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Is There a Secret Ballot? Ballot Secrecy Perceptions and Their Implications for Voting Behaviour

Abstract

Do people believe the votes they cast are truly secret? Novel items added to a nationally representative survey show that 25 per cent of respondents report not believing their ballot choices are kept secret and over 70 per cent report sharing their vote choices with others. These findings suggest that standard models of candidate choice should account for the potential effects of doubts about ballot secrecy. Consistent with this view, regression analysis shows that social forces appear to have a greater effect on vote choices among people who doubt the formal secrecy of the ballot. This analysis supports the broader claim that the intended benefits of institutional rules may not be realized if people's perceptions of these rules differ from their formal characteristics.

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Gerber and Huber at Department of Political Science and Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University; Doherty at Department of Political Science, Loyola University Chicago; Dowling at Department of Political Science, University of Mississippi (email: alan.gerber@yale.edu). This research was funded by Yale's Center for the Study of American Politics and Institution for Social and Policy Studies. Data and supporting materials necessary to reproduce the numerical results will be made available at http://huber.research.yale.edu/ upon publication. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2009 meeting of the American Political Science Association. We thank Kevin Arceneaux, John Bullock, Rachel Vanessa Cobb, Jamie Druckman, Susan Hyde, Gabriel Lenz, Neil Malhotra, Marc Meredith, Eric Patashnik, Eric Schickler, the anonymous referees and the Editor for feedback on earlier versions. An appendix containing additional information is available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S000712341200021X.

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18 In their study of what factors affect people's evaluations of their polling place experiences, Claassen, Magleby, Monson and Patterson, ‘“At Your Service”’, find that perceptions that one's voting experience was private are associated with positive evaluations of poll workers.

19 Downs Anthony, An Economic Theory of Democracy (New York: Harper & Row, 1957)

20 Riker William H. and Ordeshook Peter C., ‘A Theory of the Calculus of Voting’, American Political Science Review, 62 (1968), 2542

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21 Mulligan Casey B. and Hunter Charles G., ‘The Empirical Frequency of a Pivotal Vote’, Public Choice, 116 (2003), 3154

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22 Rusk, ‘The Effect of the Australian Ballot Reform on Split Ticket Voting’.

23 Riker and Ordeshook, ‘A Theory of the Calculus of Voting’, p. 27

24 Vavreck Lynn and Rivers Douglas, ‘The 2006 Cooperative Congressional Election Study’, Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, 18 (2008), 355366

25 In the CCES pre-election survey, we find that 56 per cent of respondents are ‘very much’ interested in politics and current events (variable = v245, ‘Level of interest in politics/current events’). In the ANES pre-election survey, the comparable figure is 52 per cent (variable = V0830001b, ‘How interested are you in information about what's going on in government and politics?’ = Extremely or Very interested). Among respondents who reported voting in 2008, 54 per cent of the two-party vote share went to Obama in our CCES data; in the ANES, the comparable proportion was 55 per cent. The demographic and political characteristics of the sample used in the analysis that follows are presented in online Appendix Table A1.

26 Fewer than 1 per cent of respondents failed to respond to any individual question. We restrict our analysis to the 804 participants who responded to each of the ballot secrecy items and who completed the post-election wave of the survey where the presidential vote choice question used in the analyses below was asked.

27 George H. Dunteman, Principal Components Analysis, Sage University Paper series on Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1989)

28 Milbrath Lester W. and Goel Madan Lal, Political Participation: How and Why Do People Get Involved in Politics (Chicago: Rand McNally College, 1977)

Verba Sidney, Schlozman Kay Lehman and Brady Henry, Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995)

29 See online Appendix Table A3 for cross-tabulations of each secrecy item with education and other demographic groups.

30 See online Appendix Table A3.

31 In additional analysis (available upon request), we estimated OLS models predicting summary measures of each type of secrecy (measured based on principle component scores reported in online Appendix Table A2 and described in greater detail below) with a series of indicators for each of the race, gender, age, education, income and political interest categories presented in online Appendix Table A3. The models also include indicators for income missing, other race and state fixed effects. The only statistically significant (p < 0.05) relationships we find are a positive association between education and psychological secrecy, a positive association between the middle age category (40–60, significantly different from both other age categories) and social secrecy, and negative associations between both income and interest in politics and social secrecy.

32 Joo Thomas, ‘Corporate Governance and the Constitutionality of Campaign Finance Reform’, Election Law Journal: Rules, Politics, and Policy, 1 (2002), 361372

David B. Magleby, Anthony Corrado and Kelly D. Patterson, eds, Financing the 2004 Elections (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2006)

David B. Magleby, ed., Financing the 2000 Elections (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2002)

Magleby David B., Monson J. Quin and Patterson Kelly D., Dancing without Partners: How Candidates, Parties, and Interest Groups Interact in the Presidential Campaign (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007)

Regnerus Mark D., Sikkink David and Smith Christian, ‘Voting with the Christian Right: Contextual and Individual Patterns of Electoral Influence’, Social Forces, 77 (1999), 13751401

33 Finifter Ada, ‘The Friendship Group as a Protective Environment for Political Deviants’, American Political Science Review, 68 (1974), 607625

34 Huckfeldt Robert and Sprague John, Citizens, Politics, and Social Communication (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995)

Mutz Diana C., ‘Cross-cutting Social Networks: Testing Democratic Theory in Practice’, American Political Science Review, 96 (2004), 111126

Beck Paul Allen and Jennings M. Kent, ‘Family Traditions, Political Periods, and the Development of Partisan Orientations’, Journal of Politics, 53 (1991), 742763

35 Beck Paul Allen, Dalton Russell J., Greene Steven and Huckfeldt Robert, ‘The Social Calculus of Voting: Interpersonal, Media, and Organizational Influences on Presidential Choices’, American Political Science Review, 96 (2002), 5773

Huckfeldt Robert, Beck Paul Allen, Dalton Russell J. and Levine Jeffrey, ‘Political Environments, Cohesive Social Groups, and the Communication of Public Opinion’, American Journal of Political Science, 39 (1995), 10251054

36 Additionally, ‘pure’ independents and partisan ‘leaners’ do not identify with a party in response to the stem of the standard party identification measure. Thus, unlike partisan identifiers, they are less likely to be concerned about social sanctions associated with deviating from a given party's candidate.

