Motivating Voter Turnout by Invoking the Self

This is a review of Motivating Voter Turnout by Invoking the Self (2011) by Christopher J. Bryan, Gregory M. Walton, Todd Rogers, and Carol S. Dweck. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (early online edition). You can find the original in Google Scholar.

We can dramatically boost turnout simply by reminding people to “be a voter” rather than “to vote.”

I find voter mobilization experiments fascinating. That’s why I write about them a lot (e.g. here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). But the study I just read may be the coolest one yet.

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science suggests that we can dramatically boost turnout simply by reminding people to “be a voter” rather than “to vote.” When we ask people to “be a voter” and not just “to vote,” we lead them to think about their social identity. People like to view themselves as good citizens, worthy of social approval. People also know that voting is something good citizens do. When a person thinks “I am a voter” instead of “I will vote,” they think about their social identity and are motivated to vote. Read More »

Timing is Everything? Primacy and Recency Effects in Voter Mobilization Campaigns

This is a review of Timing is Everything? Primacy and Recency Effects in Voter Mobilization Campaigns (2011) by Costas Panagopoulos. Political Behavior 33 (March): 79-93. You can find the original in Google Scholar.

High propensity voters are affected most by an early turnout appeal, four weeks out. Low propensity voters are affected most by a late appeal, three days out.

In recent years, political scientists have run a variety of field experiments to show exactly which methods of voter mobilization are most effective. However, those experiments have focused mostly on method, not on timing. In a recent article, Costas Panagopoulos used a randomized field experiment to test whether voter mobilization drives work better when they are conducted on the eve of an election rather than a month out. The results may surprise some.

Common wisdom dictates that voter mobilization efforts should happen as close to Election Day as possible. The logic can be traced to a variety of theories, such as Zaller’s “bucket model” wherein ideas considered more recently are more likely to be at the top of a voter’s mental “bucket.” This is Panagopoulos’s “recency” hypothesis.

At the same time, messages received a month out could also have a “priming” effect. If we remind voters that a low-salience municipal election is coming up, then voters might take more notice of the campaigns and feel more prepared to vote when Election Day actually arrives. This is the “primacy” hypothesis. Read More »

Formal and Perceived Leadership Power in U.S. State Legislatures

This is a review of Formal and Perceived Leadership Power in U.S. State Legislatures (2011) by James Coleman Battista. State Politics and Policy Quarterly 11 (March): 102-118. You can find the original in Google Scholar.

Perhaps formal leadership powers have one set of effects, whereas perceived leadership power has a different set of effects.

Those who study Congress have engaged in long arguments about the importance (or lack thereof) of Congressional leaders in influencing outcomes. Among others, see Cox and McCubbins 1993 and 2005, Krehbiel 1993 and 1998, Binder 1996, and so on. But in a recent article published in SPPQ, Battista asks an important prior question: Do we even know what “leadership” is? All these theories argue whether policy outcomes change depending on the strength of leadership. Battista wonders whether we even know how to measure the strength of leadership in the first place.

Battista looks to the literature on state legislatures, where we’ve seen two general approaches to measuring leadership strength. Read More »

U.S. State Election Reform and Turnout in Presidential Elections

This is a review of U.S. State Election Reform and Turnout in Presidential Elections (2011) by Roger Larocca and John S. Klemanski. State Politics and Policy Quarterly 11 (March): 76-101. You can find the original in Google Scholar.

Permanent no-excuse absentee voting, nonpermanent no-excuse absentee voting, and Election Day registration all have positive correlations with turnout.

If you move from one state to the next, you may find dramatic differences in election administration. Back in my home state of California, I registered as a permanent absentee voter. Prior to each election, I received my ballot in the mail, which I completed at my leisure and returned by mail. Here in Utah, I vote in person on those creepy Diebold machines after waiting in line for too long.

In a recent article, Larocca and Klemanski look to see whether these state-to-state variations affect turnout. They conclude that these variations do matter. They find that permanent no-excuse absentee voting, nonpermanent no-excuse absentee voting, and Election Day registration all have positive correlations with turnout. They find that universal mail voting (where everybody is an absentee voter) and voter identification requirements have marginal positive correlations.

I use the word “correlation” intentionally in the previous paragraph. Larocca and Klemanski speak as though these are causal relationships: If a state adopts one of these laws, its turnout will rise. But it’s not clear to me that they’ve really shown causality. Read More »

Analyzing the Effect of Anti-Abortion U.S. State Legislation in the Post-Casey Era

This is a review of Analyzing the Effect of Anti-Abortion U.S. State Legislation in the Post-Casey Era (2011) by Michael J. New. State Politics and Policy Quarterly 11 (March): 28-47. You can find the original in Google Scholar.

When states make it harder to get an abortion, the abortion rate falls.

