The Case of the Stolen Initiative: Were the Voters Framed?
Craig M. Burnett
University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Ohio State University (OSU) - Department of Political Science
June 15, 2012
APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper
Under what conditions can elected officials and powerful interest groups “steal the initiative” by shaping the wording of a ballot measure’s official title and summary to favor their preferred policy outcome? We explore this question using a survey experiment based on two actual measures that have appeared on the ballot in several states. We find that the language used to describe a ballot measure does indeed have the potential to influence outcomes in direct democracy elections, including measures dealing with contentious social issues. We also show, however, that the importance of these descriptions is greatly mediated by exposure to basic campaign information. Exposure to endorsements from prominent interest groups greatly attenuates the effect of a ballot measure’s description. Our results suggest that, in campaign environments where millions of dollars in advertising and direct appeals from political parties and other elites bombard voters, these descriptions are unlikely to dramatically shift voter sentiment, although the text printed on the ballot does have the potential to alter outcomes in particularly close elections.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 31
Keywords: Direct democracy, framing, initiatives, referenda, ballot wording, Proposition 8, campaigns, election lawworking papers series
Date posted: July 19, 2010 ; Last revised: September 7, 2012
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