As I write this, the UK has some upcoming local elections so I thought it would be fun to see why people vote as they do. Of course, we all tend to believe that we vote because of our sound logic. We might vote in our own or family’s self-interest, the good of the country amongst a few other so-called logical reasons. But it turns out when it comes to voting, humans are far, far from logical and that’s going to be the focus of this 2 part political psychology podcast episode.
Note: whilst this is a political psychology podcast episode, besides from the information shared here. This episode will contain no references to politics, like my own preferences.
This episode has been sponsored by Social Psychology: A Guide To Social And Cultural Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
The Psychology of Voting: 4 Factors Affecting How We Vote
The Polling Station:
I thought it would be great to start off this episode with a very strange factor that affects our voting behaviour. Well, this is strange to me because I do postal voting, I really don’t have the time to go down to a polling station.
Anyway, it turns out there is a growing amount of evidence that suggests that the very places where people go to vote affects their voting. As supported by Berger, Meredith and Wheeler (2008) found when a person voted in a school, they were more likely to back a candidate that wanted to fund education. Equally, Rutchick (2010) found when a polling station was in a church then people were more likely to vote for a conservative candidate.
Personally, I just think that it is amazing how these polling station locations can act as a primer for specific behaviours. That’s just clever.
However, sometimes these priming effects aren’t always so predictive since Pryor, Mendez and Herrick (2014) found that even though people were voting in a church (and this was regardless of the religious symbols around them) these voters were still expressing support for same-sex marriage, regardless of the religious arguments made against it.
And of course sometimes in psychology you do just get some weird results. For example, Oppenheimer and Trail (2010) found that if people were leaning to the left, because of a missing wheel on a wheelchair for example, then these people were more likely to vote and sympathise with left-wing politics, and vice-versa for people leaning to the right.
I can really see about some of these results are just correlational and that’s what most of these factors are. So we cannot get causation from most of these studies. However, you have to admit they do make for really interesting reading, regardless of how weird they sound.
For this next factor I thought we would come back down to earth for a moment, because candidate appearance is a clear factor that would impact voting behaviour. You only need to read Psychology of Relationships and Social Psychology to see the interesting and rather bizarre effects beauty can have on people.
In addition, lots of people are swayed to vote based on a person’s looks. Since a 2009 study asked Swiss students to rate two unfamiliar French political candidates to see who they believed was more competent, and the results found the students found the candidate with the most real-life success as most competent. Leading the researchers to suggest that the voters in real-life had also been swayed by their good looks.
Also it has been that voters are more likely to prefer male and female candidates with deeper voices (Tigue and Feiberg, 2012).
As well as whilst obesity is a disadvantage for women, it can actually help male candidates get voted in (Miller and Lundgren, 2012).
Finally, people who are ignorant of politics are much more swayed by a politician’s appearance compared to those who are more informed about politics. This is even more true if the politician has had plenty of TV exposure.
Interestingly enough personality can be a massive factor that affects how we vote, and I understand this because we want our leaders to have a “good” personality with desirable traits. Since our personality traits do affect how we behave, and it is ultimately how our politicians behave that affects our lives.
Therefore, it is strange that the media and journalists often get attacked for focusing too much on a candidate’s personality and not the “big issues” of the time.
Nonetheless, there is a good amount of evidence to suggest that a candidate’s perceived personality traits are relevant and do play an active role in the way we vote.
For example, several studies including Vecchione, Castro and Caprara (2011) found people are more likely to vote for a candidate who has a similar personality to themselves. As well as Koppensteiner and Stephan (2014) found students are more likely to vote for candidates who are more open-minded, friendly and emotionally stable.
And what I find really interesting about this particular study was the politician’s extraversion and conscientiousness traits weren’t not related to the students’ voting intentions. Meaning that all are personality traits are created not when it comes to voting.
Overall, personality can definitely impact our behaviour because different topics from social psychology, like group and relationship, supports the idea that we prefer people that are similar to us. So it makes sense that this also applies to politics and our own voting behaviour.
As evidence from cognitive psychology shows our thinking processes are affected by our own emotions, and this most certainly applies to politics too. Since when we are happy, we tend to vote for the ruling party.
