Voting May be Habit Forming: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment


Alan S. Gerber, Donald P. Green, Ron Shachar

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Gerber, Alan S., Donald P. Green & Ron Shachar (2003) "Voting May be Habit Forming: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment." American Journal of Political Science 47(3): 540-550. DOI: 10.1111/1540-5907.00038
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 ones 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 treatment groups 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.
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