The Effect of Sample Ballots on Voting Behavior
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
HAWMAN, J. L. (2000). The Effect of Sample Ballots on Voting Behavior. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 3. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved October 18, 2017 .

The Effect of Sample Ballots on Voting Behavior
JANICE L. HAWMAN
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
ABSTRACT
In the 1996 national election, voter participation in the U.S. had dropped to 49%. Researchers attribute this to feelings of low political efficacy, lack of information about candidates and issues, and lengthy and confusing ballots. These can, in turn, contribute to rolloff, a condition in which voters skip items on the ballot. This study was conducted to see whether having access to a sample ballot prior to election day would increase voter confidence and encourage voter participation, resulting in higher rates of voter turnout and lower rates of rolloff. Participants in this study included l64 students from two Introductory and two Intermediate Psychology classes at Missouri Western State College, an average-sized public college in Buchanan County in northwest Missouri. Prior to the November 7 election, two classes received sample ballots and two classes did not. Following the election, all four classes completed follow-up surveys. Two independent t tests were calculated, one to determine voter turnout and one to determine rolloff. Results indicated that receiving a sample ballot did not significantly increase the likelihood that they would vote, nor did it significantly decrease rolloff. However, several factors may have contributed to these insignificant results, including the highly unrepresentative sample, the limited pool of voters from which to calculate rolloff, and the fact that two classes received extra credit for voting. In spite of these insignificant results, however, this study resulted in several findings of interest, including the inaccessibility of sample ballots for the voting-age population.

INTRODUCTION
Political participation in the United States reflects low levels of voting when compared to other democracies (Teixeira, 1992). Between 1980 and 1989 in Western Europe, the average turnout ranged from 94 percent in Belgium to 70 percent in France, but during that same period in the U.S., the average turnout was only 53 percent. These figures were based on the voting-age populations in these countries. In the 1996 United States national election, the participation rate had fallen to 49% (Euchner & Maltese, 1997).Why this low rate of voter participation? Several researchers (Abramson, Aldrich, & Rohde, 1991; Renshon,1974; Steel, Pierce, & Lovrich, 1998) believe that voters need to have a feeling of political efficacy, or competence, and that this feeling of effectiveness will make their participation more likely. According to Renshon, there is extensive empirical evidence that supports a link between feelings of political efficacy and political participation. When people feel politically competent, they are more likely to participate in the political process (Almond & Verba, 1963). Also, citizens who feel competent are likely to be the more satisfied and loyal citizens, and they are more likely to encourage others to participate in the political process. But, in the words of Abramson et al., “Those who feel overwhelmed by the political process may withdraw from political activity” (p. 104).What can be done to increase citizens’ sense of competence in the political arena? There is a crucial relationship between political efficacy and access to political information (Bennett, 1997). At a time when political issues are becoming increasingly complex and technical, access to this information is important and essential to democracy (Pierce, Steger, Steel, & Lovrich, 1992, as cited in Steel et al., 1998). Lack of information contributes to rolloff, a condition where each election year millions of Americans leave part of their ballots blank (Wattenberg, McAllister, & Salvanto, 2000). These voters have been portrayed at times as less educated, or members of minority groups. But Wattenberg et al. found that, regardless of education or ethnicity, voters skip certain items on the ballot because they don’t have enough information on which to base a decision. Many people who vote for the presidency skip voting for lesser offices and less-publicized propositions because of this lack of information. The effect this has on the democratic process is enormous. In a close contest, even 5% of voters not voting on a particular item represents a potential swing vote. And in 1996, twelve states had referenda or initiatives on the ballot where the rolloff rate exceeded 20%. This results in elections that are not representative of the people. American voters are asked to make more decisions when they go to the polls than almost any other democracy in the world. In the future, this trend will continue as citizens are asked to vote on even more specific issues.Another factor that contributes to rolloff is the type of ballot that voters are asked to use. Some can be lengthy and confusing (Bowler, Donovan, & Happ, 1992). Voters cope with these ballots by not voting on some of the propositions, especially those further down the ballot. Or, if voters don’t have enough information on the propositions, they may opt to play it safe and keep the status quo by voting “no” on every proposition. They may see this “known” as better than an unknown future. Also, election items on the back of the ballot are easy to miss, or they may be considered unimportant because of their location (Darcy & Schneider, 1989). The organization of the ballot should aid the voter in making his choices on officials and propositions. But many times, ballots are organized primarily to save money and be conveniently administered.This study was conducted to see whether having access to a sample ballot prior to election day will increase voter confidence and encourage voter participation, resulting in higher rates of voter turnout and lower rates of rolloff. A sample ballot is one way voters can be alerted to the candidates and propositions on which they might not have adequate information. If there are candidates or propositions on which voters may need additional information, they have time to gather the information they need to make an informed decision. Knowing beforehand how the ballot is arranged, and the procedure to follow, may increase a potential voter’s confidence level going into the booth. Some voters may not want to be seen as taking longer than others in the voting booth and may skip some items and rush through the ballot, resulting in rolloff. Even when sample ballots are printed in newspapers prior to elections, some are printed in the classified sections or other areas of low visibility. Many people miss seeing these sample ballots and are denied access to this valuable tool. Making sample ballots more visibly accessible to voters prior to an election may encourage higher rates of voter turnout and lower rates of rolloff, resulting in a more representative democracy.


