Election Day is a super big deal. We talk a lot about the candidates and why we should vote for each one but we don't spend near as much time talking about why we vote, separate from the people.
We've put together some of the theories and topics in psychology behind voting.
#getinformed and then #govote
"We can think of voting as an expression of the self-concept if I'm an American, and Americans vote, then the act of voting is an expression of who I am."
Florida Atlantic University's Kevin Lanning, PhD.
Basically, we vote for social identification with reference groups. The affirmative act of voting underscores your membership in the larger group.
All An Illusion?
The concept of Voter's Illusion is that we project our own behavior to people similar to us. So, we think that others are going to support the same candidate just because they are similar to ourselves.
We also think that our individual votes can affect the outcome by thinking about what could happen if we don't vote. The people who are not similar to us will be voting for our opposing party, and we cannot let that happen, in our heads of course.
How do we Pick?
A theory dating back all the way to '83 is that when voters enter the booth, they look back on the full campaign. "Voters count up how many things they like about each candidate and how many things they dislike about each candidate, subtract dislikes from likes regarding each candidate, and then subtract the net score for one candidate from the net score for another candidate to yield a preference."
Another theory says that it's not JUST the information they can remember but of what they they remember of the entire campaign, adjusted in response to events, and retrieved on election day. Research to date suggests that some voters do memory-based evaluation whereas others make judgments via on-line updating.
More theories predict that it's more of a combination of things, like social influences like whom your family is with a compilation of media portrayal by the priming processes.
Plain Old Habit
Wendy Wood, PhD at Duke has done extensive research showing that there are two kinds of voters: Election-specific voters, who are motivated by a particular candidate or issue, and habitual voters, who consistently show up to vote in every election. Habitual voters are much more likely to have lived at the same address over several elections and possess a "stable context" for voting where election- specific voters who are more influenced by social pressures.
The American Voter (Campbell, Converse, Miller, & Stokes, 1960) [book]