Psychology of Voting Part 2. A Political Psychology and Voting Psychology Podcast Episode.
On the day this podcast episode goes out, there are local elections happening in the UK for local councils and other such things. As there are no local elections when I am, I really know too much about this round of elections, but I still really want to continue with our look at factors that can influence how we decide to vote. So let’s look at our final three factors.
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.
Psychology of Voting: 3 Factors That Affect Our Voting Behaviour
Before we dive into these 3 factors I want to mention that like always I do not use these episodes to voice my own politics. As well as I wanted to mention that the scandal section of this podcast episode does help to address a lot of political misconceptions and myths.
Personally when I found out this was a factor that affected how people vote, I was a bit sceptical. Because whilst a lot of political psychology (and psychology as a lot) research is correlational so we CANNOT get cause and effect from these studies. Sometimes I feel like some of these factors are a bit… too out there which is why I’m not mentioning two of the factors that I researched.
However, there’s evidence from the USA (Gomez, Hansford and Krause, 2007), Spain (Artes, 2014) and the Netherlands (Eisinga, Grotenhuis and Pelzer, 2012) that suggests the weather really can impact how we vote. For example, those same studies found that for each inch of rainfall there is on election day, the election turnout decreases by 1%. On the other hand, in sunny weather and higher temperatures this leads to election turnout to increase as well as this was found in more places but not Sweden (Persson and Ohrvall, 2014).
Now this I can really understand because this is a reason why I always, always do postage voting. Because no one wants to go out when it is raining, and unless you’re a die-hard voter, where you have to vote no matter what, then rain might be the perfect excuse for you not to go out. Personally I think everyone should go and vote, but that’s just my opinion.
In addition, if we apply this to real life, that is probably why the vast majority of elections are in the spring or summer because the weather is better and people are much more likely to turn up.
Finally, some really interesting results or weather effects can be found in Bassi (2013) who found that when the weather is poor, people are less likely to vote for risky candidates.
Therefore, as I mentioned before, yes most of this research is correlational. But it still makes for really interesting reading.
Negative Campaigns and Political Adverts:
With adverts of any type being a persuasion attempt, there is a lot of research in social psychology on this area. As a result, we know a lot about how to make an effective advert and definitely not what to do, but how do you create an effective political advert for people?
This is even more important to consider because political campaigns spend massive amounts of money on TV advertising, and to be honest whilst most of that money is now spent on social media advertising. TV advertising still plays an important role.
Since Gerber et al. (2011) found that TV advertising has a strong effect on voting preference for people, but this was short-lived. As well as adverts with moody lightning and music are most effective at engaging and persuading people.
However, when it comes to negative campaigns which focuses on attacking the opposition. In theory this sounds like a great tactic because it surely it shows you’re a strong leader that is proving how weak, pathetic and terrible the opposition is.
Yet this is far from how it works in reality since Carraro et al. (2010) found that when a politician makes a personal attack on political opponents they always suffer a backlash. Whilst the target of the attack was unaffected.
This is only explicitly though.
In reality it turns out that in the subconscious attitudes of the voters, the target of the attack did suffer because of the attack as did the attacker. So no one wins in that situation.
In addition, in terms of voter turnout, thankfully adverts that support our political beliefs make us more likely to vote, and adverts that don’t support our beliefs have little effect on turn out (Matthes and Marquart, 2013).
Of course I will not get into politics here, but this is a very interesting point I think.
However, scandals can have an impact on political candidates and how we decide to vote. For example, Eggers and Fisher (2011) conducted an analysis of the 2010 UK General Election found that voters decided to punish the political candidates that had been involved in scandals. But what actually makes this interesting is the size of this effect was only modest and it was a lot smaller than researchers had been expecting.
To find out why this effect was unexpected, we can look to a study by Perez et al. (2012) on Spanish politics since they found that voters punished candidates exposed in corruption scandals. Yet the size of the effect was determined by the amount of media coverage those candidates got and whether charges were bought forward or not.
And there is another very important factor that helps us to understand why voters’ reactions to scandals are so varied.
It is because our reactions tend to be very, very partisan. Meaning we are lenient when the transgressing politician is from a party we support, and we are not lenient when it is from a party we do not support.
