Information and Wasted Votes: A Study of U.S. Primary Elections

30 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2015

See all articles by Andrew Hall

Andrew Hall

Stanford University

James M. Snyder

Harvard University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: August 10, 2015


We study whether information leads voters and donors to “waste” fewer votes and donations on candidates who do not finish in first or second place. Examining U.S. primary elections featuring more than two candidates, we compare voting and contribution behavior across offices with varying levels of information. We find that voters and donors are more likely to support the top two candidates, and less likely to waste votes or donations on lesser candidates, when information levels are higher. In addition, we find that donors consistently act more “strategically” — i.e., waste fewer donations on lesser candidates — than voters. To supplement these analyses, we isolate the causal effect of information by leveraging adjacent U.S. counties that differ in their access to politically relevant information from the media. We again find that information helps voters avoid wasting votes on candidates who are unlikely to win. The results are relevant for understanding the behavior of voters and contributors, for understanding the role of information in elections, and for the evaluation of policies likes runoff primaries designed to facilitate strategic voting outcomes.

Suggested Citation

Hall, Andrew and Snyder, James M., Information and Wasted Votes: A Study of U.S. Primary Elections (August 10, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Andrew Hall (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

James M. Snyder

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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