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[Opinion] Psychology of Voting

Posted October. 27, 2002 23:25,   


Why voters suddenly grow interested in a certain candidate? Likewise, why they turn their eyes against who seems to be everyone’s favorite out of sudden, swayed by social-psychological factors? Ahead of the presidential elections set for later this year, we have already seen some capricious voter sentiment. And now wonder what caused such change of attitude, as we are put in a situation where people vote for a second best unable to find out the one they want.

▷We call an act of choosing a candidate for the person’s vision or policy stance `prospective voting.` When we choose one based on the incumbent’s track records, it is called `retrospective voting.` Ronald Reagan was be able to become the president of the United States in 1980 because of Americans` growing dissatisfaction with the Cater administration rather than his vision and policy. In the June 13 local elections, voters cast their ballots against the Kim government tainted with corruption scandals instead of voting for candidates with visions and policies.

▷Voters pick up the latest public sentiment from media reports that influences their decision to some great extent. The candidate who catches the media spotlight, therefore, is bound to become the strongest as voters have a tendency to choose the one who is most likely to win. On the contrary, there is what we call `projection` psychology that drives people to stick to their decision regardless of prevailing public sentiment. In this case, voters tend to believe that the candidate they have in mind take the same stance on certain issues as they do, not knowing what his or her position is in fact. This projection sometimes turns to self-justified prediction.

▷Voters do much calculation before making up their mind – to what extent their votes will have influence on the final result and what they will get in return. They create a balance sheet about costs vs. returns. Then, sometimes they reach a conclusion that it is better for them to stay home. An election, as random and disorderly it may seem, is a result of rational thinking and strategic acts of voting. There is no vote without a reason. The social-psychological mechanism lies behind every vote.

Gang Mi-eun, Guest Editorial Writer

Media Information Professor at Sookmyung Women’s University, mkang@sookmyung.ac.kr