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2021 Conference of the ECPR Standing Group on Politics and Gender

Ballot Cues and Electoral Discrimination: How Voters Assess Information About Candidates

Electoral Behaviour
Voting Behaviour
Lea Portmann
University of Lucerne
Lea Portmann
University of Lucerne

A great deal of research shows that voters use candidate characteristics as cues for their decisions. But we know little about how voters evaluate several information about candidates and how such cues are interlinked. It is important to know how voters assess candidate information because decisions based on characteristics such as a candidate’s migration background or gender raise major concern in terms of discrimination, while cues derived from the political experience and commitment of candidates are generally less discriminatory. By focusing on information about candidates on ballots, this paper (1) scrutinizes the effect that candidate cues have on vote choice, and (2) explores how adding information about candidates impacts the use of cues that are generally available via the name, a candidate’s migration background and gender.

The paper focuses on information about candidates that was available on ballots in the 2015 election to the Swiss National Council. I exploit the condition that information on ballots varies remarkably between Swiss party ballots in a natural experiment. Focusing on positive but also negative preference votes in the Swiss “free-list” proportional representation system, furthermore, allows me to track voter preferences for candidates in-depth. I draw on novel data of candidate information, from coding of party ballots and extensive web-search, and on original data that measures positive and negative preference votes stemming from single ballots. Taking this approach, I provide evidence that candidate characteristics on ballots serve as essential cues that directly affect vote choice. I argue that my results have implications for literature interested in how electoral institutions, such as the design of the ballot, influence voter behavior.
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