When I suggested on Twitter this week that the flap over the title of two controversial constitutional amendments on November’s ballot suggested that both sides of the debate think voters are too uninformed to actually read the question, a few pols said the issue is about the powers of the executive branch vs. the legislative branch.
Folks may believe that, but a MinnPost assessment today betrays the claim.
Jon Krosnick, a professor of communications, political science and psychology at Stanford University, tells MinnPost that voters can be influenced by the wording…
“Many people who will vote in any election are not actually highly attentive to politics and highly informed,” Krosnick said. “Many people vote reading the wording of an amendment for the first time in the voting booth or when they receive an absentee ballot. So in that sense, a significant number of votes will be cast by people who are forming an impression of an amendment at the time that they’re casting their vote, and so a title can certainly create a spin in their minds that can affect their vote choice.”
(update to clarify 7/13/12 11:01 a.m.) – When you vote on a constitutional amendment, you don’t actually see the amendment on the ballot. You see only the question about the amendment. For example, here’s the amendment for voter ID, and here’s the amendment for the same-sex marriage ban)
It’s true that the number of people we think hang on every word of political coverage is far smaller than the amount of coverage would suggest. Over the years, our Select A Candidate traffic has shown a huge spike the day before elections.
And some Minnesotans — judging by recent recount examinations — aren’t particularly adroit at filling out and understanding a ballot.
Still, it’s hard to believe a person eligible to vote in Minnesota can’t figure out what this question is asking:
“Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?
or this question…
“Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?”
When Minnesota voters approved the Legacy Amendment in 2008, they had to rely on this title:
Clean Water, Wildlife, Cultural Heritage, and Natural Areas.
But you didn’t hear a lot of people complaining after its overwhelming passage, “but I didn’t know my taxes were going to go up.” Why not? Maybe they’re not as clueless as some people think.
Maybe they read the question, which was much more complicated than either of the two above.
Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to dedicate funding to protect our drinking water sources; to protect, enhance, and restore our wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game, and wildlife habitat; to preserve our arts and cultural heritage; to support our parks and trails; and to protect, enhance, and restore our lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater by increasing the sales and use tax rate beginning July 1, 2009, by three-eighths of one percent on taxable sales until the year 2034?
That was a tough one, what with those multi-syllable words and all, but the voters of Minnesota did just fine.
But back to the challenge ahead.
Minneapolis pollster Bill Morris of Decision Resources said the lesser-known Photo ID amendment title is more likely to sway people how to vote in November.
For anyone who has any faith in the democratic process and the ability of people to govern themselves, that’s impossible to believe. But Morris is a smart guy and he makes a good living understanding the Minnesota voter. Assuming he’s correct, the biggest problem with the November ballot may not be either one of the questions or the title of each.
By the way, is it worth telling the voters yet that if they’re just too confused by all of this and decide not to answer the question, that’s a “no” vote?