The Psychology of Voting: The Behind the Scenes of Voting from Picking a Movie to Bad Smells

As the elections took in the US, Denmark, and Israel the process of voting is yet again in our daily news, making people check their Twitter frequently. Voting starts from the playground days when we are choosing who should hide or seek to when we are. While voting is a necessity for the duty of what is called “citizenship”, it can be simplified as a process of decision making which is a long-discussed phenomenon in both psychology and other sciences. While voting, you are influenced by many factors, many of which you are not aware and of course, psychology has a say in this.


Jon A. Krosnick, a political science and psychology professor at Ohio State University, compares choosing a president to choosing a movie. He sorts people into three categories according to who they would be friends with in the case of choosing a movie:

  1. Someone who shares your taste in movies but doesn’t read movie reviews and knows nothing about which movies are in the theaters.

  2. Someone who reads lots of movie reviews but doesn’t like all the things you like

  3. someone who once picked out a movie for you to see that you liked

This translates into “would you choose someone who shares your preferences, has a certain level of proven expertise or has a small track record of success in the past?” Should you choose someone who agrees with you the most or should you choose someone who has objectively predicted to be the most successful? The primary distinction lies here. If you follow the road that leads to choosing the side with which you align the most, you are embracing the principles of what is called “representative democracy”; and if you choose the representative who is the most successful, you are embracing “guardianship democracy”. Representative democracy can be defined as a form of government consisting of citizens who elect their leaders to represent their wishes and have their opinions shared in an organized government.” And, guardianship democracy can be defined as a more “secure” approach to the governmental leading process. At the end of the day, it has been observed that citizens approach politicians the same way we approach other people and issues, like choosing a movie or a group partner for a project. Thus, it is possible to say that the issues are never the indicator factor here but personality is.


Of course, the election comes with a huge campaign that includes advertisements, interviews, rallies, etc. with the purpose of being relevant and seen to the public eye frequently referring to the very common socio-psychological phenomenon “mere-exposure effect” which is basically “the finding that individuals show an increased preference (or liking) for a stimulus as a consequence of repeated exposure to that stimulus” (APA). However, Krosnick puts forward a different approach by saying that what voters have with the politicians is a love or hate-at-first-sight relationship and the campaigns don’t actually have an effect in gaining votes. They solely make the supporters’ bond stronger and push the non-supporters more and more away. Krosnick supports this idea in his words: “Candidates tend to save their money so they can have the biggest blitzes of advertising at the end of the campaign, right before people vote, on the assumption that people will have forgotten everything they heard earlier. Our results show that if you can spend the same dollar making a first impression on people, that will have more impact on their ultimate behavior than throwing in something at the last minute.” Because people tend to have a “negativity bias” which is a tendency to preferentially remember negative information which leads to negative emotions dominating the decision-making process.


These were the most socio-psychological factors and aspects that are involved in the process of deciding what and who to vote for but there are of course other rather small but effective factors that may even sound bizarre, such as the height and attractiveness of the representative. However, we can’t say that these are the most unusual ones when “scent” and “bad smell” are used for guiding us, voters. By using bad smells and triggering the emotion “disgust” Yoel Inbar, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto found that making people feel disgusted, made the people temporarily more likely to avoid certain minority groups, such as homosexual men. A US politician took this to another level by infusing campaign brochures with the smell of garbage, aiming to trigger conservative feelings.


The procedure of what we call “voting” is everything from the moment that leads up to when you are standing in front of the poll wishing the best for your homeland. We approach voting from different perspectives and are under influence of many different factors that we may be shocked when we learn them. At the end of the day, these are not the most effective indicator factors in the voting process however being mindful of them would make us better citizens.



Works Cited:

Dye, Lee. "The Psychology of Voting." ABC NEWS, abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=119958&page=1. Accessed 11 Nov. 2022.

"mere-exposure effect." American Psychological Association, dictionary.apa.org/mere-exposure-effect.

"The Psychology of Voting." American National Election Studies, electionstudies.org/papers-documents/conference-papers/the-psychology-of-voting-and-election-campaigns/the-psychology-of-voting-and-election-campaigns-about-the-psychology-of-voting/. Accessed 10 Nov. 2022.

Vaish, Amrisha. "Not all emotions are created equal: The negativity bias in social-emotional development." National Library of Medicine, 13 May 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3652533/. Accessed 11 Nov. 2022.

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