When Does Ballot Language Influence Voter Choices? Evidence from a Survey Experiment
36 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 22 Jul 2014
Date Written: December 16, 2013
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
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