Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-99c86f546-kpmwg Total loading time: 0.231 Render date: 2021-12-06T06:47:16.468Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Status Quo Bias in Ballot Wording

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 November 2017

Michael Barber
Department of Political Science, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84604, USA, e-mail:
David Gordon
Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, Austin, TX 78705, USA, e-mail: Twitter Handle: @Dave_Gordon5176
Ryan Hill
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA, e-mail: Twitter Handle: @RyanReedHill
Joseph Price
Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84604, USA, e-mail:


We examine the role of status quo bias in the ballot wording of social issues that affect the rights of minority groups. We test the salience of this framing bias by conducting an experiment that randomly assigns different ballot wordings for five policies across survey respondents. We find that status quo bias changes the percent of individuals who vote for the ballot measure by 5–8 percentage points with the least informed individuals being the most affected by status quo bias.

Research Article
Copyright © The Experimental Research Section of the American Political Science Association 2017 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Amir, On, Ariely, Dan, Cooke, Alan, Dunning, David, Epley, Nicholas, Gneezy, Uri, Koszegi, Botond, Lichtenstein, Donald, Mazar, Nina, Mullainathan, Sedhil, Prelec, Drazen, Shafir, Eldar, and Silva, Jose. 2005. “Psychology, Behavioral Economics, and Public Policy.” Marketing Letters 16 (3–4): 443–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Barber, Michael, Mann, Christopher, Quin Monson, J., and Patterson, Kelly. 2014. “Online Polls and Registration Based Sampling: A New Method for Pre-Election Polling.” Political Analysis 22 (3): 321–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Berinsky, Adam J., Huber, Gregory A., and Lenz, Gabriel S.. 2012. “Evaluating Online Labor Markets for Experimental Research:'s Mechanical Turk.” Political Analysis 20 (3): 351–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chong, Dennis and Druckman, James, N.. 2007. “A Theory of Framing and Opinion Formation in Competitive Elite Environments.” Journal of Communication 57 (1): 99118.Google Scholar
Christin, Thomas, Hug, Simon, and Pascal, Sciarini. 2002. “Interests and Information in Referendum Voting: An Analysis of Swiss Voters.” European Journal of Political Research 41 (6): 759–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Eidelman, Scott and Crandall, Christian S.. 2009. “A Psychological Advantage for the Status Quo.” Jost, John T., Kay, Aaron C. and Thorisdottir, Hulda. Social and Psychological bases of Ideology and System Justification. Oxford University Press, 85106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fernandez, Raquel and Rodrik, Dani. 1991. “Resistance to Reform: Status Quo Bias in the Presence of Individual-Specific Uncertainty.” The American Economic Review 81 (5): 1146–55.Google Scholar
Grose, Christian, Malhotra, Neil, Parks, Robert, and Houweling, Van. 2015. “Explaining Explanations: How Legislators Explain their Policy Positions and How Citizens React.” American Journal of Political Science 59 (3): 724–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hartman, Raymond S., Doane, Michael J., and Woo, Shi-Keung. 1991. “Consumer Rationality and the Status Quo.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 106 (1): 141–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hershey, John, Johnson, Eric, Meszaros, Jacqueline, and Robinson, Matthew. 1990. “What is the Right to Sue Worth?. Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.Google Scholar
Hobolt, Sara Binzer. 2009. “Framing Effects in Referendums on European Integration: Experimental Evidence.” Europe in Question: Referendums on European Integration. Oxford University Press, 110–32.Google Scholar
Johnson, Eric and Goldstein, Daniel. 2003. “Do Defaults Save Lives?.” Science 302 (5649): 1338–39.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kahneman, Daniel, Knetsch, Jack L., and Thaler, Richard H.. 1991. “Anomalies: The Endowment Effect, Loss Aversion, and Status Quo Bias.” The Journal of Economic Perspectives 5 (1): 193206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kimball, David C. and Kropf, Martha. 2005. “Ballot Design and Unrecorded Votes on Paper-Based Ballots.” Public Opinion Quarterly 69 (4): 508–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
List, John A. 2004. “Neoclassical Rheory Versus Prospect Theory: Evidence from the Marketplace.” Econometrica 72 (2): 615–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mason, Winter and Watts, Duncan J.. 2010. “Financial Incentives and the Performance of Crowds.” ACM SigKDD Explorations Newsletter 11 (2): 100–08.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Oppenheimer, Adam J., Pannucci, Christopher J., Kasten, Steven J., and Haase, Steven C.. 2011. “Survey Says? A Primer on Web-Based Survey Design and Distribution.” Plastic and Reconstructive surgery 128 (1): 299.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Paolacci, Gabriele, Chandler, Jesse, and Ipeirotis, Panagiotis. 2010. “Running experiments on Amazon Mechanical Turk.” Judgment and Decision Making 5 (5): 411–9.Google Scholar
Quattrone, George A. and Tversky, Amos. 1988. “Contrasting Rational and Psychological Analyses of Political Choice.” The American Political Science Review 82 (3): 719–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Reilly, Shauna and Richey, Sean. 2009. “Ballot Question Readability and Roll-Off: The Impact of Language Complexity.” Political Research Quarterly 64 (1): 5967.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Reilly, Shauna and Zimmerman, Jeffrey Mark. 2016. “Linguistic accommodations and electoral participation.” Language Problems and Language Planning 40 (3): 250–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Samuelson, William and Zeckhauser, Richard. 1988. “Status Quo Bias in Decision Making.” Journal of Risk and Uncertainty 1 (1): 759.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schuldt, Jonathon, Konrath, Sara, and Schwarz, Norbert. 2011. ““Global Warming” or “Climate Change”? Whether the Planet is Warming Depends on Question Wording.” Public Opinion Quarterly 73 (1): 115–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Thaler, Richard H. and Benartzi, Shlomo. 2004. “Save More Tomorrow™: Using Behavioral Economics to Increase Employee Saving.” Journal of Political Economy 112 (1): 164–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tomz, Michael and Weeks, Jessica. 2013. “Public Opinion and the Democratic Peace.” The American Political Science Review 107 (4): 849–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Supplementary material: PDF

Barber et al supplementary material

Online Appendix

Download Barber et al supplementary material(PDF)
Cited by

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Status Quo Bias in Ballot Wording
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Status Quo Bias in Ballot Wording
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Status Quo Bias in Ballot Wording
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *