections Tory trouncing of Labour, and  Netanyahu's victory in the last Israeli election, were similarly against every poll prediction and the pontifications of every credible political commentator.

What is apparently at stake is not just the credibility of polls, or of political commentators, but the very basis of statistics. If political polls are worthless, then perhaps their mathematical basis is also bunk?

Or, as Churchill would have it - "there's lies, damned lies, and statistics".

However, these same statistical theories used by the pollsters are also the basis of medical testing, economics, quality control and life insurance. Our 21st Century life is, without exaggeration, based on the scientific truth of statistics.

In this context, I propose that the pollsters should consider the Quantum Zeno effect. Also known as the Turing paradox.

At the quantum level, there is a phenomena  in which an unstable particle, if observed continuously, will never decay One can "freeze" the evolution of the system by measuring it frequently enough in its known initial state." (Wikipedia).

In other words, the mere observation of the unstable particle changes its behaviour.

I suggest that there is a similar effect, the Quantum Zeno effect of polls and commentators.

In the example I gave above, of 60% say they will vote Blue, and 40% say they will vote Red, there needs to be research done into the effect of that prediction on people's behaviour.

How would you vote, if I were to tell you 60% have said they will vote Blue, and 40% said they will vote Red?

I am willing to bet that people will NOT respond in exactly the same ratio of 60:40.

Rather, human nature will come into play and some people will go with the majority (if so many people say their voting Red, then I'm going with them too) while others will favour the underdog (I naturally cheer on David, not Goliath).

This, I suggest, is what has been going on in these three important national votes.

Beyond the regular statistics which apply to quality control of Coke bottles, and life insurance premiums,  when you're measuring human behaviour and there is a feedback-loop (you tell them loudly about how other people have responded), additional factors come into play.

In other words, what the polls & pundits publicly predict actually influences the election outcome itself.

That's the unchartered fourth dimension of these polling statistics and predictions.

I vote for the Quantum Zeno effect of polls.


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