The Elaboration Likelihood Model
When deciding who to vote for, there are two routes to persuasion that voters can use (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). The first is the central route, which involves effortful, careful consideration of arguments, and leads to attitude change that is long-lasting, strong, and resistant to counter-arguments. The central route can be implemented by having strong messages with clear, persuasive policies. Alternatively, the peripheral route uses cues unrelated to the message, which leads to weaker attitude change, but can be manipulated in order to gain more votes. Below are two ways in which the peripheral route can be used by candidates to influence students to vote for them:
First, in order to win votes, a candidate has to be liked, and according to Cialdini (2007), there are many ways to get people to like us.
1. Physical attractiveness - this causes a halo effect, whereby a physically attractive person is considered to have other positive characteristics. Banducci, Karp, Thrasher and Rallings (2008) displayed photos of each candidate on an election ballot and found that participants attributed qualities of successful politicians to attractive candidates, leading to them acquiring more votes. So candidates should make sure they look their best when campaigning!
2. Similarity - we like people who are similar to us, and this is something that can easily be faked. Silvia (2005) found that messages from someone similar can even overcome resistance to a situation that threatens our personal freedom. Candidates could appeal to students that are similar to themselves by targetting their coursemates, or members of societies they are also part of.
3. Compliments - even if we know we are being manipulated, we tend to like those who praise and take interest in us, and it even doesn't even have to be accurate to work. In his book "How to Win Friends and Influence People", Carnegie (1936) suggested six ways to get people to like you by making them feel good:
These are techniques the candidates could consider when taking part in discussion with students on campus.
4. Contact and cooperation - according to Zajonc's (1968) mere exposure effect, we like things that are familiar to us. Participants were asked to rate the goodness of the meaning of Chinese characters, and they preferred those which they had previously seen more often. This is a tactic that has definitely been implemented in this year's elections - you can't miss the posters on campus!
5. Conditioning and association - people have an automatic tendency to perceive things as connected to one another. An example of this is the Luncheon Technique (Razran, 1938), whereby voters are swayed over a meal. The favourable feeling that comes as a normal reaction while eating food is transferred onto the rest of the experience, including the people around them. Although candidates can't exactly invite the student population to lunch, they could associate themselves with good feelings by positioning themselves outside the bread over, or simply campaigning when it is sunny!
A second way to influence voters is to create an in-group. In an experiment by Mackie, Worth and Asuncion (1990), participants read a strong or weak persuasive message written by either an in-group or out-group member. When the message was attributed to an in-group member, the strong message was more persuasive than the weak one, but no difference was found when it was attributed to an out-group member. The effect was even stronger when the message was relevant to the in-group, and this led to privately accepted attitude change. Therefore, we are more likely to be persuaded by someone we consider part of our in-group, especially when the message is strong and relevant.
An easy way to create an in-group is through the use of social media. This year, candidates have created Facebook groups, hashtags, cover photos, and even Snapchat filters, and everyone that uses them can become part of a group of supporters.
Social media is also effective because your support is visible to all of your friends. This links to two more routes to persuasion, and the first is consistency. By stating that you support a candidate and will vote for them, you are making a commitment that you will be likely to be consistent with when you actually go to vote. According to Cialdini, commitment is particularly effective as a persuasion technique when it is public, because consistency is a desirable personality trait and we want others to see us as a consistent person. Deutsch and Gerard (1955) had some students commit to a decision publicly; some privately; and some not at all, and found those that publicly announced their opinion were most likely to stick with it. The second principle is social proof, which is that we see a behaviour as correct to the degree to which we see others doing it. When you see everyone else changing their profile pictures to support who they want to be SU president, you are more likely to do so yourself.
Routes to persuasion
There are many factors which influence which route individuals will take. If a voter is invested and motivated to seek out information about the election, they are more likely to use the central route, whereas if their involvement is low, persuasion comes from the peripheral route (Wood & Herbst, 2007). However, educated individuals are more likely to take the peripheral route, as Glass (1985) found that personal attributes had a larger effect on their voting choices than for less educated people, although this doesn't mean that they don't consider policies any less. Glass suggested that this was because candidates are free to change their policy positions, but personality is a stable attribute and allows quick, effortless judgements to be made.
Banducci, S. A., Karp, J. A., Thrasher, M., & Rallings, C. (2008). Ballot photographs as cues in low-information elections. Political psychology, 29(6), 903-917.
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Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9(2), 1-27.