Without going into politics too much here, this definitely can be seen with the political scandals going on at the moment. Since I’ve spoken to people on both sides of the political spectrum and this is exactly what I found. The people who supported the non-transgressing were furious about the corruption and scandal, but the other people who supported the transgressing parties didn’t care.
I just found both of those reactions so interesting.
What About When A Scandal Breaks?
We have all heard the saying that timing is everything and that couldn’t be more true for political scandals. Since Mitchell (2013) found if a scandal breaks later in a political campaign then this can do less damage than if it was released earlier. Simply because by a late stage of an election, people have already gathered a lot of policy information (whether they realise it or not) so they can make a decision.
As well as if a political scandal drags on for months and starts a drip-drip-drip effect then this can really be damaging.
Does A Political Scandal Really Distract Us From The Real Issues?
If you live in the UK right now (and probably anywhere else in the world), you constantly hear people saying that this scandal is distracting people from the real issues of the world. And as much as I want to comment on what is a “real issue” I won’t, but it turns out there is evidence that this is not the case.
In fact according to The British Psychology Society Research Digested, national, or any type of, scandals for that matter actually improves our memory of the transgressing party’s policies. Which is consistent with an associative memory account in which the importance of the scandal boosts our memory for information related to the politician.
Therefore, if you ever hear a politician or someone saying that the scandal is pointless and it focuses attention away from “real issues”. I hate (not) to say that they are almost certainly wrong.
At the end of these two posts on voting psychology and why we vote. I really have enjoyed them because I had aims (I now realise) when it came to them. I really wanted to find out why people behave as they do when it comes to voting, and I think we can all admit some of these findings have been fascinating.
Others were just whacky.
Yet I also wanted to disprove some myths about politics. Since that is one of the reasons why I love forensic psychology so much, because that area of psychology has allowed me to understand what is actually going on when it comes to treatment, imprisonment and criminal behaviour instead of what the media and politicians report on (which is not always true).
So I wanted to try and improve my understanding of this when it comes to politics.
I really enjoy this, and I hope you did too!
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Political Psychology References:
Gerber, A. S., Gimpel, J. G., Green, D. P., & Shaw, D. R. (2011). How large and long-lasting are the persuasive effects of televised campaign ads? Results from a randomized field experiment. American Political Science Review, 105(1), 135-150.
Carraro, L., Gawronski, B., & Castelli, L. (2010). Losing on all fronts: The effects of negative versus positive person‐based campaigns on implicit and explicit evaluations of political candidates. British Journal of Social Psychology, 49(3), 453-470.
Matthes, J., & Marquart, F. (2015). A New Look at Campaign Advertising and Political Engagement: Exploring the Effects of Opinion-Congruent and -Incongruent Political Advertisements. Communication Research, 42(1), 134–155. https://doi.org/10.1177/0093650213514600
Gomez, B. T., Hansford, T. G., & Krause, G. A. (2007). The Republicans should pray for rain: Weather, turnout, and voting in US presidential elections. The Journal of Politics, 69(3), 649-
Artés, J. (2014). The rain in Spain: Turnout and partisan voting in Spanish elections. European Journal of Political Economy, 34, 126-141.
Eisinga, R., Te Grotenhuis, M., & Pelzer, B. (2012). Weather conditions and voter turnout in Dutch national parliament elections, 1971–2010. International journal of biometeorology, 56(4), 783-786.
Persson, M., Sundell, A., & Öhrvall, R. (2014). Does Election Day weather affect voter turnout? Evidence from Swedish elections. Electoral Studies, 33, 335-342.
Bassi, A. (2013). Weather, mood, and voting: an experimental analysis of the effect of weather beyond turnout. Available at SSRN 2273189.
Eggers, A. C., & Fisher, A. C. (2011). Electoral accountability and the UK parliamentary expenses scandal: Did voters punish corrupt MPs?. Available at SSRN 1931868.
Costas-Pérez, E., Solé-Ollé, A., & Sorribas-Navarro, P. (2012). Corruption scandals, voter information, and accountability. European journal of political economy, 28(4), 469-484.
Mitchell, D. G. (2014). Here today, gone tomorrow? Assessing how timing and repetition of scandal information affects candidate evaluations. Political Psychology, 35(5), 679-701.