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When Does Ballot Language Influence Voter Choices? Evidence from a Survey Experiment

36 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 22 Jul 2014

Craig M. Burnett

Hofstra University

Vladimir Kogan

Ohio State University (OSU) - Department of Political Science

Date Written: December 16, 2013

Abstract

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.

Keywords: Direct democracy, framing, initiatives, referenda, ballot wording, Proposition 8, campaigns, election law

Suggested Citation

Burnett, Craig M. and Kogan, Vladimir, When Does Ballot Language Influence Voter Choices? Evidence from a Survey Experiment (December 16, 2013). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper; Forthcoming at Political Communication. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1643448

Craig M. Burnett (Contact Author)

Hofstra University ( email )

Hempstead, NY 11549
United States

HOME PAGE: http://people.hofstra.edu/craig_burnett

Vladimir Kogan

Ohio State University (OSU) - Department of Political Science ( email )

Columbus, OH 43210
United States

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