HKS Authors

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Should political campaigns in close races communicate that they may win (over-confidence) or that they may lose (under-confidence)? In six studies (three survey experiments, two field experiments, and one archival study) we demonstrate the motivating power of under-confidence. While uncommitted voters show bandwagon effects (prefer candidates who are barely winning as opposed to barely losing), supporters show the opposite (greater motivation when their preferred candidate is barely losing as opposed to barely winning). Two fundraising email field experiments (1M+ observations) show a large effect size: emphasizing polls that show that a preferred candidate was barely losing raised 55% more than emphasizing polls that show that he was barely winning. The 2012 Obama and Romney campaigns’ emails reflect this insight: they were more likely to send emails reporting that they were barely losing than that they were barely winning. Sometimes leaders are more effective appearing under-confident rather than over-confident. ***This paper has been removed at the request of the authors.


Rogers, Todd, and Don A. Moore. "The Motivating Power of Under-Confidence: “The Race is Close But We’re Losing”." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP14-047, October 2014.