How You Can Help Increase Voter Turnout

How astronauts, celebrities, and even you can increase voter turnout.

Posted Oct 28, 2020

NASA Johnson/NASA
Astronaut Kate Rubins voted from space. She also encouraged others to vote, as have many Hollywood celebrities. You can, too!
Source: NASA Johnson/NASA

Astronaut Kate Rubins cast an early vote in the U.S. presidential election from space, and NASA widely publicized her civic act. Scores of celebrities —from Ashlee Simpson to David Hasselhoff to Kerry Washington to Zendaya—also publicized their early votes. Similarly, millions of Americans across the U.S. and around the world have voted early in person or by mail, and then announced it to the world, often via social media. 

Intentionally or not, Rubins, along with everyone else publicizing their voting, was helping to create a social norm, a culturally-based perception of what is acceptable or expected behavior in a given situation. We, as humans, are compelled to act as those around us do, for reasons both evolutionary and environmental. In line with this, as Rubins said in a NASA video, “If we can do it from space, then I believe folks can do it from the ground, too.”

Research shows that announcing you voted is an effective strategy for changing the behavior of others. In a pair of clever studies, researchers Alan Gerber of Yale University and Todd Rogers of the Analyst Institute randomly assigned New Jersey and California voters to receive one of two messages via phone. In the California study, one message began, “We would like to encourage you to vote. Voter turnout in California has been declining for decades.” And the other began, “We would like to encourage you to vote. More and more California citizens are voting.” In both cases, the percentage of people who said they were “absolutely certain” to vote was higher among those who got the message of a social norm of voting.

Creating a social norm about voting may be especially important in the current campaign season, which has been marred by misinformation about voting. There have been numerous attempts to convince voters that their votes could be hijacked or discounted. Although news organizations continually debunk most of these attempts, some potential voters may decide it’s not worth it. A strong social norm may overcome that inertia and get people out to vote anyway. 

In this era of misinformation, there are ways we, as individuals, can support voter turnout. And it all comes down to social norms. Astronaut Kate Rubins contributed to that social norm, as did many Hollywood celebrities. You’re probably not an astronaut or a celebrity, but social norms can be bolstered even by those of us who are just everyday people. Your posts and conversations with friends may just inspire others to get out there, even if it’s with a mask, a chair, and a lunch to survive a long line.

References

Gerber, A. S., & Rogers, T. (2009). Descriptive social norms and motivation to vote: Everybody's voting and so should you. The Journal of Politics, 71(1), 178-191. http://doi.org/10.1017/S0022381608090117