Research published in the May issue of American Politics Research has confirmed what many have already suspected. Attempting to increase voter turnout through the use of social pressure can be a harmful campaign strategy, resulting in backlash against the candidate.


“Efforts to motivate positive social behavior by using social pressure often generate resistance and backlash from the intended targets,” Richard E. Matland of Loyola University and Gregg R. Murray of Texas Tech University explained in their study.

“Decades of research on psychological reactance across a wide variety of domains provide strong theoretical and empirical expectations concerning the ubiquity of reactance. This research suggests political behavior is no exception.”

For their study, the two researchers distributed mock campaign materials to 580 people in Lubbock County, Texas. The materials included a short description of a hypothetical Senate candidate and a postcard mailer that included the participant’s hypothetical voting history in the past six statewide elections.

Many political campaigns have employed such mailers in hopes of pressuring Americans to vote by making them aware they are being monitored. Some of the mailers have even displayed the voting history of neighbors in hopes of shaming people into voting.

After viewing the campaign material, the participants then answered questions about the candidate and themselves.

Those who viewed the voter history mailer reported that it had not motivated them to vote.

But the mailers did provoke a hostile reaction among potential voters. Those who viewed the mailer were more likely to be angry, afraid, and to complain to the campaign. They also said they were less likely to support the candidate and more likely to vote against him.

Republican-leaning voters who viewed the campaign material of Republican candidates were particularly less likely to support the candidate, as were Democratic-leaning voters who viewed the campaign material of a Democrat.

“Although a candidate receives an initial positive endorsement because of party congruence, social pressure can weaken the endorsement,” Matland and Murray stated. “The candidate has farther to fall with co-partisans. Also, there may be a greater sense of annoyance when it is ‘one of your own’ who engages in coercive pressuring behavior.”

Originally published on PsyPost

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