The people who vote

Inside the Mind of a Voter: A New Approach to Electoral Psychology (Princeton University Press) by Michael Bruter and Sarah Harrison, reviewed by Dominic Jones.

Although I question the assertion that voting ‘might constitute a turning point in the evolution of mankind’, thanks to this book I now appreciate the importance of election day in modern human society. As a relative newbie to the process of voting, this book opened my eyes to a world beyond the typical voting experience. In future, I will be paying more attention to my own emotions and experience of voting. ‘Inside the Mind of a Voter’ explores novel themes in political psychology, focusing on the people who vote rather than the institutions they vote for, which the authors claim has been neglected in political research.

The authors present the social and psychological issues which have guided important recent elections and votes, including Brexit and the 2015 US election, but the mechanisms behind these populist votes are not explored in an engaging manner. A useful model portrays electoral experience, behaviour and resolution as three complex interrelated variables impacting voter engagement.

The book explores the voting process and psychology of voters from six different countries. The psychology is underpinned by classical psychological theories including Atkinson and Shiffrin’s model of memory, the big five personality traits and Freud’s Ego, however these appear shoehorned into describing the model. Other ideas which the authors base their model on include The Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins. 

Psychological differences with regards to postal voting are explored – pertinent due to Covid-19 increasing the desire to vote remotely. Identity is also discussed, including the roles voters adopt as ‘supporters’ or ‘referees’ of the process. Convincing evidence is drawn from implicit measures, qualitative analysis, scientific experiments and real time voter feedback. 

This was an interesting read, but unfortunately hard to follow. It rests on one model of explanation for the way people engage with the voting process. Reading the narrative accounts by real people make it more personal and break up the often repetitive, dry scientific analysis. There is a focus on the psychological differences which underpin voting, however a focus on the similarities which unite voters would be a welcome change in the fractious political society we currently live in.

-       Reviewed by Dominic Jones MBPsS, Education Mental Health Practitioner

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