Using Implicit and Explicit Social Pressure to Increase Voter Turnout

Matland, R. E., & Murray, G. R. (2016). I only have eyes for you: Does implicit social pressure increase voter turnout? Political Psychology, 37 (4), 533-550.

Although get-out-the-vote mailers are frequently used in political campaigns to increase voter turnout, Matland and Murray (2016) point out that they are fairly ineffective. One particular type of mailer using explicit pressure has been shown to increase voter turnout. These “self-mailers” include information about the recipient’s voting history and implies that the sender will be monitoring the recipient’s participation in the upcoming election. According to the authors, although self-mailers produce a small increase in voter turnout, they often lead to a backlash against the candidates sending these mailers. In this study, the authors attempted to increase voter turnout implicitly by displaying an image of watchful eyes on the mailer, a strategy which has been shown in some previous studies to increase prosocial behavior in a variety of tasks (including paying for coffee in an unmonitored coin box, making contributions to a charity bucket, and disposing of trash in a university cafeteria) and is based on the finding that people behavior in a more socially acceptable manner when they feel they are being watched. Unfortunately, the watchful eyes did not significantly increase voter turnout in Matland and Murray’s field studies in five U.S. cities, regardless of the political culture in which the study was conducted or the gender associated with the eyes presented. The authors suggest that further studies are needed to determine why their findings differ from those of previous research.

Making Connections

Normative Social Influence
Prosocial Behavior

Media Supplement

The factors that influence voter turnout can be quite complex, as illustrated in this NPR podcast about the first time women had the right to vote in Saudi Arabia.

This entry was posted in Political Behavior, Social Psychology.