When a person is asked questions by a poll, are there any rational reasons why they might lie with their answers in order to achieve their goals for the election?

For example, if they say they are voting for an opposing candidate, but vote for theirs, they know the poll will show stronger bias for the opposing candidate and the opposing candidate may put in less effort to win thinking they have larger support.

In addition, could it result in lower voter turnout for the opposing candidate as people think the opposing candidate will win? Similarly, could there be a higher turnout for their own candidate that appears to be doing worse than they are?


3 Answers 3


There are a lot of assumptions baked into this behavior and it may not always achieve the intended effect.

Firstly, a single person doing this is unlikely to skew the polling result. Most respectable pollsters strive to get a large and randomized group of participants precisely to diminish outliers cases like these. Unless you organize a massive coordinated effort to trick the pollsters (a task so costly that hardly ever justifies the actual impact), I don't think that's a realistic tactic to alter the polling number.

Secondly, even if you manage to influence the polling number, there is no way to guarantee that knowing your preferred candidate has a high chance to win would decrease turnout. On the contrary, if you perceive your preferred candidate as an underdog and they suddenly have a realistic chance to win, they might be more motivated to turn out than before. Human behavior is unpredictable.


Fear of criticism of racial motivation

Yes, and this phenomenon even has name.

The theory of The Bradley effect proposes that some white voters who intend to vote for the white candidate would nonetheless tell pollsters that they are undecided or likely to vote for the non-white candidate.

Fear of possible revenge

Also, don't discount the simple fact that in non-democratic countries, voters may be afraid of revenge by political parties who quite often pay for the polls and, at the same time, may have access to information which is sufficient to disclose your identity (which is relatively easy in case of, for example, phone polling).
I personally lied to pollsters several times because of this reason.


I read somewhere years ago that when Pat Robertson was running for Republican nomination in 1988, his campaign quietly told his Evangelical supporters in Iowa to lie to opinion pollsters about who they were voting for, so that it would seem like a big shock when he polled so well on election night, and would thus seem to have momentum. This worked.

I'm afraid I can't provide a source, but invite others to do so.

  • 1
    Did it? He lost New Hampshire and only won 4 states total. It doesn't seem like it accomplished much
    – divibisan
    Oct 12, 2020 at 22:29
  • @divibisan It worked in the sense that there was a Ceteris Paribus effect - he got a short-term boost from the "woah, how did that happen?" type shock factor. He obviously didn't win because it wasn't the Thirteenth Century. And winning a relatively major state like Alaska along with three other States while running against two political heavyweights, one a serving VP, is no mean feat. He comfortably beat Jack Kemp. Oct 15, 2020 at 11:21
  • 1
    It worked in the sense that it generated the positive media coverage it was supposed to. Oct 15, 2020 at 11:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .