Outside of the U.S., there has been a great deal of interest in voter-advice applications (VAAs). These tools give voters an opportunity to get unbiased advice about which candidates or parties to support, usually in complex multicandidate or multiparty contexts.
However the academic research on VAAs has, to date, focused on observational studies and hasn’t shown a clear causal connection between VAA use and changes in voting intentions. However, Joelle Pianzola, Alexander H. Trechsel, Kristjan Vassil, Guido Schwerdt, and I just published a paper in the Journal of Politics, “The Impact of Personalized Information on Vote Intention: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment.” In the paper we present evidence from a randomized controlled field experiment in Switzerland that indicates that VAA use produced changes in voter intentions.
Here’s the paper’s abstract:
Voting advice applications (VAAs) are voter information tools that millions of individuals have used in recent elections throughout the world. However, little is known about how they affect political behavior. Until now, observational studies of VAA have produced inconclusive results. Here we present the results from a randomized field experiment in Switzerland that estimates the causal effects of VAA use on voters’ vote intentions. Our results suggest that usage of the Swiss VAA smartvote strengthened the vote intention for the most preferred party and also increased the number of parties considered as potential vote options. These results imply that VAAs can influence voting behavior and that they can play an important role in electoral politics.
C-SPAN was recently in Pasadena, as part of their Cities Tour. I did an interview with them, focusing on my research with Andrew Sinclair on primary election reform in California. My interview will be aired at 4:30pm Pacific on Book TV (CSPAN-2), so don’t miss it.
In this article, we study previous experiences with voting technologies, support for e-voting, and perceptions of voter fraud, using data from the 2015 Cooperative Congressional Election Study. We find that voters prefer systems they have used in the past, and that priming voters with voting fraud considerations causes them to support lower-tech alternatives to touch-screen voting machines — particularly among voters with previous experience using e-voting technologies to cast their votes. Our results suggest that as policy makers consider the adoption of new voting systems in their states and counties, they would be well-served to pay close attention to how the case for new voting technology is framed.
The substantive results will be of interest to researchers and policymakers. The methodology we use — survey experiments — should also be of interest to those who are trying to determine how to best measure the electorate’s opinions about potential election reforms.
The Presidential Commission on Election Administration’s report is getting a lot of attention and praise following its release on Wednesday. One aspect of the report I want to highlight is the degree to which the Commission aimed to ground their findings in the best available research, academic and otherwise. It renews my faith that it may be possible to build a field of election administration that is more technocratic than it currently is.
The report’s appendix, available through the supportthevoter.gov web site, is a valuable resource on the available research about each aspect of the commission’s charge.
I want to lift up an important subset of that appendix, which is a collection of white papers written by a collection of scholars, drawn from a variety of fields and perspectives, that summarized the large literatures that were relevant to the commission’s work. A collection of those papers has been assembled in one place, on the VTP web site, so that others might have easy access to them. Here are the authors and subjects:
Much of this research effort was assisted by the Democracy Fund, though of course, the research is all the work and opinions of the authors. Speaking personally, I greatly appreciate the support and encouragement of the Fund through these past few months.
As Hurricane Sandy approaches the coast of New Jersey and is causing havoc on the coast from North Carolina north, it is interesting to ask a simple question — what if this storm was hitting on November 5, not at the end of October?
The impact of such an event could be devastating to the ability of states to hold elections and to national politics. Steven Huefner at the Moritz College of law wrote a nice legal analysis of some of the implications of Sandy on elections. I want to make some of what he implied more specific and also raise some additional questions for consideration.
First, lets briefly consider some of the things likely to be wrought by Sandy.
Massive and lasting power outages.
No power means that DREs will only operate as long as their batteries last. It also means that voters voting on paper ballots will not have the use of scanners to identify errors on their ballots. But wait, there is more!
No power means no alarm clocks to wake up poll workers, no phones to call the custodian to open the school, and no lights in the school for voting.
No power means no call centers for when problems arise, no printing last minute changes to the voter registration roster, and limited use of those automatic poll books.
Evacuations and Traffic.
Some voters will literally not be able to vote because they will have been evacuated from their local polling place and there is no provision for remote voting. Imagine if Long Island was under an evacuation notice; how would those voters vote?
Today in New York and DC, there is no transit. How do people get to the polls where there is flooding, no power for traffic lights, and no public transport available?
