Recipient of the 2015 Prize

Précis

An Efficient Electoral Method to Reduce Voter Ignorance 

David Belcher

University of California, Davis

Click Here to download the full article.

The phenomenon of voter ignorance in the United States is extremely widespread and problematic. In order for citizens to meaningfully participate in the democratic process, and in order for the Government to take constituent desires into account when making policy decisions, people need to have a basic understanding of what they are voting for.

Previous research into the field of voter ignorance has examined the scope of the problem, but yielded no effective methods of reducing it. I examined whether the ballots used in the cutting-edge Ranked Choice Voting electoral system, which prompt feedback on multiple candidates, incentivize voters to learn more about candidates.

To answer this question, I performed an experiment in which examined two electoral institutions, First Past the Post (FPTP) and Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), and the effect that each system had on voter knowledge in a simulated election. I ran two simulated elections where the only difference between the two elections was the type of electoral system used. In both simulated elections, I provided participants with identical information about three real candidates who ran for California State Assembly in 2012. In one group, participants were told that they would vote for only one candidate (the FPTP group), while participants in the other group were asked to rank candidates in order of preference (the RCV group). I then quizzed all participants on their knowledge of the candidates’ biographies and policy positions, and then had them vote.

I found that participants in the RCV group scored a statistically significant amount higher on quizzes about the candidates’ biographies and policy positions than participants in the FPTP group. This result suggests that simply changing the method used to elect candidates can increase voter knowledge, and lead to a more smooth and efficient democratic system.

© David Belcher

A copy of the winning paper by David Belcher may be downloaded by Clicking Here.

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