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The Motivational Basis of Straight and Split Ticket Voting

  • Angus Campbell (a1) and Warren E. Miller (a1)

The extraordinary discrepancy in the popular vote for President Eisenhower and the vote for Republican Congressmen in the 1956 election dramatized a privilege which the American electorate exercises almost uniquely in the democratic world, the right of voters to split their ballots between the candidates of opposing political parties.

The fact of ballot splitting in American elections is of course a commonplace but it has not been widely studied and it is not well understood. The aggregative statistics from the 1956 election make it apparent that millions of voters must have chosen President Eisenhower and a Democratic congressman but they do not tell us how many voters split their ballots in the opposite direction or how many voted for president but not for Congressman, and they give us only the vaguest indications of what was in the voters' minds when they crossed party lines in marking their ballots.

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1 The study from which these data are drawn is being carried out under a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. A full report of the study will become available at a later date. Statements of the sample design and sampling errors and copies of the questionnaires may be obtained from the Survey Research Center upon request.

2 At the time this analysis was undertaken we had in hand an unpublished manuscript entitled “The Split-Ticket Voter in 1952,” written by Professor Daniel M. Ogden, Jr., of the Department of Political Science of Washington State College, and based on data collected by the Survey Research Center in its 1952 study. We wish to acknowledge Professor Ogden's generosity in making this manuscript available to us.

3 See Campbell, A., Gurin, G., and Miller, W. E., The Voter Decides (Evanston: Row, Peterson & Co., 1954).

4 Because the voting patterns in the North and the South differ so profoundly the subsequent analysis in this article considers only the Northern portion of the sample. The restricted size of the Southern sample precludes a parallel presentation of those data. Tables II through VII include those voters who either did not vote a complete ticket or did not give us full information about their vote. For a discussion of uncompleted ballots, based on aggregative election data, see Key, V. O., Politics, Parties and Pressure Groups, 3rd ed. (New York, 1952), pp. 654–57.

5 The Book of The States, 1954–55, ed. Smothers, Frank (Chicago: Council of State Governments, 1954). Ballot Forms Table, page 82.

6 We may also note that the single choice type of ticket appeared to hold Democratic identifiers more securely to their presidential nominee than did the multiple choice ballot. In the single choice states, 91 per cent of the “strong” Democrats voted for Stevenson, nine per cent for Eisenhower; in the multiple choice Btates, the percentages were 86 and 14. “Weak” Democrats gave Stevenson 70 per cent of their votes in the single choice states, 30 per cent to Eisenhower, and in the multiple choice states, 64 and 36 per cent. The votes of Republican identifiers in the two types of states did not differ.

7 This finding is not changed when the voters of single choice and multiple choice states are compared. There is more straight ticket voting in the single choice states but those voters who “cared a great deal” whether or not they voted were more likely to vote a straight ticket than those who did not in both groups of states.

8 Miller, Warren E., “Presidential Coattails: A Study in Political Myth and Methodology,” Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 19 (Winter 19551956), pp. 353–68.

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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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