I Only Have Eyes for You: Does Implicit Social Pressure Increase Voter Turnout?

  • Matland R
  • Murray G
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Get-out-the-vote mailers using explicit social pressure consistently increase electoral turnout; however, they often generate a negative reaction or backlash. One approach to increase turnout, yet alleviate backlash, may be to use implicit social pressure. An implicit social pressure technique that has shown promise is to display a set of eyes. Researchers contend eyes generate a feeling of being watched, which cues subjects to act in more prosocial ways to demonstrate compliance with social norms. Several studies support this argument, including two voter mobilization studies. The technique has not been widely tested, however, in the political context. In five randomized field experiments, we test the impact on turnout of mobilization mailers using eye displays. We extend previous research by testing for differences in effects between male and female eyes and across political cultures. The effects are substantively and statistically weak at best and inconsistent with previous findings.

Author-supplied keywords

  • eyespots
  • field experiment
  • implicit social pressure
  • voter mobilization
  • voter turnout

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  • Richard E Matland

  • Gregg R Murray

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