The Horizontal State Problem and the Early Voting Problem
The horizontal state problem are best epitomized by Pennsylvania and New York. Neither state has early voting and both have very strict absentee voting laws. Hurricane Sandy hits tonight and there is no power on Election Day in Philadelphia or New York City. People are warned to stay indoors because of downed power lines and flooding. However, in the rest of both states, people can vote. Such an event could systematically disenfranchise major metropolitan areas critical to determining who wins these states in Presidential and Senate races. Also, who wins the contested House races in these localities.
The early voting problem is an extension of the horizontal state problem. Imagine that North Carolina is severely hit — a state with extensive early voting and liberal absentee voting. Does the system make any allowance for one voter having an easier time voting than the voter who wants to vote on Election Day?
Not A New Problem
Ever since 9/11, we have all been well-aware that disasters can completely disrupt an election. However, Congress and state legislatures have avoided considering these contingencies. Perhaps we should before we have a real constitutional crisis.
As part of my pre-Thanksgiving clean-up, I have finally gotten around to posting the data sets and documentation for three surveys my colleagues and I did in 2007 and 2008 to gauge the quality of American elections. The studies were funded by Pew, as part of their Make Voting Work Initiative, along with the late, great JEHT Foundation and AARP (for the Nov. ’08 study). The studies were conducted in November 2007 (gubernatorial races in KY, LA, and MS), February 2008 (15 Super Tuesday states), and November 2008 (all 50 states). Lots of questions about how well elections were run, from the perspective of voters, plus some questions about why non-voters didn’t vote.
One feature of these datasets is that we did parallel administrations using the Internet and telephone (random digit dialing), so people interested in how these two survey modes differ should find things of interest to them there.
Using dirty tactics during elections helps politicians that are already in office. If they use illegal practices to win elections, they can expect to be in office around 2.5 times longer than if they participated in fair elections;
Dirty elections are bad for economic growth by skewing politicians’ incentives towards pursuing bad policies rather than good ones;
Checks and balances are effective in reducing the incentives to cheat and implement bad policies.
International aid has no clear effect on the quality of elections, unless there are effective checks and balances.
Small, poor but resource-rich countries are more prone to dirty elections.
In short, as the Economist notes,
Incumbents running in clean elections average six and a bit years in office; in rigged votes, 16 years. “Well, duh,” says Duncan Green, head of research at Oxfam, a British charity. Fair enough, it is obvious—but ten extra years may be more than expected.
Strikingly, the authors contend that “dirty elections are bad for economic growth by skewing politicians’ incentives.” This is because, they find, good economic performance makes a huge difference to an incumbent’s chance of re-election whether the vote is free or rigged, adding about three years’ to his or her tenure. Although economic success wins rewards in both systems, in clean ones, it adds 40% to a president’s time, whereas in dirty ones, the rewards of growth are swamped by those of rigging, which more than doubles the time in power. So rigging makes the economy less important to a president’s future—a rejoinder to the Chinese claim that in developing countries “managed democracy” is better for growth than an electoral free-for-all.
Obviously, not all developing countries rig the polls. Big nations seem less likely to rig than small ones—perhaps because they have more competing interest groups, making it harder to fake credibility by staging a poll win. Large government revenues from raw-material taxes makes rigging more likely by increasing incentives to get your hands on all that money. A few things make rigging less likely: term limits, the independence of the courts, parliament or press. And aid makes almost no difference. Even if outsiders are keeping the entire country afloat, their influence is patchy. As Mr Karzai earlier showed.
Kudos to Michael for the links to overseas voting systems in other countries. If you read between the lines–or maybe read more directly Alvarez and Hall’s book on electronic elections–Mike’s implication is clear. Fixing overseas citizen and military voting may finally move us toward a secure system of internet voting.
That was the sense I had from the National Assocation of Secretaries of State (NASS) and National Assocation of State Elections Directors (NASED) meeting: many states are considering some internet-based solution to the UOCAVA problem.
Methinks the time may be ripe for a second edition of Mike and Thad’s book.
The Boston Globe is reporting this morning that the Mass House did not take up the EDR bill that the Mass Senate had passed:
Major items that lawmakers neglected to take up included whether to allow residents to register to vote on election days, whether the state should ban trans fat oils in restaurants, and whether Massachusetts should join a movement to decide presidential elections using a national popular vote instead of the Electoral College.