Do Nonpartisan Ballots Racialize Candidate Evaluations? Evidence from 'Who Said What?' Experiments
46 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2013 Last revised: 5 Jan 2017
Date Written: January 4, 2017
At last count, U.S. voters were responsible for directly electing more than 510,000 public officials. Few of these contests feature lively campaigns or attract substantial media attention, often leaving the average voter to make decisions with limited information. We argue that the cognitive strategies voters use to make decisions in these low-information contests depend in part on the design of their ballots — in particular, the presence or absence of partisan labels. Using two “Who Said What?” experiments, we show that voters engage in social categorization — and do so on the basis of race and ethnicity when candidates differ in their demographic background. We also find, however, that the availability of party labels shapes the degree to which voters categorize candidates based on their race and ethnicity. A central implication of our results is that efforts to increase minority representation should look beyond electoral institutions — such as district versus at-large elections — to the structure of the ballot itself.
Keywords: race, voting, who said what, nonpartisan elections
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