Demonstrations of the Potential of AI-based Political Issue Polling

N. E. Sanders, A. Ulinich, B. Schneier

arXiv:2307.04781 [cs.CY], July 10, 2023.

Political polling is a multi-billion dollar industry with outsized influence on the societal trajectory of the United States and nations around the world. However, it has been challenged by factors that stress its cost, availability, and accuracy. At the same time, artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots have become compelling stand-ins for human behavior, powered by increasingly sophisticated large language models (LLMs). Could AI chatbots be an effective tool for anticipating public opinion on controversial issues to the extent that they could be used by campaigns, interest groups, and polling firms? We have developed a prompt engineering methodology for eliciting human-like survey responses from ChatGPT, which simulate the response to a policy question of a person described by a set of demographic factors, and produce both an ordinal numeric response score and a textual justification. We execute large scale experiments, querying for thousands of simulated responses at a cost far lower than human surveys. We compare simulated data to human issue polling data from the Cooperative Election Study (CES). We find that ChatGPT is effective at anticipating both the mean level and distribution of public opinion on a variety of policy issues such as abortion bans and approval of the US Supreme Court, particularly in their ideological breakdown (correlation typically >85%). However, it is less successful at anticipating demographic-level differences. Moreover, ChatGPT tends to overgeneralize to new policy issues that arose after its training data was collected, such as US support for involvement in the war in Ukraine. Our work has implications for our understanding of the strengths and limitations of the current generation of AI chatbots as virtual publics or online listening platforms, future directions for LLM development, and applications of AI tools to the political domain.

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