How to persuade people to cast a ballot

Hint: Shaming isn’t the answer.


Our children aren’t getting the world they deserve.  

Because generations of adults have failed to cope with
global climate change, our kids will inherit a world of more intense droughts,
heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods. (Check out this NASA webpage for details.)

Millions of kids are growing up with a major source of toxic
stress: Poverty, near-poverty, food insecurity (Koball and Jiang 2018). Even
middle-class families are teetering on the edge (Suh et al 2018).

And in the last few years, Americans have watched as their elected
officials rejected science, condoned racism, and forcibly separated immigrant families,
inflicting needless anguish and trauma on young children.

They’ve seen
politicians fight to end the Affordable Care Act, without taking steps to
provide an alternative health care plan for the millions of Americans who would
lose coverage.

They’ve watched while political leaders served the interests of
wealthy donors, while ignoring the needs of families who are
struggling to survive.

Where are we now? In the wake of the medical and economic crises
of 2020? estimates that approximately 1 in 4  children in the United States will experience food insecurity In 2020. (For more information, download their
October 2020 PDF document, “The impact of the Coronavirus on food
insecurity in 2020″

There’s more. Much more going wrong. And our children
can’t do anything about it. They can’t even vote. But we can.

So we need to vote, and we need to encourage our sympathetic
friends and neighbors to vote.

I’m talking about the people who care, but who are reluctant to cast
a ballot. Maybe they hate politics. Maybe they feel too angry, depressed, or
hopeless to vote. Maybe they don’t want to vote if, for them, it means voting
for the lesser of two evils.

To persuade the reluctant, we need to be understanding and considerate. Shaming
tactics can backfire. People don’t like to be scolded, admonished about “doing their duty,” or shamed. It tends to make them
feel less cooperative, not more cooperative. And we desperately need to come

As novelist and Crash Course founder John Green so aptly put it (in a recent YouTube post):

“We are not going to “us versus them” our way
out of COVID, climate change, or anything else.”

We can solve our problems only by showing respect and
compassion for each other. By keeping a cool head. Acknowledging facts.
Promoting critical thinking. Supporting science and innovation.

So how do we successfully convince our reluctant fellow
citizens to vote?

Every individual is different. There isn’t any one formula that will work on everyone. But certain basic principles of psychology apply.

People are most likely to open their minds when we listen to them, and show empathy and understanding. So if we ask them what their concerns are, and help connect these concerns with choices on the ballot, we are making a good start.

The important thing is to avoid telling them what they must do. Instead, tell them about the positive social buzz, about how you and others are banding together to vote on the values that your reluctant voter shares.

And if your relucant voter is convinced his or her vote won’t make a difference?

Research supports the idea people are more likely to vote when they perceive that an election is close, with a slight advantage for the side they support (Klohr and Winter 2006). On the face of it, that might not sound terribly useful. Whether or not an election is close isn’t something we can control for the purpose of motivating the reluctant voter.

Except for one thing: There’s more on the ballot than any one race. It’s not just an election for the next President, or for the next congressional representative you send to Washington D.C.. The election also determines many state and local races, and there’s a good chance that at least one of them will be determined by a small number of votes.

Some of these races may address issues important to your reluctant voter. And many of them are crucially important for our children’s future. It might be about getting money out of politics. Or putting an end to partisan gerrymandering. It might be about getting local schools the resources they need to function safely. Or reducing the risk of wildfires or floods in your local community. Find those “down ballot” items that appeal your reluctant voter, and highlight them. 

And if your reluctant voter doesn’t perceive any race to be close enough to bother with? There are other motivations. Cook offers this approach — an argument that he says persuaded him to
become a voter:

“You don’t vote? Well, I do, and let me tell you why.
There are lots of people in this country who are way more impacted by politics
than I am: kids born into poverty, people with disabilities or chronic
illnesses, people fleeing domestic violence, and so on. I want better things
for those people. And how can I say that I support them if I won’t pull over
for 10 minutes on my way to work and vote in their interest? How can I look
them in the eye if I won’t give them that much?”

To be fair, Mr. Cook wrote these words a couple of years ago — at at time when voting was much easier for many people. And some people face bigger barriers than others. They may need help making a physical plan to vote. Finding their polling place or official drop box. Getting safe transportation.

But the general sentiment still sounds promising to me. Read his article for more insights about the reluctant voter.

Finally, check out this guide from It includes
common objections that people raise to voting, and what you can say — without
being coercive or annoying — to help change minds.

Where should you go to cast your ballot?

Voters in the United States can get help at


Klor EF and Winter E. 2006. On public opinion polls and voter’s turn out.  Available at SSRN: or

Koball H and Jiang Y. 2018. Basic Facts about Low-Income
Children: Children under 18 years, 2016. National Center for Children in
Poverty. Accessed 11/1/2020 at:

Suh J, Clark J, and Hays J. 2018. Basic Economic Security in
the United States: How Much Income Do Working Adults Need in Each State? Institute
of Women’s Policy Research. Accessed 11/1/2020 at:

image credit: Chinnapong / istock

Copyright © 2006-2020 by Gwen Dewar, Ph.D.; all rights reserved.

For educational purposes only. If you suspect you have a medical problem, please see a physician.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *