The Art of Peer Pressure: Where’s Your “I Voted” Sticker?

i-voted-stickerHow do you convince others to follow your lead? That’s the question election officials have been asking since the dawn of democracy. The importance of voting seems self-evident; yet, voter turnout in the United Stated typically hovers around 55% for presidential elections and a dismal 35% in the mid-terms.

Since we aren’t going to mandate voting, like some other countries, we need a technique that exerts pressure to participate in our government. Taking bribery off the table (it leads to corruption) and coercion (it leads to tyranny), there is an effective research-proven method that many States already use—appealing to people’s social standing, aka their vanity.

A study by four researchers at Harvard, UC Berkeley, and the University of Chicago found that a key motivator to vote is that we enjoy telling others we voted. In the experiment, homeowners were notified that the researchers would show up after the election to conduct a survey on their participation. It turned out that people were significantly more likely to vote when they knew they would be asked.

Economist Patricia Funk echoed this sentiment when she studied elections in Switzerland. The country attempted to increase voter turnout by incorporating postal voting to make it more convenient. Instead, turnout declined, especially in smaller communities where the significance of seeing your neighbors at the local polling station was removed. Funk concluded that “social pressure creates incentives to vote for the purpose of being seen at the voting act.”

If you think you’re immune to this level of pressure, consider whether you’ve ever worn your “I Voted” sticker that is handed out at polling stations. If so, congratulations, you are as susceptible to societal influence as the rest of us. That sticker is an advertisement demonstrating your civic duty. It makes you feel good to show it off and applies social pressure on others to get to the polls.

Consider this the next time you are trying to persuade your team into action. Instead of directing them, utilize peer pressure so they are influencing each other. Promote the volume of patronage you’ve generated and create opportunities for public displays of support. Fancy sticks don’t hurt either.