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Voting With Your Wallet

Posted On  April 11, 2012

We often assume we are in control, that we are rational.  We say we have “made” a decision after looking at all of the “facts.”  With the US election just days away, it’s just about time to make the final decision.  Cases have been made, debates argued, stump speeches delivered, and babies have been kissed.   It’s time to cast ballots for leaders and laws.

Most people arrive at the polling place with a point of view about how they will vote. Sometimes (such as when they vote for the President), they do what is expected. But very often (such as when they vote for ballot questions), they enter the booth and cast their ballot in a way they didn’t anticipate at all. So much for the rational.

Research done by our colleague, psychology professor Dr. Abe Rutchick, shows that environmental cues can have a powerful impact on the final voting decision.  It turns out that people who cast their vote in a church vote differently on certain moral issues.  On the other hand, people who vote in their local middle school cafeteria are more likely to vote for school funding initiatives. They can’t explain their vote in exit interviews, because they aren’t able to tap into what swayed their vote.

People also vote every day – as consumers.  They vote with their attention, time, and dollars.

If we really want to understand consumers’ needs and the “whys” of what people buy, then we have to go beyond the rational and explicit.  We must know how everything, from packaging to displays and advertising, affects consumer behavior on both a conscious and non-conscious level.  To our clients we ask, “What priming effects might be present at your ballot box?”


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