Polling station locations can influence voters and election
By Anna Molin, Bay City News Service
July 17, 2006
STANFORD (BCN) - According to a new study by the Stanford
University Graduate School of Business, polling locations could
affect the outcome of close elections because different settings,
such as schools and churches, could encourage people to think
favorably toward a ballot initiative or candidate.
In the study released today, Stanford researchers Jonah Berger,
Marc Meredith and S. Christian Wheeler conclude that environmental
cues at polling locations could subtly push voters to support
"The influence of polling location on voting found in our
research would be more than enough to change the outcome of a
close election," Wheeler said in a statement, adding that
polling location biases could play a role even in close presidential
elections, like the 2000 race between President Bush and Al Gore.
Environmental cues, such as objects or places, can influence
the way individuals behave, Berger said.
"Voting in a school, for example, could activate the part
of a person's identity that cares about kids, or norms about taking
care of the community. Similarly, voting in a church could activate
norms of following church doctrine. Such effects may even occur
outside an individual's awareness," he said.
The researchers found that people who voted in schools were more
likely to support raising the state sales tax to fund education.
Using data from Arizona's 2000 general election, the researchers
focused on a proposition that proposed hiking up the state sales
tax to increase education spending. They concluded that those
who cast their ballots at schools were more likely to back the
initiative, with 55 percent of voters at schools versus 53 percent
of voters elsewhere supporting the proposition, even when controls
were used and factors such as demographics, where voters lived
and political views were ruled out.
Furthermore, voters who cast their ballots at schools did not
back unrelated propositions more than those who voted elsewhere,
the study's authors concluded.
Lab experiments also found that people who viewed pictures of
schools or churches before voting were more inclined to support
education initiatives if shown school images rather than church
or generic photos.
People who viewed church images, meanwhile, were less likely
to support stem cell initiatives, like California's 2004 stem
cell funding proposition.
"What our research suggests is that it might be useful to
further investigate influences such as polling location to better
understand how such factors affect different types of voting situations,"
Wheeler said. "From a policy perspective, the hope is that
a voting location assignment could be less arbitrary and more
determined in order to avoid undue biases in the future."
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