In addition, Liberini, Redoano and Proto (2017), Parker and Isbell (2010) and Valentino, Hutchings, Banks and Davis (2008) showed that when people are happy people still tend to vote for the ruling party and we don’t tend to focus on the details of the candidates. But when we’re fearful, people focus more on the details of the individual candidate and scrutinise them a lot more.
For example, research from Israel has showed that living in fear of rocket attacks increases support for right wing parties. But on the flip side, there’s evidence that terrorist attacks in Madrid led to an increase in the country’s left-wing opposition parties in the election that came just days late (Montalvo, 2011).
Therefore, I think this is another powerful reminder that we mustn’t forget the power of our emotions to affect how we think, behave and make decisions. Since clearly making a decision on how to vote is not as singular or unitary of a decision as people believed.
There are tons of factors that affect it.
As we can see from this episode, people don’t just make their political decisions based on sound logic. There are so many different factors that can make someone vote in a certain way, and even though some of this does sound… concerning at the very least. It is that potential concern that makes it so interesting to study, look at and talk about.
There are three more factors that we’ll look at in the next political psychology episode, and that I am really looking forward to.
And I have to admit it is really nice to actually change a bit of political discussion from what’s going on to why it’s going on in the first place. So personally I feel like this is a little bit of fresh air compared to the politics that the media reports so.
Do you agree?
I really hope you enjoyed today’s episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Social Psychology: A Guide To Social And Cultural Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Have a great day!
I truly hope that you’re enjoyed this blog post and if you feel like supporting the blog on an ongoing basis and get lots of rewards, then please head to my Patreon page.
However, if want to show one-time support and appreciation, the place to do that is PayPal. If you do that, please include your email address in the notes section, so I can say thank you.
Which I am going to say right now. Thank you!
Click https://www.buymeacoffee.com/connorwhiteley for a one-bit of support.
Click www.paypal.me/connorwhiteley1 to go to PayPal.
Political Psychology References:
Berger, J., Meredith, M., & Wheeler, S. C. (2008). Contextual priming: Where people vote affects how they vote. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(26), 8846-8849.
Rutchick, A. M. (2010). Deus ex machina: The influence of polling place on voting behavior. Political Psychology, 31(2), 209-225.
Pryor, B., Mendez, J. M., & Herrick, R. (2014). Let’s be fair: Do polling locations prime votes. Journal of Political Sciences & Public Affairs, 2(126), 2332-0761.
Oppenheimer, D. M., & Trail, T. E. (2010). Why leaning to the left makes you lean to the left:
Effect of spatial orientation on political attitudes. Social Cognition, 28(5), 651-661.
Tigue, C. C., Borak, D. J., O'Connor, J. J., Schandl, C., & Feinberg, D. R. (2012). Voice pitch influences voting behavior. Evolution and Human Behavior, 33(3), 210-216.
Miller, B. J., & Lundgren, J. D. (2010). An experimental study of the role of weight bias in candidate evaluation. Obesity, 18(4), 712-718.
Vecchione, M., González Castro, J. L., & Caprara, G. V. (2011). Voters and leaders in the mirror of politics: Similarity in personality and voting choice in Italy and Spain. International Journal of Psychology, 46(4), 259-270.
Koppensteiner, M., & Stephan, P. (2014). Voting for a personality: Do first impressions and self-evaluations affect voting decisions?. Journal of research in personality, 51, 62-68.
Liberini, F., Redoano, M., & Proto, E. (2017). Happy voters. Journal of Public Economics, 146, 41-57.
Parker, M. T., & Isbell, L. M. (2010). How I vote depends on how I feel: The differential impact of anger and fear on political information processing. Psychological Science, 21(4), 548-550.
Valentino, N. A., Hutchings, V. L., Banks, A. J., & Davis, A. K. (2008). Is a worried citizen a good citizen? Emotions, political information seeking, and learning via the internet. Political Psychology, 29(2), 247-273.
Montalvo, J. G. (2011). Voting after the bombings: A natural experiment on the effect of terrorist attacks on democratic elections. Review of Economics and Statistics, 93(4), 1146-1154.