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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Vote Choice in Complex Electoral Environments /

  • Author(s): Cunow, Saul Frederick
  • et al.

This dissertation addresses the effects of electoral complexity for voters and how voter responses to complexity affect the quality of representation. I identify a tradeoff between more representative elections and the cognitive burdens longer ballots create for voters. Chapter 1 provides the motivation for the project and highlights the role of choice set size in creating complexity for voters. Chapter 2 tests for a relationship between the number of candidates and participation rates in four Brazilian elections. In Chapter 3, I introduce an experimental approach to study the microfoundations of the effects of complexity on voters. Using a survey experiment that randomly varies ballot length and the presence of information about candidates' partisan affiliations, I find strong support for the relationship identified in Chapter 2. When presented with more candidates, many voters are deterred from participating, with party labels facilitating participation but not mitigating the effects of choice set size. Chapter 4 turns to the consequences of complexity for voters' information acquisition strategies. Using a second survey experiment, I manipulate both ballot length and the candidates' attributes while monitoring voters' information acquisition strategies. Here I introduce an original online survey platform that fully randomizes the generation of the experimental ballots as well as a new measure of correct policy voting. I find that even for those voters who are not deterred by complex ballots, variations in the number of candidates can have substantial effects on their decision-making strategies. When presented with more candidates, many voters learn less about their options, rely on potentially unreliable cues of candidates quality, and make poor choices

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