Skip to main content

Does threatening their franchise make registered voters more likely to participate? Evidence from an aborted voter purge

  • Daniel R. Biggers (a1) and Daniel A. Smith (a2)

Prior research predicts that election administration changes that increase voting costs should decrease participation, but it fails to consider that some interpret those changes as attacking their franchise. Drawing on psychological reactance theory, this study tests whether such perceived attacks might instead activate those citizens. It leverages the State of Florida’s multi-stage effort in 2012 to purge suspected non-citizens from its voter rolls, comparing the voting rates of suspected non-citizens whose registration was and was not formally challenged by the state. Within-registrant difference-in-difference and matching analyses estimate a positive, significant participatory effect of being challenged, particularly for Hispanics (the vast majority of the sample). Placebo tests show that those challenged were no more likely than those not challenged to vote in previous elections.

Corresponding author
*Corresponding author. Email:
Hide All
Albarracin, D, Cohen, JB Kumkale, GT (2003) When communications collide with recipients’ actions: effects of post-message behavior on intentions to follow the message recommendation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 29, 834845.
Alvarez, RM, Bailey, D Katz, J (2010) An empirical Bayes approach to estimating ordinal treatment effects. Political Analysis 19, 2031.
Amos, B, Smith, DA Ste. Claire, C (2017) Reprecincting and voting behavior. Political Behavior 39, 133156.
Ansolabehere, S Hersh, E (2014) Voter registration: the process and quality of lists. In Burden BC and Stewart C, (eds) The Measure of American Elections. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 6190.
Barreto, M, Nuño, S Sanchez, G (2007) Voter ID requirements and the disenfranchisements of Latino, black and Asian voters. Paper Presented at the American Association of Political Science, Annual Conference, Chicago, IL, 30 August–2 September.
Barreto, M, Nuño, S Sanchez, G (2009) The disproportionate impact of voter-id requirements on the electorate—new evidence from Indiana. PS: Political Science and Politics 42, 111116.
Barrett, D (2015) Brexit: Block Non-UK Citizens from Voting in EU Referendum, Says New Report. The Telegraph, 22 October.
Bensley, LS Wu, R (1991) The role of psychological reactance in drinking following alcohol prevention messages. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 21, 11111124.
Berinsky, AJ (2005) The perverse consequences of electoral reform in the United States. American Politics Research 33, 471491.
Biggers, DR (2014) Can the Backlash Against Voter ID Laws Mobilize Low-Propensity Voters? A Field Experiment Examining Voter Mobilization Through Psychological Reactance. Paper Presented at 2014 the American Political Science Association Annual Conference, Washington, DC, 28–31 August.
Biggers, DR. Smith, DA. (2018) “Replication Data for: Does Threatening their Franchise Make Registered Voters More Likely to Participate? Evidence from an Aborted Voter Purge”,, Harvard Dataverse, V1.
Blais, A (2000) To Vote or Not to Vote. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Brady, HE McNulty, JE (2011) Turning out to vote: the costs of finding and getting to the polling place. American Political Science Review 105, 115134.
Brehm, JW (1966) A Theory of Psychological Reactance. New York: Academic Press.
Brehm, SS Brehm, JW (1981) Psychological Reactance. New York: Academic Press.
Brown, R (2012) Florida halts its search for violations of voter law. New York Times, 9 June.
Burden, BC, Canon, DT, Mayer, KR Moynihan, DP (2014) Election laws, mobilization, and turnout: the unanticipated consequences of election reform. American Journal of Political Science 58, 95109.
Burgoon, M et al. (2002) Revisiting the theory of psychological reactance: communicating threats to attitudinal freedom. In Dillard JP and Pfau M, (eds) The Persuasion Handbook: Developments in Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, pp. 213232.
Bushman, BJ (1998) Effects of warning and information labels on consumption of full-fat, reduced-fat, and no-fat products. Journal of Applied Psychology 83, 97101.
Campbell, A (2003) Participatory reactions to policy threats: senior citizens and the defense of Social Security and Medicare. Political Behavior 25, 2949.
Card, D Krueger, A (1994) Minimum wages and employment: a case study of the fast-food industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. American Economics Review 84, 772784.
Detzner, K (2012) Letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Available from 2012_Sec_Detzner_Letter_to_DHS_Sec_Napolitano.pdf, accessed 20 January 2018.
Gerber, AS, Green, DP Larimer, CW (2008) Social pressure and voter turnout: evidence from a large-scale field experiment. American Political Science Review 102, 3348.
Gerber, AS, Green, DP Larimer, CW (2010) An experiment testing the relative effectiveness of encouraging voter participation by inducing feelings of pride or shame. Political Behavior 32, 409422.
Giammo, JD Brox, BJ (2010) Reducing the costs of participation: are states getting a return on early voting? Political Research Quarterly 63, 295303.
Grandpre, J et al. (2003) Adolescent reactance and anti-smoking campaigns: a theoretical approach. Health Communication 15, 349366.
Green, DP Gerber, AS (2015) Get Out the Vote!, 3rd Edition, Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Grimmer, J et al. (2018) Obstacles to estimating voter ID laws’ effect on turnout. Journal of Politics.
