Are Ballot Titles Biased? Partisanship in California's Supervision of Direct Democracy
U.C. Irvine Law Review, Vol. 3, No. 3, pp. 511-549 (2013)
44 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2013 Last revised: 11 Dec 2019
Date Written: January 1, 2013
This study investigates whether and if so under what conditions the California Attorney General, who authors the ballot title and summary (“label”) for statewide ballot initiatives, writes ballot language that is biased rather than impartial. State law demands an impartial label, but commentators frequently complain that the AG chooses misleading language to bolster (undermine) measures that the AG or his/her party supports (opposes). Using a convenience sample of students from several universities, we measure ordinary observers’ perceptions of bias in ballot labels for initiatives dating back to 1974. Separately, we calculate an objective measure of bias using a readability algorithm. We then test hypotheses about AG strategy, examining whether the extent of bias in ballot labels varies with the closeness of the election and the degree to which the measure elicits partisan division. We also examine the correlation between bias perceptions and observer characteristics such as support for the ballot measure, trust in government, and social trust.
Keywords: direct democracy, ballot initiatives, referendum, ballot title, ballot label, partisan bias, partisan, election administration, readability
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