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How Does Peer Pressure Affect Educational Investments? An Experiment Testing the Relative Effectiveness of Encouraging Voter Participation by Inducing Feelings of Pride or Shame

March 2010

Alan S. Gerber, Donald P. Green, Christopher W. Larimer


Prior research has shown that people are more likely to vote after receiving a mailer showing whether they voted in previous elections. The authors sought to determine whether shame for being out of compliance with voting norms, or pride for complying, was a more powerful motivator. Using a randomized control trial, they found that those who were reminded of a previous abstention were more likely to vote than those who were reminded that they had voted in the previous election. The researchers concluded that shame was a more powerful motivator for participation than pride.

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Policy Implications

Social pressure obviously is strongly linked to voter turnout. If we seek to increase voter turnout, reminding voters of previous abstentions may be one simple way to do so. Targeted programs to send these reminders to voters in neighborhoods with traditionally low turnout may be a good next step in the research.

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