From the Secret Ballot to the Public Vote: Examining Voters’ Experience of Political Discussion in Vote-by-Mail Elections
Political Communication, Vol. 33, Pp. 39–58, 2015
21 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2016
Date Written: March 15, 2016
Considerable research on political discussion has focused on identifying its antecedents and outcomes. The rise of voting by mail provides an opportunity to examine the subject in a new context — one in which voters discuss their views and electoral choices with others while filling out their ballots. We explored the possibility that conventional predictors of political engagement would predict who partakes in such discussions. Past research also suggested that those voters most likely to report changing their minds as a result of discussion would perceive their discussants as holding contrary views and higher levels of political sophistication. We further hypothesized that less politically engaged voters would seek out discussants they rated as more knowledgeable than themselves, whereas the more politically sophisticated voters would seek out like-minded discussants. Past research also suggested that the least partisan voters would be those most likely to report disagreement in their absentee discussions. To test these hypotheses, we analyzed telephone survey data from two elections conducted in Washington State. Results showed that the factors that predict traditional forms of political participation and discussion do not explain who engages in discussion during vote-by-mail elections. We also found that independent voters were more likely to talk with ideologically divergent discussants, whereas less knowledgeable citizens sought discussants who knew more about politics than they did. Many voters reported that these discussions shaped their vote choices, with the highest rates of perceived influence coming from those who viewed their discussion partners as more knowledgeable and more ideologically divergent.
Keywords: political discussion, political conversation, civic engagement, political knowledge
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