How Americans’ personal relationships affect their voting behavior

Eli McKown-DawsonSurvey Data Journalism Intern
November 08, 2022, 6:26 AM GMT+0

Every two years, tens of millions of Americans vote in congressional-election years. While the economy and inflation/prices rank highest on the list of issues likely voters will be thinking about when casting their ballot in this year’s election according to a recent Economist/YouGov Poll, the actions and opinions of their social network may also matter. To understand how Americans’ personal relationships interact with their voting behavior, YouGov asked 1,000 U.S. adult citizens nationwide about whether and how their friends and family vote in a recent survey.

The survey asked whether Americans thought their friends, family, and coworkers intended to vote in the 2022 congressional election and if they thought the people in their lives would judge them for not voting in a major election. It also assessed Americans’ willingness to share their decisions at the ballot box with others and whether they think they vote for candidates from the same political party as those in their social network. Among the findings: Voters are more likely to have voters as loved ones and to support the same candidates as their loved ones, and when they support different candidates most are willing to say so.

Relationships and turnout

Most U.S. adult citizens (55%) think that “all” or “most” of their immediate family members intend to vote in the 2022 election. That number is lower for extended family members (44%) and close friends (50%). These expectations differ significantly by voting history, with Americans who cast a ballot in the 2020 general election far more likely to believe that people in their social network intend to vote in 2022.

Among 2020 voters, 71% think all or most of their immediate family members intend to vote in 2022, and majorities say the same about extended family (54%) and close friends (64%). Conversely, only 20% of Americans who did not vote in 2020 think all or most of their immediate family intend to vote in 2022, and they have similar expectations for extended family (22%) and close friends (18%). Non-voters in 2020 are also more likely to say that “a few” or “none” of their close family members intend to vote in 2022 (23%) than 2020 voters are (10%).

Some of these differences are driven by much greater uncertainty among 2020 non-voters than 2020 voters. When asked about immediate family members, 26% said “not sure” and another 10% said “not applicable.” Conversely, only 5% of 2020 voters were unsure and 3% said “not applicable.” 2020 non-voters are also more uncertain than those who voted in 2020 about whether their close friends, extended family members, and coworkers  intend to vote.

We also asked whether Americans thought their friends and family would approve or disapprove of them not voting in an important election. Americans’ most common response was that their friends and family would not care either way (34%), followed by “somewhat disapprove” (22%) and “strongly disapprove” (16%). However, likely voters — including people who have already cast a ballot in the 2022 midterm election — are much more likely to think their friends and family would disapprove of their not voting than are people who are not likely voters.

Of likely voters, 48% said their friends and family would “strongly disapprove” or “somewhat disapprove” if they did not vote in a major election. However, only 19% of people who are not likely voters thought their friends and family would disapprove if they did not vote. These differences are primarily caused by the higher likelihood that people who are not likely voters would say their friends and family would not care either way (43%) or that they were unsure (28%).

Discussing vote choice

Americans are split on whether they discuss their vote choices with others: 35% of U.S. adult citizens say they tell their vote choice to at least one other person “always” or “most of the time” but 31% “rarely” or “never” do so. Democrats (44%) and Republicans (41%) are approximately equally likely to tell someone always or most of the time, but Independents (25%) are less likely to do so. Americans with a high school degree or less (25%) are less likely to tell someone always or most of the time than those who have attended some college (38%), graduated college without a postgraduate degree (43%), or received a postgraduate degree (47%).

Many Americans are never asked who they plan to vote for, which may explain why they do not mention their vote choice to someone else before or after an election. Only 22% of U.S. adult citizens say that someone asks who they plan to vote for “always” or “most of the time” while 40% said that this “rarely” or “never” occurs. The other 39% said they are asked “sometimes” or are not sure.

Most Americans who don't say they are never asked about their vote by friends and family do, however, share which candidate they plan to vote for when asked, with 55% doing so always or most of the time and only 22% rarely or never sharing. That only 35% of Americans mention their vote choice to at least one other person always or most of the time seems to be primarily driven by a lack of being asked, not an unwillingness to tell others.

Relationships and vote choice

Given the rise in partisan polarization, we might expect that Americans are more comfortable sharing their vote choices with other supporters of their preferred candidates. And a substantial number of Americans think that their friends and family members vote for candidates from the same political party as they do. Among people who sometimes vote, 40% said their spouse or partner votes for candidates of the same party “always” or “most of the time,” 46% said the same about immediate family members, and 41% did about their close friends.

Americans are slightly less confident that their extended family consistently votes for members of the same political party as they do (31%). Only 18% said the same for their coworkers. There are similar levels of uncertainty across all groups, with between 11% and 19% of Americans “not sure” how often members of that group support candidates from the same party they do. Americans were, however, more likely to say the question about their coworkers (30%) or spouse/partner (26%) did not apply to them.

However, even when they know that a close friend supports another candidate, most Americans (63%) are willing to share their vote choice. While some would change the subject (12%), very few (4%) would lie about their vote. Republicans (76%) are more likely to tell their friend their preferred candidate than Democrats (66%) and Independents (52%).

— Taylor Orth contributed to this article

This poll was conducted on October 27 - 31, 2022, among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.

Image: Getty (Jupiterimages)