Association for Psychological Science

The Psychological Science of Voting: Backgrounder Information

Why It's as Much About How We Think as Ballot Design, Candidates, and Security

Newswise — After months of campaigning, millions of dollars in advertising, and spirited debate, the outcome of this year’s presidential election will remain in flux until all the votes are tallied. In the end, however, voting is not unlike other human behaviors, which can be easily swayed by seemingly unrelated factors.

Psychological scientists continue to explore human behavior at the ballot box and recent findings provide compelling insights into why people vote the way they do. The Association for Psychological Science has complied a collection of these studies from recent years, including a newly published article explaining how poor ballot design can confound voter intent.  

APS Research Topic on Voting: Researchers unravel the mystery of voting behavior, including why people vote in seemingly unpredictable or illogical ways.

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Making Votes Count: Poorly designed ballots can prevent voters from understanding, seeing, using, and processing information correctly, which can lead to voting failures that alter the outcome of elections. Applied psychologists and human factors engineers can make a real difference in ensuring that ballots accurately capture voter intent. 

Voters’ Preexisting Opinions Shift to Align with Political Party Positions: The views expressed by political party leaders can change how individual voters feel about an issue, according to findings from a longitudinal study of voters in New Zealand. 

The Emotional Citizen: Emotion outweight partisanship and ideology when people evaluate political candidates, Linda Isbell’s research shows.

How Voters Really Decide: APS Fellow Jonathan Haidt explains how the science of moral judgment can shed light on voter behavior, political ideology, and compromise.

Using Science to Understand How Ballot Design Impacts Voter Behavior: Concern over the security of the voting process is a recurring issue, but psychological science suggests an even bigger problem may lurk within our voting systems: poor design.

When Voting, Political Preferences Outweigh the Evidence: Supporters of a political measure are more influenced by their initial preferences than cold, hard evidence suggesting that the measure won’t go their way, a study shows.

The ‘Silent Majority’ Agrees With Me, Voters Believe: Psychologists have found that we tend to think people who are similar to us in one explicit way—say, religion or lifestyle—will act and believe as we do, and vote as we do.

Who Influences Your Vote? It May Depend on How Soon the Election Is: Neighbors’ lawn signs, public opinion polls and even a conversation in the next restaurant booth can affect how people vote in an election. But it all depends on how far away the election is. 

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Research Topics is a collection of previously published articles, features, and news stories. They are meant to serve as an information clearinghouse and represent some of APS’s most requested and publicly relevant subjects. This content may reflect the accepted style and terminology of the date the articles were first published.

APS is the leading international organization dedicated to advancing scientific psychology across disciplinary and geographic borders. Our members provide a richer understanding of the world through their research, teaching, and application of psychological science. 

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Released: 26-Oct-2020 4:25 PM EDT
Election polls are 95% confident but only 60% accurate, Berkeley Haas study finds
University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business

How confident should you be in election polls? Not nearly as confident as the pollsters claim, according to a new Berkeley Haas study.

23-Oct-2020 2:45 PM EDT
Who Does the Electoral College Favor?
Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science

Trump’s 2016 victory in the Electoral College without leading in the popular vote has led to wide speculation of a repeat in 2020. Columbia University researchers have been wondering the same thing. They examined how Electoral College outcomes are conditioned by how states voted in previous elections. Their simulations suggest that in 2020 the Electoral College bias is likely to again favor the Republicans, but to a lesser degree than in 2016.

Newswise: Experts say most damaging scenario to US democracy is Trump rejecting election results, potential Supreme Court ruling against him
Released: 26-Oct-2020 8:55 AM EDT
Experts say most damaging scenario to US democracy is Trump rejecting election results, potential Supreme Court ruling against him
University of Notre Dame

To get expert opinions on the fate of the nearly 245-year-old democracy, a group of students from Notre Dame conducted a survey and a path selection game with 150 members of political science professional associations who specialize in elections.

Released: 23-Oct-2020 3:50 PM EDT
Trump Led Biden in Twitter Volume and in Positive Mentions, Analysis Shows
New York University

President Donald Trump received more Twitter mentions, and a greater increase of positive mentions, relative to former Vice President Joe Biden Thursday night, shows a new analysis of online activity leading up to, during, and immediately after the second presidential debate.

Released: 23-Oct-2020 2:30 PM EDT
Trump continued to falsely claim Biden supported getting rid of private insurance

In the final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, moderator Kristen Welker asks the candidates to speak about their plans for healthcare in the United States. President Trump once again accused his oponent of wanting to eliminate private health insurance. Trump has made this claim repeatedly. This claim is false. It conflates Biden's plan with those of other Democrats pushing "Medicare for All."

Released: 23-Oct-2020 1:50 PM EDT
Are we really “rounding the corner" when it comes the coronavirus pandemic?

“We’re rounding the turn,” Trump said during the debate. This implies a meaningful improvement. We rate this claim as false. On that very same day the U.S. recorded 77,000 new cases, according to NBC News. This tops the previous high that had been set in July. We may be learning to "live with it," as Trump mentioned, but this is not an improvement.

Released: 22-Oct-2020 11:55 AM EDT
A video posted by a European-based group called World Doctors Alliance falsely claims the novel coronavirus is “a normal flu virus”

A video posted by a European-based group called World Doctors Alliance claims the novel coronavirus is “a normal flu virus” and there is no COVID-19 pandemic. Although the video was removed from Youtube, portions of the video are circulating on Facebook. We rate this claim as false. Scientists universally agree that the cuase of this pandemic is a novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and not a strain of influenza. COVID-19 is deadlier than the seasonal flu. COVID-19 so far has killed more people in the U.S. than the past five flu seasons combined.

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