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Nongovernmental Campaign Communication Providing Ballot Secrecy Assurances Increases Turnout: Results From Two Large-Scale Experiments*

  • Alan S. Gerber, Gregory A. Huber, Albert H. Fang and Andrew Gooch
Abstract

Doubts about the integrity of ballot secrecy persist and depress political participation among the American public. Prior experiments have shown that official communications directly addressing these doubts increase turnout among recently registered voters who had not previously voted, but evaluations of similar messages sent by nongovernmental campaigns have yielded only suggestive effects. We build on past research and analyze two large-scale field experiments where a private nonpartisan nonprofit group sought to increase turnout by emphasizing ballot secrecy assurances alongside a reminder to vote in a direct mail voter mobilization campaign during the 2014 midterm election. Our main finding is that a private group’s mailing increases turnout by about 1 percentage point among recently registered nonvoters. This finding is precisely estimated and robust across state political contexts, but is not statistically distinguishable from the effect of a standard voter mobilization appeal. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.

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Alan S. Gerber (alan.gerber@yale.edu) and Gregory A. Huber (gregory.huber@yale.edu) are Professors in the Department of Political Science, Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University, 77 Prospect Street, PO Box 208209, New Haven, CT 06520-8209. Albert H. Fang (albert.fang@yale.edu) and Andrew Gooch (andrew.gooch@yale.edu) are Postdoctoral Associates in the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University, 77 Prospect Street, PO Box 208209, New Haven, CT 06520-8209. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit https://doi.org/10.1017/psrm.2017.16

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References
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Bishop, Cortlandt F. 1893. History of Elections in the American Colonies. New York: Columbia College.
Claassen, Ryan L., Magleby, David B., Monson, J. Quin, and Patterson, Kelly D.. 2008. ‘‘At Your Service’: Voter Evaluations of Poll Worker Performance’. American Politics Research 36:612634.
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Evans, Eldon C. 1917. A History of the Australian Ballot System in the United States. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Fredman, Lionel E. 1968. The Australian Ballot: The Story of an American Reform. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.
Gerber, Alan S., Huber, Gregory A., Biggers, Daniel R., and Hendry, David J.. 2014. ‘Ballot Secrecy Concerns and Voter Mobilization: New Experimental Evidence About Message Source, Context, and the Duration of Mobilization Effects’. American Politics Research 42(5):896923.
Gerber, Alan S., Huber, Gregory A., Doherty, David, and Dowling, Conor M.. 2013a. ‘Is There a Secret Ballot? Ballot Secrecy Perceptions and Their Implications for Voting Behaviour’. British Journal of Political Science 41(1):77102.
Gerber, Alan S., Huber, Gregory A., Doherty, David, Dowling, Conor M., and Hill, Seth J.. 2013b. ‘Do Perceptions of Ballot Secrecy Influence Turnout? Results from a Field Experiment’. American Journal of Political Science 57(3):537551.
Green, Donald P., McGrath, Mary C., and Aronow, Peter M.. 2013. ‘Field Experiments and the Study of Voter Turnout’. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties 23(1):2748.
Hovland, Carl I., and Weiss, Walter. 1951–1952. ‘The Influence of Source Credibility on Communication Effectiveness’. Public Opinion Quarterly 15:635650.
Lupia, Arthur. 1994. ‘Shortcuts Versus Encyclopedias: Information and Voting Behavior in California Insurance Reform Elections’. American Political Science Review 88(1):6376.
Malhotra, Neil, Michelson, Melissa R., and Valenzuela, Ali Adam. 2012. ‘Emails from Official Sources Can Increase Turnout’. Quarterly Journal of Political Science 7(3):321332.
Wigmore, John H. 1889. The Australian Ballot System as Embodied in the Legislation of Various Countries. Boston, MA: C.C. Soule.
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Political Science Research and Methods
  • ISSN: 2049-8470
  • EISSN: 2049-8489
  • URL: /core/journals/political-science-research-and-methods
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