Low-Information Voting: Evidence from Instant-Runoff Elections

Forthcoming in American Politics Research

36 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2018

See all articles by R. Michael Alvarez

R. Michael Alvarez

California Institute of Technology

Thad E. Hall


Ines Levin

University of California, Irvine

Date Written: January 24, 2018


How do voters make decisions in low-information contests? Although some research has looked at low-information voter decision-making, scant research has focused on data from actual ballots cast in low-information elections. We focus on three 2008 Pierce County (Washington) Instant-Runoff Voting (IRV) elections. Using individual-level ballot image data, we evaluate the structure of individual rankings for specific contests to determine whether partisan cues underlying partisan rankings are correlated with choices made in nonpartisan races. This is the first time that individual-level data from real elections has been used to evaluate the role of partisan cues in nonpartisan races. We find that, in partisan contests, voters make avid use of partisan cues in constructing their preference rankings, rank-ordering candidates based on the correspondence between voters’ own partisan preferences and candidates’ reported partisan affiliation. However, in nonpartisan contests where candidates have no explicit partisan affiliation, voters rely on cues other than partisanship to develop complete candidate rankings.

Keywords: voting, low-information elections, instant-runoff voting, ranked voting, partisan cues, information shortcuts

Suggested Citation

Alvarez, R. Michael and Hall, Thad E. and Levin, Ines, Low-Information Voting: Evidence from Instant-Runoff Elections (January 24, 2018). Forthcoming in American Politics Research. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3152649 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3152649

R. Michael Alvarez

California Institute of Technology ( email )

Department of Humanities and Social Science M/C 228-77
Pasadena, CA 91125
United States
626-395-4422 (Phone)

Thad E. Hall

Independent ( email )

No Address Available

Ines Levin (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine ( email )

Campus Drive
Irvine, CA 62697-3125
United States

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