METHOD

PARTICIPANTS
Participants in this study included 164 students from two Introductory and two Intermediate Psychology classes conducted at Missouri Western State College, an average-sized public college in Buchanan County in northwestern Missouri. This college has a large percentage of nontraditional students enrolled, indicating that a significant number of the students have a history of choosing to vote or not vote in elections. Students received extra credit for participating.

MATERIALS
Surveys and sample election ballots for Buchanan County were distributed to two of the classes prior to the November 7 election day. The other classes received surveys only. Following the election, each class completed follow-up surveys.

PROCEDURE
One week prior to the November 7 election, sample election ballots for Buchanan County (see Appendix A) and surveys (see Appendix B) were distributed to two of the classes. At that time, the students completed and returned the surveys and kept the sample ballots. The other classes completed and returned the same surveys (see Appendix B). Shortly after the November 7 election, classes that received the sample ballots completed and returned the survey attached as Appendix C. The classes that did not receive a sample ballot completed and returned the survey attached as Appendix D.


RESULTS
An independent t test was calculated comparing the number of subjects who were registered to vote in Buchanan County and who received sample ballots and voted, to the number of subjects who were registered to vote in Buchanan County and who did not receive sample ballots and voted. No significant difference was found (t (33) = .298, p > .05). Eighty-seven percent of the subjects who received a sample ballot voted. Ninety percent of subjects who did not receive a sample ballot voted. Receiving a sample ballot did not significantly increase the likelihood that they would vote. An independent t test was calculated comparing the number of subjects who received sample ballots and voted in Buchanan County and did not complete all the items on the official ballot (rolloff), to the number of subjects who did not receive sample ballots and voted in Buchanan County and did not complete all the items on the official ballot (rolloff). No significant difference was found (t (29) = .323, p > .05). Receiving a sample ballot did not significantly decrease rolloff. Thirty-eight percent of subjects who received a sample ballot did not complete all the items on the official ballot. Forty-four percent of subjects who did not receive a sample ballot did not complete all the items on the official ballot. Although results did not approach significance, the percentage of subjects who had rolloff was 6% less among those who received a sample ballot.Whether or not they received a sample ballot, 60% of all participants, all of whom were voting age, voted in the November 7 election. This is well above the 49% participation rate of the voting-age population in the 1996 U.S. national election.An independent samples t test was calculated comparing the number of students who were in class both days of the experiment and voted, to the number of students who were in class only one day of the experiment and voted. Results (t (121) = 1.438, p = .076) approached significance. Of those students in class both days, 63% voted. Of those students in class only one day, 44% voted. These figures suggest that students who tend to come to class are more likely to vote.An independent samples t test was calculated comparing students who voted and were less than 22 years old, to students who voted and were 22 years and older. Students less than 22 years old would not have been eligible to vote in the previous presidential election. Results (t (121) = -1.482, p = .07) approached significance. Of those students less than 22 years old, 57% voted. Of those students aged 22 years and older, 75% voted. A Pearson correlation coefficient was calculated for the relationship between students who had voted previously and students who voted in the November 7 election. A weak positive correlation was found (r (121) = .298, p < .01), indicating a significant linear relationship between the two variables. Students who had voted previously were more likely to vote now. These last two calculations suggest that efforts expended in encouraging people to vote the first time may result in their being more likely to participate in subsequent elections.


DISCUSSION
The original hypothesis was not supported by the data. However, several factors may have contributed to these insignificant results. For example, the anticipated large percentage of nontraditional students enrolled at Missouri Western was not reflected in the classes participating in this study; the average age was 21 years. Therefore, this sample was highly unrepresentative of the voting-age population. Only 34% of the participants were registered to vote in Buchanan County, so the pool of voters from which to check rolloff was significantly limited. Also, the instructor of two of the classes gave his students extra credit for voting. The extra credit may have caused an increase in voting in both his classes irrespective of any effect of the sample ballots.Although this study had insignificant results, several findings are of interest. In addition to those reported in the preceding section is the following finding regarding accessibility of sample ballots. To be of use, sample ballots must be easily accessible to the voting public. Many areas of the country attempt to do this by publishing sample ballots in the local newspaper, oftentimes in the Sunday edition just prior to an election. Some areas publish these ballots in special pull-out sections of the newspaper, while others publish them in the classified section, where special government rates apply. Results of this study indicate that only 44% of the participants read the Sunday edition of the newspaper, while only 26% read the Sunday classified section. Fifty-one percent of the participants seldom read any newspaper, while 55% seldom read any edition’s classified section. These figures suggest that this avenue for reaching the voting-age population falls short of its intended purpose. Even though, as previously mentioned, the sample of college students for this study is unrepresentative of the voting-age population in general, it is, nevertheless, part of that population, and sample ballots published in newspapers are not reaching them.At a time in our nation’s history when the importance of every vote is given new meaning, efforts should be made to ensure that every citizen who desires to vote is not encumbered by low feelings of political competence, lack of information, or by confusing ballots. If studying sample ballots prior to an election is a way to reduce this encumbrance, then these ballots should be readily accessible to the voting-age public. Since this study indicates that newspapers are inadequate for this purpose, then a better way needs to be devised, perhaps by direct mailings to every home, an avenue used by candidates running for office.It is believed that if this study is replicated with a sample that is more representative of the voting-age population in this country, significant results will be achieved. If such a study contributes to the adoption of practices that encourage higher rates of voter turnout and lower rates of rolloff, resulting in a more representative democracy, then the effort will have been worthwhile.


