An Experimental Test for "Backlash" Against Social Pressure Techniques Used to Mobilize Voters

Richard E. Matland, Gregg R. Murray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


This research explores the possibility of psychological reactance, or "backlash," against political candidates who use social pressure to mobilize voters. There is a compelling theoretical argument and solid empirical evidence suggesting social pressure substantially increases voter turnout. There is, however, equally noteworthy evidence suggesting social pressure frequently stimulates a negative reaction in targets. This research uses a lab-in-the-field experimental design that employs a hypothetical social pressure message to evaluate whether a candidate's use of social pressure to turnout voters may increase anger and hostility toward that candidate, possibly to the point it increases the likelihood a citizen will actually vote against that candidate. Our findings indicate social pressure mobilization techniques evoke consequential psychological reactance against their sponsor. Until future research can further assess these effects, we suggest social pressure mobilization techniques should be used by campaigns only after careful consideration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)359-386
Number of pages28
JournalAmerican Politics Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • backlash
  • campaigns
  • elections
  • experiment
  • reactance
  • social pressure
  • voter mobilization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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