Don't Just Vote, Be a Voter
Most eligible American voters don’t vote in most elections.
Messages about “being a voter,” rather than just “voting,” increase registration and turnout in state and national elections.
Social psychologist Christopher Bryan and his colleagues asked participants to fill out one of two short surveys about voting. In the identity version, the survey questions spoke to participants’ identities by addressing them as voters: “How important is it to you to be a voter in the upcoming election?”
In the behavior version of the survey, the questions emphasized the act of voting: “How important is it to you to vote in the upcoming election?”
In a first experiment with 34 unregistered but eligible voters, 87.5% of participants who completed the identity version said they were “very” or “extremely” interested in registering to vote, compared to only 55.6% of participants who completed the behavior version.
Bryan and colleagues next looked at voter turnout among 88 registered California voters. 95.5% of voters in the identity condition voted in the 2008 presidential election, compared to 81.8% of voters in the behavior condition.
The researchers found the same pattern of results with 214 registered New Jersey voters in the 2009 New Jersey Governor’s race. 89.9% of voters in the identity condition voted, compared to 79.0% of voters in the behavior condition.
Why This Works
We like to think of ourselves as moral and virtuous. Voting is one way to be a good citizen. By assuming the identity of a voter, versus simply performing the act of voting, we can prove to ourselves – and to people around us – how good we are.
When This Works Best
Appealing to people’s identities drives action when the behavior in question is something most people already feel they should do. Similarly, no one wants to "be a cheater,” but every now and again people “cheat.”
The Original Study
Bryan, C. J., Walton, G. M., Rogers, T., & Dweck, C. S. (2011). Motivating voter turnout by invoking the self. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108 (31), 12653-12656.