Using Psychological Theory to Predict Voting Intentions

It’s known that Republican voters usually vote for Republican candidates, and Democrats vote for Democrats. Likewise, people who identify with the Tea Party often vote for Tea Party-backed candidates. But why do they vote that way? What is the psychological basis of their political preferences?

A new study examining the underlying political beliefs of Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians, as well as those who identify with the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements, finds important differences in why they support their candidates.

“Using Psychological Theory to Predict Voting Intentions” is one of the first studies to apply the theory of reasoned action, a well-known cognitive model in social psychology, to voting behavior. The study, by researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC),  Annenberg School for Communication, and Perelman School of Medicine, all at the University of Pennsylvania, was published online in April in the Journal of Community Psychology.

“Voting is just like any other behavior,” said the article’s lead author, senior research analyst Michael Hennessy, Ph.D., of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. “This study looks at the underlying attitudinal and normative beliefs of people who support five different kinds of candidates.”

While Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians are drawn to inclusive political generalities, members of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movement adhere more strongly to specific policy prescriptions or beliefs that question well-accepted truths, the study found.

The study is based on an online survey from July through September 2012, in which 2,637 people people were questioned about three kinds of political beliefs – generalities, policy issues such as abortion and health care, and assertions about the “true reality” of otherwise well-understood events such as the 9/11 attacks. The study then linked these beliefs to the respondents’ intention to vote for five different presidential candidates.

The researchers found that Democrats and Republicans identify with political generalities such as “Big business serves the best interests of most Americans” (Republicans) or “The gap between rich and poor in the United States threatens democracy” (Democrats). Libertarians subscribe to different though similar platitudes, such as “America is better off with as few government programs as possible.”

To read more about the study, click here.