Can voters make decisions on initiatives? New paper by Shaun Bowler says “probably yes.”

Working my way through Electoral Studies recent releases (thanks for the RSS feed!) came across an interesting analysis by Shaun Bowler of a survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

The survey asked a series of detailed questions about whether or not voters were happy with the amount of information that they had about a set of initiatives.  But perhaps more interesting, the survey provided the opportunity for voters to explain the reasons they voted for some of the initiatives, and the results are pretty encouraging for those who argue that citizens can accumulate enough information to cast an informed ballot.

Percent saying “don’t know” across 34 initiatives that were on the ballot from 2000-2012

Most striking to me were two things.

First the relatively low percentage of “don’t knows” across 34 initiatives that had been on the ballot, shown below (hey Shaun, look up the “s1mono” scheme in Stata).

Second, voters were provided a list of reasons that they voted for the initiative legalizing marijuana.  The reasons were, well, reasonable, and interest group information (the most oft-cited source of voter information) ranks very low on the list.  (Sorry about the poor quality of the screen grab.)

Reasons to vote for Prop. 19



All in all, a  nice piece summarizing a lot of survey results over a decade, looking at voting on referenda and initiatives in California.

Full piece available here.