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Do Perceptions of Ballot Secrecy Influence Turnout? Results from a Field Experiment

  • Alan S. Gerber
  • Gregory A. Huber
  • David Doherty
  • Conor M. Dowling
  • Seth J. Hill
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    Although the secret ballot has long been secured as a legal matter in the United States, formal secrecy protections are not equivalent to convincing citizens that they may vote privately and without fear of reprisal. We present survey evidence that those who have not previously voted are particularly likely to voice doubts about the secrecy of the voting process. We then report results from a field experiment where we provided registered voters with information about ballot secrecy protections prior to the 2010 general election. We find that these letters increased turnout for registered citizens without records of previous turnout, but did not appear to influence the behavior of citizens who had previously voted. These results suggest that although the secret ballot is a long-standing institution in the United States, providing basic information about ballot secrecy can affect the decision to participate to an important degree.

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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w17673.pdf
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    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17673.

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    Date of creation: Dec 2011
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    Publication status: published as "Do Perceptions of Ballot Secrecy Influence Turnout? Results from a Field Experiment" (with Huber, Doherty, Dowling, and Seth J. Hill). 2013. American Journal of Political Science (July). DOI: 10.1111/ajps.12019
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17673
    Note: PE POL
    Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
    Phone: 617-868-3900
    Web page: http://www.nber.org
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    1. Alan Gerber & Donald Green & Ron Shachar, 2003. "Voting may be habit forming: Evidence from a randomized field experiment," Natural Field Experiments 00251, The Field Experiments Website.
    2. Blumenthal, Marsha & Christian, Charles W. & Slemrod, Joel, 2001. "Do Normative Appeals Affect Tax Compliance? Evidence from a Controlled Experiment in Minnesota," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 54(n. 1), pages 125-38, March.
    3. Jac C. Heckelman & Andrew J. Yates, 2002. "Incumbency preservation through electoral legislation: The case of the secret ballot," Economics of Governance, Springer, vol. 3(1), pages 47-57, 03.
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