Why do we see such varied outcomes in the undemocratic efforts to suppress voters? Conventional wisdom suggests that the levers leading to increases or decreases in participation are mostly about costs and barriers to participation. Simply put, voters engage when the costs of doing so are lower than the costs of abstaining. I argue that the relationship between costs and participation is more complicated. When an electoral rule is manipulated to suppress votes, it is non-linearly associated with participation primarily because the individual’s decision to participate or not rests on an emotional reaction to learning about how institutional manipulation effects them specifically.
I illustrate how people experience institutional manipulation differently. When suppression specifically targets a voter, those who perceive this as a threat experience increased levels of anger. Furthermore, those who experience more anger are more likely to electorally engage, even when their participation is undercut by electoral suppression. In certain chapters of my dissertation, I examine emotional reactions to gerrymandering. First, I look at how distorted district lines affect voters' emotions based on party id. When Democrats are told that Republican leaders are underweighting their collective vote, they experience much higher levels of anger. In a follow-up study, I randomize political (dis)advantage and find, in general, that when people are politically disadvantaged, regardless of partisanship, they experience more anger and are more likely to participate in institutions that are designed to suppress them.
My research holds new implications for how we view the effects of institutional manipulation and electoral suppression. When strategic leaders set out to suppress an electorate, they oftentimes assume that increased costs will suppress participation. However the effects behaviorally on individual voters tell a much more nuanced story. We must also consider the role that psychology plays in understanding public reactions to electoral manipulation and suppression. Specifically among targeted groups: increasing anger should lead to a similar increase in engagement that could potentially dilute the power of some forms of electoral suppression.