Primacy and Recency Effects in Voter Mobilization Campaigns

Panagopoulos, C. (2011). Timing is everything? Primacy and recency effects in voter mobilization campaigns. Political Behavior, 33, 79-93.

The typical political campaign times the majority of advertising so that it occurs just prior to an election. The expectation behind this strategy is that information presented close to the election date remains accessible in memory and its persuasive message may be less subject to decay. In addition to this recency effect Panagopoulos (2011), suggests that a primacy effect may also occur. Campaign messages presented earlier may sensitize voters to subsequent messages or may have a have a persuasive effect that increases over time. In order to test for primacy and recency effects on voting behavior, the author varied the timing of nonpartisan voter participation messages that were delivered by a professional phone bank. Twenty five thousand registered voters in Rochester, New York were assigned to one of four conditions in advance of a municipal election: (a) not called, (b) called 4 weeks prior, (c) called 2 weeks prior, or (d) called 3 days prior. The author also assessed propensity to vote (frequent or infrequent) based on each participant’s previous voting record. Results indicated an interaction between voting propensity and the timing of messages. Low propensity voters were more strongly influenced by messages closer to the election (a recency effect) whereas high propensity voters were more strongly influenced by earlier messages (a primacy effect).

Making Connections

Primacy and recency (serial position) effect
Statistical interaction

Media Supplement

In this NPR podcast, psychologist Jon Krosnick discusses another way that primacy and recency effects influence voting behavior – through the order of names on the ballot.

This entry was posted in Memory, Political Behavior, Research Methods.