Social Pressure and Voter Turnout: Evidence from a Large-Scale Field Experiment

American Political Science Review, Vol. 102, No. 1, pp. 33-48, 2008

Posted: 11 Dec 2008

See all articles by Alan Gerber

Alan Gerber

Yale University - Department of Political Science; Yale University - Cowles Foundation

Donald P. Green

Columbia University

Christopher W. Larimer

University of Northern Iowa

Date Written: December 11, 2008

Abstract

Voter turnout theories based on rational self-interested behavior generally fail to predict significant turnout unless they account for the utility that citizens receive from performing their civic duty. We distinguish between two aspects of this type of utility, intrinsic satisfaction from behaving in accordance with a norm and extrinsic incentives to comply, and test the effects of priming intrinsic motives and applying varying degrees of extrinsic pressure. A large-scale field experiment involving several hundred thousand registered voters used a series of mailings to gauge these effects. Substantially higher turnout was observed among those who received ailings promising to publicize their turnout to their household or their neighbors. These findings demonstrate the profound importance of social pressure as an inducement to political participation.

Keywords: GOTV, field experiment, randomization, voter turnout, voter mobilization, social pressure

JEL Classification: C93

Suggested Citation

Gerber, Alan and Green, Donald P. and Larimer, Christopher W., Social Pressure and Voter Turnout: Evidence from a Large-Scale Field Experiment (December 11, 2008). American Political Science Review, Vol. 102, No. 1, pp. 33-48, 2008. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1314834

Alan Gerber (Contact Author)

Yale University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Box 208269
New Haven, DC 06520-8269
United States
203-432-5232 (Phone)

Yale University - Cowles Foundation

Box 208281
New Haven, CT 06520-8281
United States

Donald P. Green

Columbia University ( email )

7th Floor, International Affairs Bldg.
420 W. 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

Christopher W. Larimer

University of Northern Iowa ( email )

Cedar Falls, IA 50614
United States

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