Groenendyk, EW Banks, AJ (2014) Emotional rescue: how affect helps partisans overcome collective action problems. Political Psychology 35, 359378.
Gronke, P Miller, P (2012) Voting by mail and turnout in Oregon: revisiting Southwell and Burchett. American Politics Research 40, 976997.
Gruber, J (1994) The incidence of mandated maternity benefits. American Economic Review 84, 622641.
Hajnal, Z, Lajevardi, N Nielson, L (2017) Voter identification laws and the suppression of minority votes. Journal of Politics 79, 363379.
Hanmer, MJ (2009) Discount Voting. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hasen, RL (2012) The Voting Wars. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Haspel, M Moshe Knotts, HG (2005) Location, location, location: precinct placement and the costs of voting. Journal of Politics 67, 560573.
Hayduk, R (2006) Democracy for All. New York: Routledge.
Herron, MC Smith, DA (2014) Race, party, and the consequences of restricting early voting in Florida in the 2012 general election. Political Research Quarterly 67, 646665.
Herron, MC Smith, DA (2016) Race, Shelby County, and the voter information verification act in North Carolina. Florida State University Law Review 43, 465506.
Ho, DE et al. (2007) Matching as nonparametric processing for reducing model dependence in parametric causal inference. Political Analysis 15, 199236.
Hood, MV III Bullock, CS III (2008) Worth a thousand words? An analysis of Georgia’s voter identification statute. American Politics Research 36, 555579.
Iacus, SM, King, G Porro, G (2012) Causal inference without balance checking: coarsened exact matching. Political Analysis 20, 124.
Johnson, A (2016) Ohio’s process for removing voters from rolls is illegal, court rules. Columbus Dispatch, 23 September.
Keyssar, A (2009) The Right to Vote, Rev. Edition, New York: Basic Books.
Kimball, D, Kropf, M Battles, L (2006) Helping America vote? Election administration, partisanship, and provisional voting in the 2004 election. Election Law Journal 5, 447461.
Kousser, M (1974) The Shaping of Southern Politics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Laurin, K, Kay, AC Fitzsimons, GJ (2012) Reactance versus rationalization: divergent responses to policies that constrain freedom. Psychological Science 23, 205209.
Leighley, JE Nagler, J (2014) Who Votes Now?. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Mann, CB (2010) Is there backlash to social pressure? A large-scale field experiment on voter mobilization. Political Behavior 32, 387407.
Matland, RE Murray, GR (2012) An experimental test for ‘backlash’ against social pressure techniques used to mobilize voters. American Politics Research 41, 359386.
Marcus, GE, Neuman, WR MacKuen, N (2000) Affective Intelligence and Political Judgment. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
McDonald, MP Levitt, J (2008) Seeing double voting: an extension of the birthday problem. Election Law Journal 7, 111122.
Merivaki, T Smith, DA (2016) Casting and verifying provisional ballots in Florida. Social Science Quarterly 97, 729747.
Miller, JM Krosnick, JA (2004) Threat as a motivator of political activism: a field experiment. Political Psychology 25, 507523.
Minnite, LC (2010) The Myth of Voter Fraud. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Murray, GR Matland, RE (2014) Mobilization effects using mail: social pressure, descriptive norms, and timing. Political Research Quarterly 67, 304319.
Ponniah, K (2016) EU referendum: the non-Britons planning to vote. BBC News, 20 May.
Ringold, DJ (2002) Boomerang effects in response to public health interventions: some unintended consequences in the alcoholic beverage market. Journal of Consumer Policy 25, 2763.
Scher, RK (2011) The Politics of Disenfranchisement. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.
Sherman, A (2012) Move On Says Florida Election Supervisors Refuse to Participate in Noncitizen Voter Purge. PolitiFact Florida, 10 July. Available from election-supervisors-refuse-pa/, accessed 20 January 2018.
Stein, R Vonnahme, G (2008) Engaging the unengaged voter: vote centers and voter turnout. Journal of Politics 70, 487497.
Stewart, DW Martin, IM (1994) Intended and unintended consequences of warning messages: a review and synthesis of empirical research. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing 13, 119.
Stewart, G (2014) Databases, felons, and voting: bias and partisanship of the Florida felons list in the 2000 elections. Political Science Quarterly 119, 453475.
Swinford, S (2016) Voters may have to show ID to combat voter fraud in ‘vulnerable’ areas. The Telegraph, 27 December.
Tam Cho, WK, Gimpel, JG Wu, T (2006) Clarifying the role of SES in political participation: policy threat and Arab American mobilization. Journal of Politics 68, 977991.
Valentino, NA Neuner, FG (2017) Why the sky didn’t fall: mobilizing anger in reaction to voter ID laws. Political Psychology 38, 331350.
Valentino, NA et al. (2011) Election night’s alright for fighting: the role of emotions in political participation. Journal of Politics 73, 156170.
Wang, TA (2012) The Politics of Voter Suppression. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Wicklund, RA (1974) Freedom and Reactance. Potomac, MD: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Wolfinger, R Rosenstone, S (1980) Who Votes?. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Ziegler, R (2017) Voting Rights of Refugees. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-political-science
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Biggers and Smith Dataset

Supplementary materials

Biggers and Smith supplementary material
Appendices 1-5

 PDF (392 KB)
392 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed