With less than two months to go, we should all be asking each other if we’ve decided who we’re going to vote for. At the very least, you should already be starting to get into that critical frame of mind where you’re examining the candidates and their platforms to find the right one for you. And no, I don’t mean “critical” in the sense of being out to find fault, i.e., intent on criticizing; but critical in the sense of being objective and analytical in the process of forming judgments.
One of the worst things to start this process with is surveys. By definition, surveys primarily tell you one thing: how popular a particular person is. Surveys are not indicative of ability, nor are they predictive of the quality of future performance in office. They cannot vouch for the innocence of a person facing criminal prosecution, much less give any assurance that corruption isn’t a possibility (hint: it always is). Still, surveys are not entirely useless. Surveys can be quite useful in determining which politicians has been most adept in managing their public persona—which, to be fair, is a good skill to have—but then again, surveys alone cannot tell you how honest those politicians have been in that undertaking.
And then, of course, surveys are really good at triggering the bandwagon mentality—a phenomenon that can be described by using goats as an example.
Back in 2014, when I and a few others walked from Laoag, Ilocos Norte, toward Manila in a bid to generate interest in biometrics registration, we passed by a small herd of goats, milling about by the roadside, munching on the tough grass growing there. Not wanting to take up too much road space, we basically crowded the goats and walked past their noses as they looked up, startled and perhaps more than a little annoyed. But then a strange thing happened. They started following us!
Without prompting from anyone in our group, these ungulates (look it up) just sort of began walking behind us, largely keeping pace until we were almost to the next town. At that point, the novelty of having goats following us—the most obvious joke being that we smelled like them, so they thought we were part of the herd—had worn thin and we started worrying that they wouldn’t be able to find their way home. And what were we going to do with a bunch of goats that didn’t belong to us anyway? So we stamped our feet and shooed them away as loudly as we could.
When we got to the next town, we told the locals about the goats and one of them explained that goats are motivated when they feel or see movement around them. Usually, it’s other goats in their herd, but occasionally—the local told us—goats would end up in an almost trance-like state, following slower moving cars and, yes, people. Often, startling them snaps them out of the trance, as we found out.
And that pretty much explains the bandwagon principle—it’s what happens when a bunch of people (the goats) see other people essentially moving like a herd to follow something or someone (the survey results), and without thinking too much about why they’re doing it, join the herd (people who vote on the basis of survey results). Keeping this instinctive behavior in mind, it’s easy to understand why, unless something really terrible or startling happens, candidates that rank well on a survey are likely to attract even more followers for no other reason than that they ranked on the survey. And, as I said, that is a terrible reason to vote for someone.