Social Influences on Policy Preferences: Conformity and Reactance

By Meirav Furth-Matzkin & Cass R. Sunstein. Full text here.

Social norms have been used to nudge people toward specified outcomes in various domains. But can people be nudged to support, or to reject, proposed government policies? How do people’s views change when they learn that the majority approves of a particular policy, or that the majority opposes it? To answer these questions, we conducted a series of experiments. We find that in important contexts, learning about the majority’s opinion causes a significant shift toward support for, or opposition to, particular policies. At the same time, we find that when people’s views are fixed and firm, they are unlikely to conform to the majority’s view and that they might even show reactance. We show this pattern of results with respect to people’s support for, or opposition to, governmental policies in a wide range of substantive areas—and also to the use of paternalistic tools, such as nudges or bans.