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Are Ballot Titles Biased? Partisanship in California's Supervision of Direct Democracy

U.C. Irvine Law Review, Vol. 3, 2013

UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 322

44 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2013  

Christopher S. Elmendorf

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Douglas M. Spencer

University of Connecticut, School of Law

Date Written: January 1, 2013

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Elmendorf, Christopher S. and Spencer, Douglas M., Are Ballot Titles Biased? Partisanship in California's Supervision of Direct Democracy (January 1, 2013). U.C. Irvine Law Review, Vol. 3, 2013; UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 322. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2213460

Christopher S. Elmendorf (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
Davis, CA CA 95616-5201
United States
530-752-5756 (Phone)
530-753-5311 (Fax)

Douglas M. Spencer

University of Connecticut, School of Law ( email )

65 Elizabeth Street
Hartford, CT 06105
United States

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