REFERENCES
Abramson, P. R., Aldrich, J. H., & Rohde, D. W. (1991). Change and continuity in the 1988 elections. Washington, D.C: Congressional Quarterly, Inc.Almond, G. A., & Verba, S. (1963). The civic culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Bennett, S. E. (1997). Knowledge of politics and sense of subjective political competence. American Politics Quarterly, 25, 230-241.Bowler, S., Donovan, T., & Happ, T. (1992). Ballot propositions and information costs: Direct democracy and the fatigued voter. The Western Political Quarterly, 45, 559-568.Darcy, R., & Schneider, A. (1989). Confusing ballots, roll-off, and the black vote. Western Political Quarterly, 42, 347-364.Euchner, C., & Maltese, J. A. (1997). Selecting the President. Washington, D.C: Congressional Quarterly Inc.Renshon, S. A. (1974). Psychological needs and political behavior. New York: The Free Press.Steel, B. S., Pierce, J. C., & Lovrich, N. P. (1998). Public information campaigns and “at-risk” voters. Political Communication, 15, 117-133.Teixeira, R. A. (1992). The disappearing American voter. Washington, D.C: The Brookings Institution.Wattenberg, M. P., McAllister, I., & Salvanto, A. (2000). How voting is like taking an SAT test. American Politics Quarterly, 28, 234-251.


Appendix A1


Appendix A2


Appendix A3


APPENDIX B

1. Are you registered to vote in Buchanan County, Missouri?

Yes ______ No ______

2. How many elections – local, state, and national – do you participate in?

All _____ Almost All ______ Half ______ Few ______ Never ______

3. If you read your local newspaper, how often do you do so?

Daily ______ Sundays Only ______ Seldom ______ Never ______

4. If you read the newspaper, do you look at the classified section?

Daily ______ Sundays Only ______ Seldom ______ Never ______

5. If you have voted in the past, were there items on the ballot that you did not know would be on the ballot? Yes ______ No ______ Not Applicable ______

6. If you have voted in the past, did you skip some items on the ballot because you lacked information about those candidates or issues?

Yes ______ No ______ Not Applicable ______

7. If you had a sample ballot prior to election day so you could be aware of all the candidates and issues, would you feel more confident when you go to the polls to vote?

Yes ______ No ______ 8. If you have never participated in an election, would having access to a sample ballot encourage you to participate?

Yes ______ No ______ Not Applicable ______

Age ______ Male ______ Female ______


APPENDIX C
1. Are you registered to vote in Buchanan County, Missouri?

Yes ______ No ______ 2. Did you participate in this survey last week and receive a sample ballot?

Yes ______ No ______

3. Did you vote in Tuesday’s election?

Yes ______ No ______

4. Had you ever voted in an election before then?

Yes ______ No ______

5. If you voted Tuesday, do you think that having access to the sample ballot encouraged you to vote?

Yes ______ No ______ Not Applicable ______

6. If you voted Tuesday, did you skip some items on Tuesday’s ballot because you did not have enough information about the candidates or issues?

Yes ______ No ______ Not Applicable ______

7. If you voted Tuesday, were there items on the ballot you did not know would be on it? Yes ______ No ______ Not Applicable ______

Age ______ Male ______ Female ______


APPENDIX D
1. Are you registered to vote in Buchanan County, Missouri?

Yes ______ No _______

2. Did you participate in this survey last week and complete a questionnaire?

Yes ______ No _______

3. Did you vote in Tuesday’s election?

Yes ______ No _______

4. Had you voted in an election before then?

Yes ______ No _______

5. If you voted Tuesday, were there items on the ballot you did not know would be on it?

Yes ______ No _______ Not Applicable ______

6. If you voted Tuesday, did you skip some items on Tuesday’s ballot because you did not have enough information about the candidates or issues?

Yes ______ No _______ Not Applicable ______

7. If you had access to a sample ballot prior to election day, would you have skipped these items?

Yes ______ No _______ Not Applicable ______

8. For those who did not vote, if you had had access to a sample ballot prior to election day, would you have voted?

Yes ______ No _______ Not Applicable ______

Age ______ Male ______ Female ______

Submitted 11/27/00 10:44:11 PM
Last Edited 11/28/00 1:20:22 PM
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