Political Business

Lessons on political strategy

Posts tagged voting psychology

0 notes &

Is voting too stressful?

A US study hints that New Zealand’s strong voter turnout in national elections is because we handle stress better.

Work by University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and Rice University, has shown that stress hormones are predictors of political participation.  Reports of the studies claim it shows tolerance of stress is a predictor of voter turn-out.

The study concluded that cortisol is related to a willingness to participate in politics - as it is with willingness to participate in most social engagements.

Researchers analysed the saliva of over 100 participants who identified themselves as highly conservative, highly liberal or disinterested in politics.  Cortisol was measured in saliva collected from the participants before and during activities designed to raise and lower stress.

"High-stress activities led to higher levels of cortisol production, but that political participation was significantly correlated with low baseline levels of cortisol,"

"Participation in another group-oriented activity, specifically religious participation, was not as strongly associated with cortisol levels. Involvement in nonvoting political activities, such as volunteering for a campaign, financial political contributions, or correspondence with elected officials, was not predicted by levels of stress hormones."

It’s hard to believe the physical act of voting is intrinsically stressful. But maybe its the requirement to make a decision - and a decision on which much of the public debate seems to rest?

This was an American study, where less than 50% of the public vote in national elections. In New Zealand, between 70 and 90% of us do.

Do New Zealanders handle political stress better? Is our approach to election day less dramatic? Or are we more relaxed about the outcome?

One thing on which we are certainly now clear from these sorts of studies; the old-school assumptions about voters are wrong - socioeconomic status has far less impact on voting or political leanings than biology.

We are in fascinating new territory for political strategy.

Filed under biology survey science political opinion socio economic voting patterns voting day voting psychology psychology political psychology

0 notes &

The cost of a vote is $10

An intriguing study from Waikato University finds that distance to polling stations affects likelihood of voting. In fact, each kilometre from a polling station to homes reduces turnout by one percentage point.

The researches said that when the time costs of traveling to vote are $10, the national turnout falls by seven percentage points. Bizarrely, those in urban areas need even less distance before they give up the idea of voting. A $10 cost of getting to the polling station reduces turnout by 20 percentage points.

The dissuasive impact of rather small distances speaks volumes about the lack of value people put on voting.

Why do they do this? I’ll hazard a guess. The idea that your vote counts is bunk. Usually, in terms of sheer numbers, your vote doesn’t matter. People know this intuitively. They also “know” that once they’ve voted for a Government, they have little say on what happens next. And they “know” that they’re likely to be unhappy with some of the outcomes of the Government.

By placing a price as low as $10 on the ‘price’ of voting, the Waikato study proves that these factors are considerable.

The lesson is that politicians need give people reasons to vote. they need to work much harder than they think they do, and they need to focus much more on voters than their opponents.

Filed under voting voting psychology voter apathy waikato

23 notes &

The myth of the dying voters

A twenty year old political truism has being exposed in the saga of what John Key said to John Banks over a cafe table.

The idea is that there is a group of embittered voters over 60 years of age, and that this group is dying out. The concept is not only wrong, it is patronising of the values of many people, and ignorant of what motivates voters.

The myth rose among the political classes over the 1990s. I recall hearing it, as a young press secretary, told as a consoling tale among Labour MPs at the start of that decade. 

This group are said to be embittered by age, and disaffected by a working life that was largely low-income and hit by successive recessions and radical political policies. Political cliques say this group tends to be nationalistic, and haters of the poor and of the rich. The story is that they are like this because they are poorly educated (or not smart) and unworldy (from small towns). Thus, they are regarded as supporters of Winston Peters.

The myth holds that ‘fortunately’ this group is diminishing over time because they are dying. It is repeated by politicians to each other, and by political pundits.

It is a myth because humans are psychologically pre-disposed toward different perspectives on life. Even if supporters of Winston Peters are dying off, supporters of his brand of political and social thinking will remain a feature of society. ‘Conservative’ ideas are not unique to a particular cohort or age bracket.

Some of the simpler expressions of the concept claim that age has embittered this group, but they’re dying out. Well, older people are not dying out - they are increasing in numbers. although older age can generate a very small shift acress the spectrum toward conservatism, the bigger impacts on attitudes are experiences while yery young, and the attitudes of parents.

Those who express the myth are really using it as a way of elevating their own belief set. They are saying that their attitudes are superior to expressions of nationalism, and cynicism toward corporate and financial life.

Politicians who want to believe that these ideas are dying out are very mistaken, and by pretending they don’t exist, are missing out on the votes of a significant cross section of society. 

Filed under political strategy voters political myth older voters retirement ideology voter beliefs voting psychology voter psychology