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Where You Vote Influences How You Vote - nhpeacenik
Where You Vote Influences How You Vote

I recently received a print subscription to a magazine called Miller-McCune Magazine. This may have been because I am a part-time radio journalist and it may have been because I used to subscribe to a magazine called Peacework, which arranged for its subscribers to get free short-term subscriptions to several related magazines when it ceased publishing. The ethos of the magazine is that good research needs to be presented to the public in a way that is intriguing, but at the same time accurate and comprehensive. Some of the articles touch on issues that I am dealing with in my "day job" as well as in my role as a radio commentator: one of these is the handling of US elections.

This article, which had the provocative title of Vote Here, Ignore the Man on the Cross, included these observations


Polling places are, in theory, scrupulously neutral places, devoid of visual cues like campaign signs. But according to two recent studies, the building in which a polling place is located can exert subtle but perhaps decisive influence on how votes are cast.

In a 2008 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, three researchers from the Stanford Graduate School of Business analyzed the 2000 general election in Arizona, which included an initiative to raise the state sales tax to support education. In the state’s slightly more than 2,000 precincts, the researchers found that 40 percent of votes were cast in churches, 26 percent in schools, 10 percent in community centers and 4 percent each in apartment complexes and government centers.

The researchers suspected voters who had to walk by classroom doors or rows of lockers to cast their ballot would be more likely to vote for the school-funding measure. The numbers showed their hunch was right: “People who voted at schools were more likely to support raising taxes to fund education (55.0 percent) than people who voted at other polling locations (53.09 percent).”

A follow-up laboratory experiment confirmed their theory that the voters had been “primed” with the idea of schooling. Participants shown images of a school were more likely to support increased education funding than those who had seen photos of a church. In contrast, those who viewed the house of worship were more likely to support an initiative to limit stem-cell research — a favorite issue of the religious right.

This same dynamic was documented in a study published earlier this year in the journal Political Psychology. Abraham Rutchick of California State University, Northridge, found that during a 2006 election in South Carolina, a proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage was supported by 83 percent of voters who cast their ballots in churches, as opposed to 81.5 percent of those who voted elsewhere.

I know that voters in my town always do their voting in school buildings, and we have passed some rather heroic school-funding measures by narrow margins in recent years. I wonder if the outcome would have been different, had we voted in a church building or in the historic town hall (which can no longer be a polling place because it is not ADA compliant).

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1 comment or Leave a comment
kengara From: kengara Date: August 20th, 2010 11:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hm, less than 2% difference? I wonder if that's statistically significant. It's a pretty good idea for a study though, heh.
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