Here’s a wakeup study for election time: Recent research shows that we trust the Internet — maybe too much. In a test of undecided voters, the name and favorable information about any candidate that came in at the top of their search results, made them likely to switch to that candidate.
We decided to test that out ourselves in a very simple broadcast email. Joy sent a survey to the members of her woman’s club. The survey asked them to choose from a list of possible speakers at meetings. Sure enough, the speaker at the top of the list received the most votes. Cue in the Twilight Zone music.
The researchers Robert Epstein and Ronald Robertson of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, were amazed to find they could get any results they wanted, just by favoring one candidate over another at the top of a search page. Over 4,500 people were tested. A surprising number were more than 20 percent more likely to vote for the candidate at the top of their search page.
Looking back at the Institute research that prompted this test, the people who were the most aware that the search results were skewed toward a certain candidate, were still likely to switch to that candidate. They figured that the search engine knew something they didn’t. For those who want to pursue the implications of this further, the research was published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”