Is There a Secret Ballot? Ballot Secrecy Perceptions and their Implications for Voting Behavior

47 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 15 Oct 2009

See all articles by Alan Gerber

Alan Gerber

Yale University - Department of Political Science; Yale University - Cowles Foundation

Gregory Huber

Yale University - Department of Political Science

David Doherty

Yale University

Conor Dowling

Yale University

Date Written: 2009

Abstract

A secret ballot is implemented to free voters to choose candidates without fear of economic or social repercussions, but the extent to which the secrecy achieves this goal depends on whether people believe their choices are kept secret, rather than whether they actually are. Findings from a nationally representative sample show that large proportions of the U.S. population have doubts about the secrecy of the ballot. Approximately 25% of all respondents and approximately half of non-White and less educated respondents do not believe their ballot choices are kept secret. Even larger proportions (almost 70%) report regularly, voluntarily sharing their vote choices with others. In sum, we find that few people view their vote choices as truly secret. We also show that beliefs about ballot secrecy help predict which candidate a citizen votes for and whether a voter turns out. Our results suggest that, despite the formal secrecy of the ballot, citizens' vote choices should be analyzed as something other than purely private acts.

Suggested Citation

Gerber, Alan and Huber, Gregory and Doherty, David and Dowling, Conor, Is There a Secret Ballot? Ballot Secrecy Perceptions and their Implications for Voting Behavior (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1451254

Alan Gerber

Yale University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Box 208269
New Haven, DC 06520-8269
United States
203-432-5232 (Phone)

Yale University - Cowles Foundation

Box 208281
New Haven, CT 06520-8281
United States

Gregory Huber

Yale University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Box 208269
New Haven, DC 06520-8269
United States

David Doherty

Yale University ( email )

New Haven, CT 06520
United States

Conor Dowling (Contact Author)

Yale University ( email )

New Haven, CT 06520
United States

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