Tuesday, November 02, 2010

How to Increase Voting

I'm very interested in the culture of voting. I talked plenty about how your vote doesn't count, which helps explain why it's so hard to get people to vote. I've posted about how Swiss mail-in ballots decreased turnout. And here's Megan McArdle on how early voting may do the same. I even wrote my graduate thesis on the effects of compulsory voting laws. So when I read about a way to actually get people to vote, I couldn't resist. So what's this magical method? Peer pressure. Here's the story:
Before the 2006 Michigan gubernatorial primary, three political scientists isolated a group of voters and mailed them copies of their voting histories, listing the elections in which they participated and those they missed. Included were their neighbors’ voting histories, too, along with a warning: after the polls closed, everyone would get an updated set.

After the primary, the academics examined the voter rolls and were startled by the potency of peer pressure as a motivational tool. The mailer was 10 times better at turning nonvoters into voters than the typical piece of pre-election mail whose effectiveness has ever been measured.
My next question is, do we even want those pressure driven votes?


  1. I would obviously prefer higher voter turn-out consisting of voters who are well-informed and highly engaged in the process, but if we have to start with a high voter turn-out based on peer pressure, then I'm ok with that. It's possible that the peer pressure vote will be the first step on a path to becoming a well-informed voter, which makes the peer pressure method valid. If we have to sow the seeds using peer pressure in order to reap a harvest of well-informed, highly engaged voters, then I'm game.

    In keeping with the "voting pressure" line of thinking, I wrote a list of the Top 10 reasons why Introvert should vote...extroverts are welcome to read as well.


    As always, thanks for the thoughtful insight, my friend!

  2. I was thinking today that the stickers probably increase turnout.

  3. Graydon,

    I'm not convinced higher voter turnout will leader to more voter understanding. What if we are sowing the seeds of a larger, less knowledgeable harvest?


    Exactly. I wonder, are showing us that you voted and hence pressuring us to do the same? I guess you would have had to do that earlier in the day.

  4. That seems like a severe violation of privacy!!

    I just read "Drive" by Daniel Pink. Did you read it? You would like it. I would detail why but I already forgot why. Why do I read books? Oh well.

  5. Harrison - Yes. We are motivated by calls to conformity. You shared this a while back: http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/16/teenage-virgins-ii/

  6. Jill,

    Yeah I thought the same thing, but apparently your voting record is very public. I once heard a story about a guy who went to his local mayor to complain about a building project and the politician simply looked at the records, saw the complainer didn't vote and sent him away.

    No, I haven't read Drive but I do like Dan Pink. His blog is worth reading.

    I have the same problem with books too. That's why I've started posting my "takeaways" from any good books I read.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    Justin S,

    Arg, using economics against me!


You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.