Do Perceptions of Ballot Secrecy Influence Turnout? Results from a Field Experiment

40 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2011 Last revised: 20 Dec 2011

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

Loyola University of Chicago

Conor Dowling

Yale University

Seth J Hill

Yale University - Institution for Social and Policy Studies

Date Written: December 2011

Abstract

Although the secret ballot has long been secured as a legal matter in the United States, formal secrecy protections are not equivalent to convincing citizens that they may vote privately and without fear of reprisal. We present survey evidence that those who have not previously voted are particularly likely to voice doubts about the secrecy of the voting process. We then report results from a field experiment where we provided registered voters with information about ballot secrecy protections prior to the 2010 general election. We find that these letters increased turnout for registered citizens without records of previous turnout, but did not appear to influence the behavior of citizens who had previously voted. These results suggest that although the secret ballot is a long-standing institution in the United States, providing basic information about ballot secrecy can affect the decision to participate to an important degree.

Suggested Citation

Gerber, Alan and Huber, Gregory and Doherty, David and Dowling, Conor and Hill, Seth J, Do Perceptions of Ballot Secrecy Influence Turnout? Results from a Field Experiment (December 2011). NBER Working Paper No. w17673. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1973884

Alan Gerber (Contact Author)

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

Loyola University of Chicago ( email )

25 East Pearson Street
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Conor Dowling

Yale University ( email )

New Haven, CT 06520
United States

Seth J Hill

Yale University - Institution for Social and Policy Studies ( email )

89 Trumbull Street
New Haven, CT 06515
United States

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