Polling places can affect elections, study finds
Palo Alto Weekly (2006-07-17)
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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,
according to a new study by the Stanford University Graduate School
In the study, released today, researchers Jonah Berger, Marc Meredith
and S. Christian Wheeler conclude that environmental cues at polling
locations could subtly push voters to support a proposition.
"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. He said polling location biases could
play a role
even in close presidential elections, such as 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
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
People who viewed church images, meanwhile, were less likely to
support stem cell initiatives, such as California's 2004 stem-cell
"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,"
"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."
- Bay City News Service