Jul 2022

New Article!

Predicting vote choice and election outcomes from ballot wording: The role of processing fluency in low information direct democracy elections

Hillary C. Shulman, Matthew D. Sweitzer, Olivia M. Bullock, Jason C. Coronel, Robert M. Bond, & Shannon Poulsen

Political Communication

Abstract

Two laboratory studies (N = 240) were designed to explain and predict how people make decisions in low-information political environments. Guided by feelings-as-information theory, it was argued that when direct democracy ballot issues do not receive any campaign expendi- tures and are not about moral/civic issues, voters are likely to encoun- ter these ballots for the first time in the voting booth. And when this is the case, how these ballots are written should affect vote choice. In support of study hypotheses, it was found that the difficulty of the words on the ballot affected people’s processing fluency, defined as the ease with which people processed the information presented. In turn, self-reports of processing fluency influenced vote choice. Specifically, easier texts were more likely to be supported and difficult texts were more likely to be opposed or abstained from voting on. As hypothesized, this relationship was mediated through self-reports of processing fluency. Additionally, to demonstrate the external validity of this process, it was found that the voting results obtained in the two laboratory studies replicated real-world election results 86% of the time. These results offer communicative and psychological insight into how communication affects information processing, and how these processing experiences inform political decisions of conse- quence to everyday life.

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