More realistic electoral experiments

Scientific experiments on voting behaviour are generally limited by the lack of realism presented by the context of the study. Very often, the participants find themselves in a laboratory where they must choose between fictitious candidates or political parties.

The research team Communication et participation politiques (Political Communication and Participation), directed by André Blais from Université de Montréal, has developed a different procedure based on the hypothesis that voter motivation is not based on personal interest, but on the expression of values and public policy preferences. In this experiment, the 200 participants must vote in an online election in which the issue at stake is a sum of money distributed to the participants by a non-governmental organization (NGO). The first party proposes to return $500 to the NGO, the second, $300, and the third, $100. Before voting, the participants are informed of the distribution of 9,000 other votes, whose results place the party the most supportive of the NGO in third place. This made it possible to analyse the strategic vote of NGO sympathizers, who may be tempted to vote for the second party in order to prevent victory on the part of the party the least supportive of the NGO.

The experiment showed that between 60% and 86% of the pro-NGO party sympathizers voted for that party, even though they knew that it had no chance of winning. The questionnaire accompanying the fictitious election confirms that the voters did correctly understand the issue at stake, but that they voted according to their attachment to the cause represented by the NGO and to their emotions, in particular their level of anxiety. These results, reported in the article Increased Realism at Lower Cost – The Case for the Hybrid Experiment, published in PS: Political Science & Politics, provide an excellent opportunity for studying individual behaviour in the context of collective action.


Équipe de recherche Communication et participation politiques


André Blais, Université de Montréal

Regular members

  • Patrick Fournier, Université de Montréal 
  • Elisabeth Gidengil, Université McGill 
  • Stuart Soroka, Université McGill 
  • Dietlind Stolle, Université McGill