Question: What’s the difference between the importance of voting and the importance of being a voter?
Answer: A 14% difference in turnout.

A new study by Stanford social psychologist Christopher Bryan suggests that voter turnout can be improved simply by calling someone a voter, rather than asking them to vote.

The study shows that subtle linguistic cues can increase voting behavior. As part of the study, surveys were sent to 133 registered voters in California the day before the 2008 election. Half were asked if it was important to vote, while the other half were asked if it was important to be a voter. The phrasing of the survey was varied to frame voting either as the enactment of a personal identity (“being a voter”) or as simply a behavior (“voting”).

Following the election, public voting records were used to determine that 82% of those who got the “vote” question actually voted, while 96% of the “voter” group did, a 14% difference. Surveys were also sent to 214 older registered voters from New Jersey prior to their gubernatorial election, and returned similar results–90% of the “voter” group turned out, compared to 79% of the “vote” group, an 11% difference. The results demonstrate how assuming or affirming valued personal identities can be channeled to motivate important socially relevant behavior.

Bryan has hypothesized that the increase in voter turnout among the “voters” is due to how people view themselves or would like to be seen. The survey’s wording allowed a person to see themselves as a voter, something most consider a positive trait. On the other hand, asking people to vote is just like asking them to do anything else (like take out the garbage), and doesn’t necessarily bring to mind any positive affiliations.

This has important implications for all kinds of groups interested in increasing turnout, particularly nonprofit organizations. The next time you talk to a client about voting, think about how you can phrase the conversation to frame them as a voter, rather than just asking them to vote. But remember, simply talking to your clients about voting makes them more likely to vote, and more likely to encourage their friends and family to vote.

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