Nathaniel Stinnett, founder and executive director of the Environmental Voter Project, recently shared some insight from a recent survey his program ran...
We recently surveyed 8,567 registered voters using state voter files, and asked each respondent to describe his or her voting behavior in detail. We then compared each person’s survey response to his or her public voting history, measuring how often people say they vote, versus how often they actually vote. The survey results were stunning: 78.1 percent of the poll’s respondents over-reported their actual voting histories.
Although problematic for pollsters, these findings create an important opportunity for voter mobilization organizations and campaigns. Where there is a significant difference between someone’s reported behavior and their actual behavior, an opportunity arises to change that person’s habits by highlighting this discrepancy. Often referred to as “social pressure messaging,” this turnout strategy pressures people to vote by monitoring their compliance with civic norms (such as the norm of being a good voter) and pointing out where their behavior contravenes those norms. This approach has successfully increased voter turnout in hundreds of recent mobilization experiments.
In short, identifying which voters tend to lie about their voting histories might be just as important as knowing voters’ opinions and priorities. People who say they vote but don’t could be more likely to care about how their voting habits are perceived by others. And that’s where social pressure turnout messaging could have its biggest impact.