Election 2014

How Voting Is Like Social Sharing


Over at The Washington Post, Greg Sargent notes that Democrats have a frequent turnout problem in midterm elections, and it doesn't appear to be going away. Despite having sunk tons of cash and effort into boosting turnout amongst core consituencies, it looks likely that the party's midterm turnout problem is going to continue this year. Here's Sargent: 

What stands out is how intractable this problem appears. Democrats have thrown everything they have at solving it — emphasizing a slate economic and cultural issues designed to give women, minorities, and young voters a reason to care about who controls the Senate — but the GOP edge is either the same or even more pronounced than it was in polling last spring.

Democrats have long known this problem would bedevil them through Election Day, which is why they invested $60 million in the Bannock Street Project to mobilize voters who sat out 2010.

But when the Obamacare web site crashed last fall, and predictions of a Dem bloodbath were everywhere, it became apparent to Democrats that voter mobilization would be even more crucial to holding the Senate than previously thought. Bad news about the President's signature domestic achievement, combined with a sluggish recovery and continuing Washington gridlock, risked depressing core voter enthusiasm in truly debilitating ways, particularly given the red-state tilt of the Senate map. 

Obviously part of this is just the structure of the midterm map. But what this makes me wonder is if voter turnout is somewhat like social sharing. As anyone who logs into Facebook with any frequency knows, people like to share things that either make them very happy or very excited or very upset. So your Facebook feed is probably filled with cute puppies, news about the new Avengers movie, and various local and national outrages.

What you see less of, though, are things that make people glum and depressed. People are less likely to share, say, news about disappointing movie casting (unless, of course, this news also makes them very angry). 

The research tends to back up the anecdata here. In a 2011 study for the Journal of Marketing Research, two marketing researchers from the Wharton School looked at what makes content go viral and found that "content that evokes high-arousal positive (awe) or negative (anger or anxiety) emotions is more viral. Content that evokes low-arousal, or deactivating, emotions (e.g., sadness) is less viral."

I suspect there's a similar tendency when it comes to voting. People will turn out when they are excited, as many were by Obama's first presidential campaign, or when they are outraged and upset, as a lot of Republicans are now. And in this election, Democrats are depressed (or disinterested), and Republicans are angry, and that gives Republicans an advantage. 

NEXT: Robert Sarvis Says Vote Libertarian to Stop the Next 'Bipartisan' Disaster

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  1. “I think you ought to know I’m feeling very depressed.”

  2. Peter should know by now that dems only care about electing the ruler, and not about anything associated with a “republic.”

  3. I suspect there’s a similar tendency when it comes to voting. People will turn out when they are excited, as many were by Obama’s first presidential campaign, or when they are outraged and upset, as a lot of Republicans are now

    No, I think it has much more to do with social signaling. Voting for Obama was something symbolic that hardcore Dems and TEAM BLUE devotees had to do. It was historic, it was social signaling, it was collective. They got themselves to the ballot booth, because they were going to vote for HOPE and CHANGE and the first black president. But there is no symbolic person to vote for in the midterms; no country-wide candidate that can bring the TEAM together. And so they are far less motivated to go vote.

    TEAM BLUE is all about words and intentions, not actions. If there’s no special situation for them with all the right words being spoken by the right person, why would they take the action of voting?

      1. You have just reminded me why I have a policy of not following youtube links from H&R.

    1. True, but there is a symbolic party for them to vote for, one that supports the symbolic candidate. It’s just that Obama and Team Blue aren’t looking very attractive these days, for a score of reasons. There’s little social signaling benefit in “I support the president and his party despite the sucky economy, the rise of ISIS, and the fact that he doesn’t seem very interested in protecting us from Ebola.”

      1. I wasn’t aware presidents could “protect us from Ebola”.

        My entire point was that there is little social signaling benefit in voting in this election. You just agreed with me 100%.

        1. Warty’s platform is anti-ebola. Vote Warty 2014!

          1. Warty Hugeman: Let’s dickslap Ebola in ’14!

        2. Why are you surprised I am largely agreeing with you? I often do. I was just pointing out that there is social signaling in Team identification, even when it doesn’t involve a presidential election.

          And yes, presidents can do things (or not) to protect us from Ebola. I wasn’t aware that it was even a controversial point.

  4. Interesting piece, Mr. Suderman. I imagine that many Democrats are depressed. No doubt some are angry at Republicans for “obstructing” and “sabotaging” the Lightworker, but I suspect most are sane enough to know that Obama has simply screwed up a lot and let them down.

    Obama’s tin-eared politicking of late has really been a wonder to behold. And I’m amazed at how the national mood has turned so strongly against Democrats. I’d say it’s at least as bad as the run-up to ’94, and that was one heck of a blowout. Democrats are now scrambling to protect seats they thought were safe a few months ago, and Democratic candidates are fleeing from Obama. Ah, schadenfreude!

    1. but I suspect most are sane enough to know that Obama has simply screwed up a lot and let them down.

      The eternal optimist.

      1. Cleveland Browns fans empathize

  5. In case anyone is here who was around last night for my discussion of Andean human sacrifice/cannibalism and possible connections to Great Lakes area cannibalism I finally managed to upload a photo of the wending-like figurine from Peru.
    Here it is;


    1. Damn spellcheck.


      1. I didn’t even know “wending” was a word.

        1. “Now I’m wending my waaaaayyy back to youuuuu, babe….”


    2. Nice. Any idea how old is is?

      1. *IT* is

      2. It is about 12 in tall and hollow but with no air holes. I am still puzzled as to how it was made.

        It is a modern make but made with the same materials and methods by exactly the same people as any of the artifacts. I have a number of items like that and they are essentially indistinguishable from the old stuff. The condition is the only tell.

        1. A quick Google indicates that if the clay is porous enough, it can be fired in a hollow shape without vent holes without exploding in the kiln. Or perhaps there is a small vent hole you have missed, or which was plugged afterwards in some way.

    3. I wasn’t around for the discussion, but that looks more like bestiality than cannibalism.

      1. No, the bestiality ones are different. Dogs, Llamas, chicks…full orgies etc.

        The dude in the mask is sitting on the other figure who is hog-tied and cutting the throat with a pizza-paddle shaped knife. Subsequently the knife was used like a cleaver to first open the chest and then butcher the body.

        1. Any with Tony the Tiger?

  6. Here you go:


    Democrat activist solving the turnout problem.

    More detail:


    1. I am also concerned about Colorado, which looks like a vote fraud festival in the making.

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