Information Distortion and Voting Choices: The Origins and Effects of Factual Beliefs in Initiative Elections

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Abstract

To account for voter decision making in initiative elections, we integrate theory and research on public opinion, misinformation, and motivated reasoning. Heuristic and motivated reasoning literatures suggest that voters' preexisting values interact with political sophistication such that politically knowledgeable voters develop systematically distorted empirical beliefs relevant to the initiatives on their ballots. These beliefs, in turn, can predict voting preferences even after controlling for underlying values, regardless of one's political sophistication. These hypotheses were tested using a 2003 voter survey conducted prior to a statewide initiative election that repealed a workplace safety regulation. Results showed that only those voters knowledgeable of key endorsements had initiative-specific beliefs that lined up with their underlying antiregulation values. Also, voters' empirical beliefs had an effect on initiative support even after controlling for prior values, and political sophistication did not moderate this effect.

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