Voting May Be Habit-Forming: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment

American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 47, No. 3, pp. 540-550, 2003

Posted: 21 Jan 2009

See all articles by Alan Gerber

Alan Gerber

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

Donald P. Green

Columbia University

Ron Shachar

Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliyah - Adelson School of Entrepreneuship

Date Written: January 20, 2009

Abstract

Habit is a frequently mentioned but understudied cause of political action. This article provides the first direct test of the hypothesis that casting a ballot in one election increases one's propensity to go to the polls in the future. A field experiment involving 25,200 registered voters was conducted prior to the November general election of 1998. Subjects were randomly assigned to treatment conditions in which they were urged to vote through direct mail orface-to-face canvassing. Compared to a control group that received no contact, the treatmentgroups were significantly more likely to vote in 1998. The treatment groups were also significantly more likely to vote in local elections held in November of 1999. After deriving a statistical estimator to isolate the effect of habit, wefind that, ceterisparibus, voting in one election substantially increases the likelihood of voting in the future. Indeed, the influence of past voting exceeds the effects of age and education reported in previous studies.

Keywords: Field experiment, Randomization, Voting turnout, Voting mobilization, Elections

JEL Classification: C93

Suggested Citation

Gerber, Alan and Green, Donald P. and Shachar, Roni, Voting May Be Habit-Forming: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment (January 20, 2009). American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 47, No. 3, pp. 540-550, 2003, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1330471

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

Roni Shachar

Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliyah - Adelson School of Entrepreneuship ( email )

P.O. Box 167
Herzliya, 46150
Israel

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