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Why the Sky Did not Fall: Mobilizing Anger in Reaction to Voter ID Laws

February 2016

Nicholas A. Valentino, Fabian G. Neuner


This article consists of two separate studies. First, researchers send out a survey to white non-Hispanic Americans. Respondents are asked to rate the anger they would feel if (1) voter ID laws disenfranchised some eligible voters, and (2), if ineligible voters attempted to vote anyways. The results show that democrats feel strongly angry in both scenarios. Republicans, however, felt even angrier about ineligible voters attempting to vote, and significantly less angry about eligible voters being denied access to vote. Further, they find anger is a strong predictor of participation. That is, anger over voter ID laws (or voter fraud) mobilizes voters to turnout. The second study involves a randomized experiment. Participants were randomly assigned to five groups: a control group and four treatment groups. The control group was given an article to read about the upcoming 2014 election that discussed campaign finance and voter turnout. One treatment group is given an article that justifies voter ID laws as preventing voter fraud. Finally, the last three treatment groups are given increasingly “intense” articles that argue voter ID laws disenfranchise voters. Results show that voters self-rating of anger increased as the “intensity” of articles increased. Further, this effect of increasing anger was only statistically significant among democrats, with republicans showing little change.

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Policy Implications

This research implies that framing plays a large part in the voter ID debate. While evidence shows voter fraud is an extremely rare occurrence, people remained worried about the issue. This article suggests that this may be an emotional response triggered by external sources, such as the media. However, news of disenfranchisement does not seem to anger Republicans, the party actively pursuing voter ID laws, therefore we should not expect the effort to adopt these laws to end. Finally, these voter ID laws appear to anger democrats, which in turn mobilizes them to vote in higher numbers, thereby offsetting the very disenfranchisement that angered them.

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