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CHAPTER 3 Responding to Demands: Information, Abstention, and Just Saying "No" Theories of voting with limited information offer a picture of voters who have some basic default point of reference to anchor their evaluations and decisions. As noted in chapter 2, voters in presidential primaries can compare other candidates with front-runners. Voters in candidate contests can also defer to betterknown candidates or candidates who share their party identification. They might also evaluate an incumbent candidate's performance retrospectively by taking cues from information about the state of the economy. In direct democracy, these points of reference are largely absent. Propositions are listed on ballots without party labels. On occasion, voters might find party cues in ballot pamphlets or from campaigns. As we demonstrate later, voters can make choices on the basis ofpartisan cues ifthey are available, but many less-contested propositions create a situation in which the voter will find it difficult to identify party positions (Magleby 1984, 174). Given that nearly all propositions present new policies that change the status quo, retrospective evaluations are also problematic. A Reference Point We propose that direct-democracy voters nevertheless have a least one point of reference when they approach a slate of initiative and referenda choices. As Lupia (1992, 1994a) demonstrates, it is logical to assume that people know more about the status quo than they know about a given ballot proposition. The status quo is the current state of affairs that might be altered by passage of a ballot issue. For any voter who lacks perfect information, changes in the status quo will involve greater uncertainty and risk than maintenance of the status quo. As far as ballot choices are structured, a no vote on any proposition is essentially a vote that maintains the status quo. If we assume, however, that few propositions are exactly alike, all choices do not present the same information demands. Indeed, nearly every ballot issue makes unique information demands on the voter. Given variety in campaign intensity , subject, language, ballot title, and other factors, some choices might be 43 44 Demanding Choices harder to make than others. Voters, if sensitive to the unique information demands associated with different types of choices, would vote no in a manner that varies systematically with information demands. These assumptions might be seen as little more than conventional wisdom that suggests that when in doubt, voters vote no. We suggest that there is a bit more to it. As Magleby noted, confused voters often vote no because of their uncertainty (1984, 162). There are costs associated with reducing this uncertainty by becoming politically informed, however. Citizens have incentives (and opportunities) to minimize these costs. In addition, some choices present greater costs than others. For most voters, a decision on a $200 million school construction bond is likely to be qualitatively different than a decision on reorganizing regulations that affect chiropractors or denturists (these are real choices that voters have faced in the Pacific states). We assume that unless they happen to be a chiropractor or a denturist, most people would have an easier time with the school bond decision than with the regulations issues. The substance of the bond issue is less technical, there might be people discussing the issue, the costs are more straightforward, and the beneficiaries are more clearly defined-especially if there are no campaigns on any of these issues. In other words, there is greater uncertainty with the simpler decisions. Where information demands are greatest, uncertainty is highest. As Downs suggests, a rational voter might reduce uncertainty by seeking "free" information from political parties, interest groups, paid ads, knowledgeable friends, published letters, speeches, and other sources (1957, 222). In such situations, voters might be more likely to defect from the status quo. But if gathering information about ballot propositions is costly and the voters' incentive to do so is limited, we might expect that they would respond by voting no where costs are greatest. Thus, it is not just that they vote no when in doubt, but that they do so on some other occasions-particularly when they are faced with the greatest information demands. Evaluating candidate races (where a simple vote that preserves the status quo is often less obvious), Downs contended that some voters might also abstain in such situations. Such behavior might be seen as rational when information costs are exceedingly high (Downs 1957, chap. 14). This conception of reasoning raises several questions about how voters perceive information demands created by proposition contests...


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MARC Record
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