37 Minor party voters, of whom there are fewer than ten in our weighted sample, are also specified as the midpoint of the scale in our primary analysis.

38 We obtain highly similar results to those presented in Table 2 when additive scales of standardized (M = 0, SD = 1) items are used to measure each secrecy concept. The Cronbach's alphas are 0.496 and 0.763 for these psychological and social secrecy scale scales, respectively. These results are available upon request.

39 There is not a statistically significant effect for the interaction of social secrecy and union status.

40 The linear combination of the coefficient on psychological secrecy and the interaction between psychological secrecy and the union household indicator is: −0.113 (p < 0.05).

41 The interactions between psychological secrecy and the partisanship indicators fall short of conventional levels of statistical significance; p = 0.139.

42 To the extent that some respondents are only faced with situations where they would disclose their choices to like-minded individuals, these estimates understate the potential consequences of social secrecy.

43 Keith Bruce E., Magleby David B., Nelson Candice J., Orr Elizabeth, Westlye Mark C. and Wolfinger Raymond E., The Myth of the Independent Voter (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992)

44 James N. Druckman, Donald P. Green, James H. Kuklinski and Arthur Lupia, eds, Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Political Science (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011)

45 In addition, Column 5 does not include state indicators because ordered logit models are inconsistent with fixed effects given the sample sizes we have within states.

46 Gerber Alan S., Huber Gregoy A., Doherty David, Dowling Conor M. and Hill Seth J., ‘Do Perceptions of Ballot Secrecy Influence Turnout? Results from a Field Experiment’ (unpublished, Department of Political Science, Yale University, 2011)

47 Mutz Diana C., ‘The Consequences of Cross-Cutting Networks for Political Participation’, American Journal of Political Science, 46 (2002), 838855

48 Citrin Jack, ‘Comment: The Political Relevance of Trust in Government’, American Political Science Review, 68 (1974), 973988

Hetherington Marc J., ‘The Political Relevance of Political Trust’, American Political Science Review, 92 (1998), 791808

49 Note that the opposite pattern – low trust union members being more Republican – could not explain our finding if low trust leads to lack of confidence in secrecy protections.

50 Note too that this finding suggests it is not simply that non-trusting individuals are somehow different (ideologically) from their environments because we control for individuals’ social identities (partisanship and union membership) and those policy preferences (ideology).

51 Simon Jackman and Lynn Vavreck, Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project, 2007–2008 Panel Study: Common Content, [Computer File] Release 1: February 1, 2009, Los Angeles, CA: UCLA.

52 The CCAP was also conducted by Polimetrix and the sample was constructed to be representative of registered voters. Trust in Government item: ‘How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington (D.C.) to do what is right? 1. Almost never; 2. Some of the time; 3. Most of the time; 4. Just about always.’ The political interest measure solicited respondents’ level of ‘interest in politics and current events’.

53 Hall Thad E., Monson J. Quin and Patterson Kelly D., ‘The Human Dimension of Elections: How Poll Workers Shape Public Confidence in Elections’, Political Research Quarterly, 62 (2008), 507522

54 Christian R. Grose and Carrie A. Russell, ‘Avoiding the Vote: A Theory and Field Experiment of the Social Costs of Public Political Participation’ (paper presented at the Annual Meetings of the American Political Science Association, Boston, 2008).

55 In supplementary analysis (available upon request) we found few differences in secrecy perceptions between those who reported voting by mail or absentee and those who reported voting in person.

56 Bishop George F. and Fisher Bonnie S., ‘“Secret Ballots” and Self-Reports in an Exit-Poll Experiment’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 59 (1995), 568588

57 Alvarez, Hall and Llewellyn, ‘Are Americans Confident Their Ballots Are Counted?’

58 Hyde Susan, ‘The Observer Effect in International Politics: Evidence from a Natural Experiment’, World Politics, 60 (2007), 3763

59 Karpowitz Christopher F., Monson J. Quin, Nielson Lindsay, Patterson Kelly D. and Snell Steven A., ‘Political Norms and the Private Act of Voting’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 75 (2011), 659685

* Gerber and Huber at Department of Political Science and Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University; Doherty at Department of Political Science, Loyola University Chicago; Dowling at Department of Political Science, University of Mississippi (email: ). This research was funded by Yale's Center for the Study of American Politics and Institution for Social and Policy Studies. Data and supporting materials necessary to reproduce the numerical results will be made available at http://huber.research.yale.edu/ upon publication. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2009 meeting of the American Political Science Association. We thank Kevin Arceneaux, John Bullock, Rachel Vanessa Cobb, Jamie Druckman, Susan Hyde, Gabriel Lenz, Neil Malhotra, Marc Meredith, Eric Patashnik, Eric Schickler, the anonymous referees and the Editor for feedback on earlier versions. An appendix containing additional information is available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S000712341200021X.

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