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


Alan S. Gerber and Todd Rogers

Full citation: 
Gerber, Alan S. and Todd Rogers (2009). Descriptive Social Norms and Motivation to Vote: Everybody's Voting and So Should You, Journal of Politics 71(): 178-191. DOI: 10.1017/S0022381608090117.
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.
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California and New Jersey
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