, Volume 32, Issue 3, pp 369-386

Affect, Social Pressure and Prosocial Motivation: Field Experimental Evidence of the Mobilizing Effects of Pride, Shame and Publicizing Voting Behavior

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Abstract

Citizens generally try to cooperate with social norms, especially when norm compliance is monitored and publicly disclosed. A recent field experimental study demonstrates that civic appeals that tap into social pressure motivate electoral participation appreciably (Gerber et al., Am Polit Sci Rev 102:33–48, 2008). Building on this work, I use field experimental techniques to examine further the socio-psychological mechanisms that underpin this effect. I report the results of three field experiments conducted in the November 2007 elections designed to test whether voters are more effectively mobilized by appeals that engender feelings of pride (for reinforcing or perpetuating social and cultural values or norms) or shame (for violating social and cultural values or norms). Voters in Monticello, Iowa and Holland, Michigan were randomly assigned to receive a mailing that indicated the names of all verified voters in the November 2007 election would be published in the local newspaper (pride treatment). In Ely, Iowa voters were randomly assigned to receive a mailing that indicated the names of all verified nonvoters would be published in the local newspaper (shame treatment). The experimental findings suggest shame may be more effective than pride on average, but this may depend on who the recipients are. Pride motivates compliance with voting norms only amongst high-propensity voters, while shame mobilizes both high- and low-propensity voters.