Explaining the Empty Booth: An Experiment in Candidate Traits and their Predictive Power on Youth Voter Turnout
This paper is motivated by the overall trend of decreasing youth voter turnout since the 1960s in the U.S, which has been accompanied by large fluctuations in turnout between election cycles. By contrast, older age groups vote at higher rates with less variation in turnout between elections over time. This paper aims to identify some independent variables that affect youth voter turnout rate and its’ fluctuation over time. Using American National Election Survey data, a correlation is observed between certain candidate character traits and youth voter turnout. This study focuses on a candidate’s morality and intelligence by studying these traits’ independent effect on youth voter turnout over time. By conducting two online experiments with 295 participants aged 18-24, this study found that subjects who received a cue about a candidate’s morality were more likely to vote and participate in an election than if they did not receive that cue. Among 18-24 year olds, a perceived positive intelligence cue resulted in a higher commitment to vote and participate as opposed to receiving no cue. The unintelligent cue had no intended treatment effect. Furthermore, the study found that the observed increase in a commitment to participate for both studies was stronger for low cost forms of participation, such as voting than high cost forms of participation, such as canvassing. Finally, among 18-24 year olds, race and age act as moderating variables on the effect that candidate morality has on voting behavior. Age, but not race, acts as a moderating variable on the effect that candidate intelligence has on voting behavior. This study contributes to the field by identifying variables that might be predictive of youths’ voting behavior in future elections. Additionally, this study adds to the body of motivating factors for voter turnout theory more broadly.