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Voter Turnout & Network Effects


Voter turnout surged ahead during Tuesday’s congressional midterm elections, especially among young Americans. Voter registrations and other data show an enormous increase in early turnout of voters from the age 18 – 29 in comparison with the last midterm elections in 2014. This is especially apparent with young Democratic voters. Such behavior can be regarded in terms of network effects and how this increase in voter turnout may be a result of imitation among individuals in the population, especially for the younger demographic.

There are two fundamentally different reasons why individuals imitate the behaviors of others. These decisions can be based on informational effects or direct-benefit effects, or occasionally even both. Informational effects can be defined as copying the behavior of others because you believe it conveys information about what these people know. This follows under the assumption that other people might have private information that influences them to decide or behave in a certain way, where as you do not have access to this information for your own decision. This could potentially be applied to the circumstance of increased voter turnout, where young democratic voters may see many other democrats voting and assume information from this. This information might be that the democratic candidate has strong potential and good stances, or it could be that democratic turnout is important during this election. In either case, this would have an influence on the young democratic demographic to vote for the election.

The other fundamental influence is direct-benefit effects, otherwise known as network effects. This term describes how, for certain types of decisions, you incur an explicit benefit when you align your behavior with the behavior of others. This effect is likely more influential in this situation compared to informational effects. In terms of voter turnout, you as a voter gain more if the voter turnout of your party increases. In other words, if the expected democratic voter turnout was very small, few democrats would actually go out to vote because they would believe there vote would have no impact since it would be likely another party would win; however, if the expected voter turnout was very high, more democrats would go vote because they believe that it is more likely their party candidate could win. This is likely even more so for young voters since they are more expressive about the importance of voting and trying to increase voter turnout. In this way, as young voters encourage others to vote and expect a high voter turnout, these expectations are met with reality, similar to the self-fulfilling prophecy.


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