The Nitty Gritty: The Unexplored Role of Grit and Perseverance in Voter Turnout

43 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2015 Last revised: 22 Jun 2016

See all articles by D. Sunshine Hillygus

D. Sunshine Hillygus

Duke University

John Holbein

University of Virginia

Steven Snell

Princeton University - Department of Political Science; Social Science Research Institute

Date Written: June 21, 2016


In this paper we consider the role of general motivation, distinct from political motivation, in predicting voter turnout. Drawing on the large-scale, longitudinal Add Health dataset, we show that a measure of grit (i.e., tenacity or perseverance) measured in adolescence is a strong predictor of voter turnout in adulthood. This relationship exists independent of cognitive skills, personality measures, political interest, and many other observed and unobserved individual and contextual factors. To examine the mechanisms behind the observed relationship, we conduct a series of analyses including an original survey experiment that primes a gritty mindset. The results suggest that grittier individuals vote more because they are willing to overcome the obstacles that get in the way of voting. Compared to a control group, individuals primed to have a gritty mindset report a willingness to spend an average of 12 additional minutes waiting in line to vote and report higher levels of political efficacy.

Keywords: Voter Turnout, Political Participation, Education, Civic Engagement, Non-Cognitive Skills, Grit

Suggested Citation

Hillygus, D. Sunshine and Holbein, John and Snell, Steven and Snell, Steven, The Nitty Gritty: The Unexplored Role of Grit and Perseverance in Voter Turnout (June 21, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

D. Sunshine Hillygus

Duke University ( email )

John Holbein (Contact Author)

University of Virginia ( email )

111 Garrett Hall, University of Virginia
United States
4342432899 (Phone)
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Steven Snell

Social Science Research Institute ( email )

Campus Box 90989
Durham, NC 27708
United States
6097590897 (Phone)

Princeton University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Corwin Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544-1012
United States

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