Fear of death may factor into who we vote for

December 21, 2005

Authors of a study published in the latest issue of Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy believe that voting behavior should be the result of rational choice based on an informed understanding of the issues. But using research based on the 2004 presidential election, they found that people may vote with their hearts, rather than their heads. Their findings demonstrated that registered voters in a psychologically benign state of mind preferred Senator Kerry to President Bush, but Bush was more popular than Kerry after voters received a subtle reminder of death. Citing an Osama bin Laden tape that surfaced a few days before the election, among other factors, the authors state, "the present study adds convergent support to the idea that George W. Bush's victory in the 2004 presidential election was facilitated by Americans' nonconscious concerns about death..." The authors believe that people were scared into voting for Bush.

More than 130 registered voters participated in the study. Split into two groups, the first group was asked to write down a description of their emotions regarding the thought of their own death and, as specifically as possible, write down what will physically happen when they die and after they are dead. The second group responded to parallel questions regarding watching television. Within the first group 32 responded that they would vote for Bush and 14 opted for Kerry. In the second group, the decision was reversed as 34 selected Kerry and 8 selected Bush. "The best antidote to this problem may be to monitor and take pains to resist any efforts by candidates to capitalize on fear-mongering," they conclude.
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This study is published in the 2005 issue of Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article please contact journalnews@bos.blackwellpublishing.net.

Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy is an outlet for timely and innovative psychological and related social science scholarship with implications for social action and policy. It is published on behalf of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.

Florette Cohen is a graduate student in the Social Psychology program at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. Her research examines political preference as a worldview defense mechanism within the mortality salience paradigm. Ms. Cohen is available for media questions and interviews.

Daniel Ogilvie is a professor of Psychology at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. Sheldon Solomon is a professor of Psychology at Skidmore College. Jeff Greenberg is professor of Psychology at the University of Arizona. Tom Pyszczynski is professor of Psychology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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