A recent study may have voters thinking twice not only about whom they vote for — but also where.
According to a study published last week by a team of Baylor University psychologists, common polling locations such as churches could trigger unconscious voter bias.
The study found that people who answered surveys next to churches in the Netherlands and England were more likely to report politically and socially conservative attitudes.
Researchers asked participants to rate their attitudes toward cultural, economic and religious groups that differed from their own. The researchers surveyed some in front of a church and others next to government buildings.
This phenomenon, commonly known as voter priming, occurs when certain visual and verbal cues — the sight of churches, schools or government buildings in particular — affect some change in voters’ social and political outlooks, generally right before they step into the voting booth.
The numbers pointed to a greater trend — polling environments can prompt sub-conscious attitudes in many voters.
This isn’t new to psychologists. In 2008, Marketing professor Jonah Berger co-authored a study about the correlation between voting in schools and voting decisions. Echoing the results found at Baylor, the study may be of potential worth to policy makers, according to Berger.
Aside from recognizing the adverse effects of voter priming, policy makers “should also be wary of the influence polling officials can have in selecting polling location, which might in turn impact electoral results,” Berger wrote in an email.
Though different polling locations may have different effects, people who are more uncertain about their vote are more susceptible to voter priming, he wrote.
In addition, some professionals think adopting the results of the Baylor study too soon could possibly neglect other important factors.
“There may be an average effect [in the new study], but there’s no reason in any case that the effect has to be the same for everyone,” Political Science professor Marc Meredith, co-author of the study with Berger and S. Christian Wheeler of Stanford University, said.
Meredith said in studies such as this one, survey participants don’t represent voters “making consequential choices.” In a realistic, non-experimental setting, the biases produced from voter priming “don’t often go away, but are reduced substantially,” he said.
Executive director of the Fox Leadership Program Joseph Tierney, who is also active with the student-run group Penn Leads the Vote, shares a similar sentiment about the ways voters choose important candidates and issues.
“I believe the people have made up their mind before they get to the polling place,” Tierney said. “They won’t be able to look up at a sign or other visual cues and change their minds.”
In the 2000 presidential election, five of the University’s voting precincts had to vote in the David Rittenhouse Laboratories.
After noting this inconvenience, PLTV pushed “to put the polling locations actually into the precincts they represented,” Tierney said. That year, voting booths were set up in College Houses and other University facilities.
Penn “has done what it can do to improve the voting environment” on campus, he said.
He added that for the 1980 presidential election, he voted inside a garage in a nearby house.Comments powered by Disqus
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