When Does Ballot Language Influence Voter Choices? Evidence from a Survey Experiment
Craig M. Burnett
Ohio State University (OSU) - Department of Political Science
December 16, 2013
APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper; Forthcoming at Political Communication
Under what conditions can political elites influence elections to favor their preferred policy outcomes by strategically crafting the language printed on the ballot? Drawing on psychological and political theories of voter cognition, we design a survey experiment to assess the degree to which ballot text can influence voter behavior in direct democracy elections and identify factors that may moderate such effects. We show that the language used to describe a ballot measure does indeed have the potential to affect election outcomes, including measures dealing with contentious social issues affecting individual rights. We also find, however, that exposing individuals to basic campaign information — in our case, endorsements from prominent interest groups — greatly attenuates the framing effects of ballot text. Our results suggest that the extent to which ballot text matters depends on the vibrancy of the campaign environment and other information available to voters.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 36
Keywords: Direct democracy, framing, initiatives, referenda, ballot wording, Proposition 8, campaigns, election law
Date posted: July 19, 2010 ; Last revised: July 22, 2014
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