A few months ago, SPPQ published an article by Michael New asking a simple question: Do anti-abortion laws have any effect? It’s a good question. Although the number of abortions performed in the U.S. fell by 22.2% between 1990 and 2005, it’s not clear what caused the decline. Maybe it was the abortion restrictions passed by many states during the 1990s. Maybe it was just a societal change in values. Maybe economic growth caused the decline, with more women deciding they could afford to raise a child. Maybe contraceptives became more effective, or used more often. It’s hard to say.

For a political scientist, of course, the political angle is most interesting. So New sets up a test to see whether new abortion restrictions played a role. Read More »

The Party Faithful: Partisan Images, Candidate Religion, and the Electoral Impact of Party Identification

This is a review of The Party Faithful: Partisan Images, Candidate Religion, and the Electoral Impact of Party Identification (2011) by David E. Campbell, John C. Green, and Geoffrey C. Layman. American Journal of Political Science 55 (January): 42-58. You can find the original in Google Scholar.

Voters can use candidates’ religion to infer their partisanship, but only for certain religions.

American voters tend to vote for their party’s candidate. That’s not news. The question is, why? Political science has usually relied on three answers. The psychological approach says that voters support their party because of a deep, emotional, psychological attachment to it (see The American Voter). The rational approach characterized partisanship as a “running tally” of each party’s past performance, so that partisanship varies with issue agendas and policy outcomes (see Downs 1957 and Fiorina 1981). The sociological approach focuses on the connection between social groups and parties (see Voting); if your friends all lean Democratic, you probably will too.

In a recent study, Campbell, Green, and Laymen use the sociological group-based approach to study how a candidate’s religion influences voters. Suppose a candidate’s message stresses traditional values, secure borders, and economic growth. We’d expect that candidate to appeal mostly to Republicans. Now, suppose we identified that candidate as an Evangelical. Given that Evangelicals are perceived as right-leaning, this group-based information cue should lead to even more Republican support.

This makes sense. Voters don’t have enough time to learn everything they need to know about candidates, so they rely on information shortcuts instead–things like endorsements from outside interest groups. If voters know a candidate’s religion, then we should expect them to use that information to infer other things about the candidate. The nice word for this behavior is “low-information rationality.” The mean word is “stereotypical thinking.” Read More »

An Experiment Testing the Relative Effectiveness of Encouraging Voter Participation by Inducing Feelings of Pride or Shame

This is a review of An Experiment Testing the Relative Effectiveness of Encouraging Voter Participation by Inducing Feelings of Pride or Shame (2010) by Alan S. Gerber, Donald P. Green, and Christopher W. Larimer. Political Behavior 32 (September): 409-422. You can find the original in Google Scholar.

The “shame” treatment raised turnout by +6.3 percentage points; the “pride” treatment raised turnout by +4.0 percentage points.

We already know from Gerber et al. (2008) that social pressure can boost voter turnout. As part of Political Behavior‘s special issue on social pressure and turnout (read some background), Gerber et al. join forces again with a new question: Does negative pressure (shame) work better than positive pressure (pride)?

To find out, they sampled 369,211 Michigan voters in 2007. All these voters had voted in either the 2005 or 2006 elections, but not in both. Each voter was sent a copy of his voting record, but only for one of these two elections. Voters were randomly assigned to receive a record that included the election they voted in or the election they abstained from.

These two mailers were identical in every other way. They contained the exact same wording. The only difference was whether the voter history showed “did not vote” or “voted” as the only entry in the voting history. Read More »

Is There Backlash to Social Pressure? A Large-scale Field Experiment on Voter Mobilization

This is a review of Is There Backlash to Social Pressure? A Large-scale Field Experiment on Voter Mobilization (2010) by Christopher B. Mann. Political Behavior 32 (September): 387-407. You can find the original in Google Scholar.

Mike Lee sent Republican voters their neighbors’ turnout records, hoping that Republicans would use this information to mobilize one another to vote. Instead, he was accused of unethically violating voter privacy

In 2008, Gerber et al. published a pioneering study of mobilization. Using heavy-handed tactics, they found that they could shame people into voting (read more). Using heavy-handed tactics might be fine for academics, but real-world campaigns can’t use those tactics without alienating their supporters.

For example, Utah’s Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Mike Lee, sent out mobilization postcards in October 2010 that were apparently inspired by Gerber et al.’s heavy-handed tactics. Mike Lee sent Republican voters their neighbors’ turnout records, hoping that Republicans would use this information to mobilize one another to vote. Instead, he was accused of unethically violating voter privacy (see news coverage from a Utah paper).

Gerber et al.’s original study reported that tactics like these generated complaints, but when academics do an experiment these complaints don’t target a candidate. By contrast, Mike Lee’s partisan use of the same tactics generated blowback .

All this leads to Christopher Mann’s article in the current issue of Political Behavior, part of a special issue on social pressure and turnout (read some background). Mann replicates two of the heavy-handed tactics from Gerber et al.’s article. Then, in two additional treatments, he softens the tone of each mailer to see whether it will still have the same effect on turnout. Read More »