Is Voting Habit Forming? New Evidence from Experiments and Regression Discontinuities


  • The authors are grateful to Columbia University, which funded components of this research but bears no responsibility for the content of this report. This research was reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board of Columbia University (IRB-AAAM9102). We are grateful to Bradley Spahn for providing voter mobility data, to the secretaries of state and boards of elections from the 17 states whose voter history data are analyzed herewithin for providing a valuable public service, and to Peter Aronow, Lindsay Dolan, Winston Lin, participants in the Study of Development Strategies Seminar at Columbia University, and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. Replication code and data for all analyses are available at


Field experiments and regression discontinuity designs test whether voting is habit forming by examining whether a random shock to turnout in one election affects participation in subsequent elections. We contribute to this literature by offering a vast amount of new statistical evidence on the long-term consequences of random and quasi-random inducements to vote. The behavior of millions of voters confirms the persistence of voter turnout and calls attention to theoretically meaningful nuances in the development and expression of voting habits. We suggest that individuals become habituated to voting in particular types of elections. The degree of persistence appears to vary by electoral context and by the attributes of those who comply with an initial inducement to vote.