Turnout as a Habit
John H. Aldrich
Jacob M. Montgomery
Published online: 30 December 2010
Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010
Abstract It is conventional to speak of voting as ‘‘habitual.’’ But what does this
mean? In psychology, habits are cognitive associations between repeated responses
and stable features of the performance context. Thus, ‘‘turnout habit’’ is best
measured by an index of repeated behavior and a consistent performance setting.
Once habit associations form, the response can be cued even in the absence of
supporting beliefs and motivations. Therefore, variables that form part of the
standard cognitive-based accounts of turnout should be more weakly related to
turnout among those with a strong habit. We draw evidence from a large array of
ANES surveys to test these hypotheses and ﬁnd strong support.
Keywords Habit Á Voter turnout Á Automaticity
Turnout to vote is one of the fundamental acts of democratic politics. As such, there
has been a huge literature seeking to understand it—and a great deal has been learned.
Even though a wide panoply of factors are, as hypothesized, related to turnout, those
that are also related to candidate choice are almost invariably more strongly related to
vote choice than to the decision to turnout. For example, Campbell et al. found that the
Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article
(doi:10.1007/s11109-010-9148-3) contains supplementary material,
which is available to authorized users.
J. H. Aldrich Á J. M. Montgomery (&)
Department of Political Science, Duke University, 326 Perkins Library,
Box 90204, Durham, NC 27708-0204, USA
Department of Psychology, University of Southern California,
Los Angeles, CA 90089, USA
Polit Behav (2011) 33:535–563