The science behind voting

Photo credit: ABC News

Photo credit: ABC News

By Sam Siomko, Staff Writer

Election day may have come and gone but not without controversy. For many of us, this was our first time voting in a presidential election. And regardless of who you voted for, what is important is that you voted.

However, voting is not a universal theme among Americans. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, only about 54% of registered voters actually turn up to vote on election day. Other countries, including Belgium, and Sweden, have a 80-85% voter turnout average — despite the fact that Americans seem to be much more invested in their country’s politics. So what could be stopping American citizens from voting?

People, like other animals, function on a reward-based system. Your reward for going grocery shopping is that you will have food for the next week. Likewise, people will only vote if they have a perceived reward, as long as this reward outweighs the inconvenience. Common complaints about voting include things such as the difficulty of registering or the effort required to get to a voting station.

The reward, on the other hand, is more simple: voters receive a sense of satisfaction. This satisfaction can come in many forms, such as feeling like they made a difference, or feeling like they are part of a group.

Regardless of the pros and cons of voting, turnout is also highly reliant on voter motivation. The anticipation of a reward can be motivation in itself, meaning that people will sometimes vote because it makes them feel good. However, a lack of motivation can come in the form of pressure from peers.

A review from Stanford University claims that voters from communities who are heavily biased against their own political party tend to be less motivated. This is because voting seems futile to them, and thus they see no perceived reward since they have little influence.

There is also a behavioral aspect to voting, where people who exhibit more trust and patience are more likely to vote. This may stem from the fact that they are more willing to believe that politicians have the voter’s best interest in mind, or that they are more willing to put up with any of the inconveniences associated with voting.

There is also the need to be part of the herd, to put that “I Voted” sticker on your shirt and feel like you are part of something. People who already feel like they belong to a group (race, gender, economic status, age, etc.) are more likely to vote in order to represent their group. Those who do not identify as part of a group benefit from a feeling of belonging to a group of people who did vote, and they also avoid being judged for not voting.

So, maybe the skeptical voters were correct in thinking that their vote did not matter. And maybe the voters who saw their candidate win have a renewed love for democracy. But voting is a group effort, and the actions of one person did not assure the outcome of the recent presidential election.

Voting relies on the combined effort of every eligible voter. So if you did not vote this time around, maybe consider heading to a voting booth next time. But there is no rush — you have four more years to make up your mind.

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