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Do Subtle Linguistic Interventions Priming a Social Identity as a Voter Have Outsized Effects on Voter Turnout? Evidence From a New Replication Experiment

Author(s): 

Alan Gerber, Greg Huber, and Al Fang

ISPS ID: 
ISPS17-23
Full citation: 
Gerber, A., Huber, G. and Fang, A. (2017), Do Subtle Linguistic Interventions Priming a Social Identity as a Voter Have Outsized Effects on Voter Turnout? Evidence From a New Replication Experiment. Political Psychology. doi:10.1111/pops.12446
Abstract: 
An ongoing debate in political psychology is about whether small wording differences have outsized behavioral effects. A leading example is whether subtle linguistic cues embedded in voter mobilization messages dramatically increase turnout. An initial study analyzing two small-scale field experiments argued that describing someone as a voter (noun) instead of one who votes (verb) increases turnout rates 11 to 14 points because the noun activates a person's social identity as a voter. A subsequent study analyzing a large-scale field experiment challenged this claim and found no effect. But questions about the initial claim's domain of applicability persist. The subsequent study may not have reproduced the conditions necessary for the psychological phenomenon to occur, specifically the electoral contexts were not competitive or important enough for the social identity to matter. To address the first of these critiques, as well as other potential explanations for different results between the first two studies, we conduct a large-scale replication field experiment. We find no evidence that this minor wording change increases turnout levels. This research provides new evidence that the strategy of invoking the self does not appear to consistently increase turnout and calls into question whether subtle linguistic cues have outsized behavioral effects.
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Publication date: 
2017
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