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Members of the same household share similar voting behaviors on average, but how much of this correlation can be attributed to the behavior of the other person in the household? Disentangling and isolating the unique effects of peer behavior, selection processes, and congruent interests is a challenge for all studies of interpersonal influence. This study proposes and utilizes a carefully designed placebo-controlled experimental protocol to overcome this identification problem. During a face-to-face canvassing experiment targeting households with two registered voters, residents who answered the door were exposed to either a Get Out the Vote message (treatment) or a recycling pitch (placebo). The turnout of the person in the household not answering the door allows for contagion to be measured. Both experiments find that 60% of the propensity to vote is passed onto the other member of the household. This finding suggests a mechanism by which civic participation norms are adopted and couples grow more similar over time.

Author: David W. Nickerson, 2008