Peer pressure on social media may be the best way to increase voter turnout in this year’s election, according to a study by researchers at the University of California–San Diego.
The large-scale experiment conducted during the 2010 elections found that Facebook users were more likely to look up their polling place and vote when they saw an Election Day "I voted" message on their news feed with pictures of other Facebook users who reported voting.
Researchers estimated that about 60,000 Facebook users turned out to vote after seeing the "I voted" button. An additional 280,000 voted when they saw several of their friends had also voted. The message below is what those voters saw.
But the biggest impact on voter turnout in the study was when the participants saw their close friends had voted.
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“Social influence made all the difference in political mobilization,” said lead author of the study James Fowler in a statement. “It’s not the ‘I Voted’ button, or the lapel sticker we’ve all seen, that gets out the vote. It’s the person attached to it.”
Fowler led the team of researchers in collaboration with Facebook. The team published their results in the science journal Nature.
About 4 percent of the people who said they voted didn’t actually vote, the study found. Real-world results were found using publicly available voting records.
The findings may help increase voter turnout in areas such as San Diego, where only about 35 percent of registered voters turned out for the primary election.
“The main driver of behavior change is not the message – it’s the vast social network,” Fowler said. “Whether we want to get out the vote or improve public health, we should not only focus on the direct effect of an intervention, but also on the indirect effect as it spreads from person to person to person.”
For more on the findings of the study, read about it on Nature’s website.