Descriptive Social Norms and Motivation to Vote: Everybody’s Voting and so Should You

The Journal of Politics, 2009

43 Pages Posted: 12 May 2011

See all articles by Alan Gerber

Alan Gerber

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

Todd Rogers

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: May 10, 2011

Abstract

The fact that many citizens fail to vote is often cited to motivate others to vote. Psychological research on descriptive social norms suggests that emphasizing the opposite – that many do vote – would be a more effective message. In two get-out-the-vote field experiments, we find that messages emphasizing low expected turnout are less effective at motivating voters than messages emphasizing high expected turnout. The findings suggest that descriptive social norms affect vote intention only among citizens who vote infrequently or occasionally. Practically, the results suggest that voter mobilization efforts should emphasize high turnout, especially when targeting occasional and low rate of participation voters. More generally, our findings suggest that the common lamentation by the media and politicians regarding low participation may undermine turnout.

Suggested Citation

Gerber, Alan and Rogers, Todd, Descriptive Social Norms and Motivation to Vote: Everybody’s Voting and so Should You (May 10, 2011). The Journal of Politics, 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1837781

Alan Gerber

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

Todd Rogers (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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