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Sex and the ballot box: perception of ballot measures regarding same-sex marriage and abortion in California

  • Craig M. Burnett (a1) and Mathew D. McCubbins (a2)

Abstract

Voters in many American states have considered important social policies that redefine civil liberties within their state through the initiative and referendum. An important question remaining is, are voters knowledgeable enough to make decisions on these social policies that have far-reaching effects? The common wisdom is that voters rely on information shortcuts in lieu of extensive knowledge about the issues. Unlike candidate elections, however, ballot measures lack some prominent and useful information shortcuts (i.e. party identification). We test the hypothesis that voters use shortcuts to inform their decisions on two ballot measures central to today's policy debates: California's Proposition 4 on parental notification for abortion and Proposition 8 on same-sex marriage. We show that voters do not use cues universally, and, furthermore, factual information has a limited effect on voters’ decisions. In particular, we find that the persuasiveness of an endorsement is conditional on whether an individual trusts the source.

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