Site Offers Profs Methods To Increase Student Voter Turnout

This story was written by Nehal Patel,


To get young voters to the polls, two Columbia University professors launched a grassroots effort called Teachers4Turnout that urges professors across the nation to talk to their students about voting.

The founders, business professor Eric Johnson and Elke Weber, a psychology and international business professor, based the initiative on research that shows that asking individuals in a certain manner to vote will influence them to do so. Johnson and Weber created a script, available at www.teachers4turnout.org, that professors can use as a guideline for questioning students about their plans to vote.

Young people have the most to gain or lose from the elections, but they have the lowest turnout at the polls, Johnson said. Most want to vote, but they find reasons not to. The script makes them think about implementation of voting, which studies have shown makes people more likely to actually vote.

The questions in the script apply two ideas from social science. The first, sometimes called the mere-measurement effect, shows that asking questions about socially desirable behaviors can increase how often people act on those behaviors.

The second, measuring behavioral intentions, indicates that when people make explicit plans to take an action, they are more likely to follow through on those plans. Studies that have applied these two ideas to voting behavior have shown that they can increase turnout, according to the Teachers4Turnout Web site.

The ideas behind Teachers4Turnout are consistent with research done over the past 20 years, but we cant tell for sure how effective it will be, said University of Texas psychology professor James Pennebaker. If you encourage people to behave a certain way, they will. Anything that encourages socially responsible behavior is a good idea.

Some students agree that professors urging their students to vote is a good idea.

It encourages us to participate in what the rest of the nation is doing, said electrical engineering junior Sameep Shah. Were the future, and this election directly affects us.

More than 155 faculty members who teach more than 12,000 students at universities across the nation, such as Princeton University, New York University, Duke University and the University of California at Los Angeles, have signed up on the Web site since its Oct. 17 launch. The founders are pleased with the response, Johnson said.

Personally, having a professor telling me to vote wouldnt influence my decision, but they should still mention it to classes because it might influence others to vote, business freshman John Aquino said.

The initiative is nonpartisan and does not push specific candidates, Johnson said. There is no specific marketing target, and advertising relies on word of mouth. Professors who sign up are encouraged to inform fellow faculty members about the Web site.
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