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Ben Blankenship




From Apathy to Action:
Using Psychology to Energize the Student Vote

Ben T. Blankenship
Assistant Professor of Psychology, James Madison University

Although youth turnout has approached historic highs in recent elections, this cannot be taken for granted. Even in 2020, which had high turnout, only around 50% of youth voted (compared to two-thirds of the vote-eligible population). We, as psychologists, have an important role to play in turning out the student vote. Below I share some psychology-based strategies that I have tried to implement in my classes, research team, and service-based groups. I hope these can serve as a starting point for an ongoing conversation, as we prepare for the 2024 election.    

Establishing Norms

As psychologists, we understand the power of social norms for affecting behavior. To build an environment where voting is seen as a strong social norm, I have tried many strategies in the various contexts where I engage with students. For instance, I have started including the voter registration deadlines, National Voter Registration Day, and election dates in my syllabus schedule and lab schedule, signaling that planning for and thinking about elections is a norm in these spaces. I also regularly use voting as a way to make collective decisions in these spaces (e.g. “Should we have the quiz before or after class?”), signaling that democratic norms are valued in these spaces.     

Promoting a “Voter” Identity

Building a positive identity as a “voter,” rather than simply promoting the act of voting, can increase the likelihood of actual voting behavior. In spaces where I interact with students, I have encouraged this by subtly adapting my language to say things like “make sure to be a voter next week,” when I bring up reminders in class, rather “remember to vote next week.” I also do this when encouraging voting on class-related, as discussed previously (“Please let me know your preference, voters!”).

Addressing Pluralistic Ignorance

Students may be less likely to vote if they think their peers are not excited about voting. To teach about pluralistic ignorance in class, I had my students answer two questions in a survey: “How excited do you think your friends in class are about voting in the upcoming election?” and “How excited are you about voting in the upcoming election?” I showed the difference between the ratings in class (self-ratings were higher than ratings of others), to show that their peers are actually more excited about the election than previously thought.

Building Voter Self-Efficacy

To build voter self-efficacy among students, it is crucial to provide them with both the knowledge and the tools to navigate the voting process confidently. In my lab I often have students create concept/reference maps in, with a central research question and branches to answers/sources from the literature. To help them get familiar with this software, I have incoming Fall lab students create a similar map, with the central question of “What steps do students need to take to vote for the first time in college?” This small practice research project helps students to build awareness and self-efficacy around voting, while also learning a new software that they will regularly use in lab.

Sharing Resources and Continuing the Conversation

In addition to trying these tips, I encourage you to utilize and share the resources provided by The Campus Vote Project, All In, Students Learn Students Vote Coalition, and Tufts Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement with students and others. Please also join the conversation by sharing your ideas, success stories, and cautionary tales for promoting voting among students, by replying to this X thread or by using “#SPSSIForwardVote” on X.  


Ben T. Blankenship, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA. His research examines the effects of social identity dimensionality, and related psychological constructs, on socio-political engagement. 

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