People who feel that they have no impact on politics tend to vote less often, which results in the fact that they are underrepresented in elections. Thus they cannot change the things they don’t like in politics, which works as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why do so many people resign from directly influencing the socio-political system by voting and how to address this issue?
Authorities and media often try to encourage citizens to take part in the elections by promoting a narrative like “As others are not voting, you should do it”. According to our research, such messages may be highly ineffective or even lead to the opposite consequences. Research shows that withdrawal from voting is especially prevalent among those people who believe they have no control over social and political issues. In our research, we show that these people tend to vote if they perceive that others around them do so. Thus, one way to promote participation in elections is to expose them to messages that emphasize the norm of voting amongst their groups.
More specifically, we demonstrate that proving that voting intentions among their group members are rising increases their own voting intentions. This, however, is not necessarily true for frequent voters, who are likely to take part in the elections no matter what the current norm in their group is. This effect of higher conformity among people lacking control was stronger when norms among participants’ friends rather than national norms were taken into account, especially in the highly polarized nations.
In sum, across six studies conducted in Poland, Spain, and Chile we show that people who experience decreased control over sociopolitical issues were more likely to vote when people in their group planned to vote as well, and were less likely to vote when ingroup norm suggested low turnout. In other words, social norms for people who feel low in control can act as a knife that cuts both ways, either motivating them to vote or discouraging them from taking any action.
These results have important implications, showing how most infrequent voters – people who experience a lack of control over socio-political affairs can still be motivated to participate in political elections. In a broader sense, this research highlights also the importance of messages transmitted by reference groups regarding political participation.
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