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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