Subtle Influences

I commented about this topic quite a while back, after the last KISD bond election.  I thought it was vaguely improper to be holding a school bond election in a school building.

It turns out that my unease might have been justified:

Some experts say it’s time for local election officials to start considering how surroundings at polling places might affect voters.

Polling places may unconsciously influence a voter’s decision, according to a study by the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

“Voting in a school, for example, could activate the part of a person’s identity that cares about kids, or norms about taking care of the community,” said Jonah Berger, one of the study’s researchers. “Voting in a church could activate norms of following church doctrine. Such effects may even occur outside an individual’s awareness.”

Raborn said he hadn’t considered that some voters might be influenced by the place where they cast their ballots.

“I would assume the majority of voters have their mind made up when they get to the polling place,” he said.

The researchers say that may not matter.

“There could potentially be influence if particular candidates are highly linked to particular issues that are related to particular polling locations,” said S. Christian Wheeler, one of the researchers. “People can be influenced by external stimuli without their intention.”

The study by Berger, Wheeler and Marc Meredith was based on a 2000 general election in Arizona, but the researchers say the results would be comparable in any election.

In the 2000 election, more than one-fourth of the polling places were in schools. Voters who cast ballots there were more likely to support Proposition 301, which provided funding for education, than those who voted at other sites, according to the study.

The study also found that people who were shown pictures of schools or churches were more likely to support education-related issues and that those who saw church images were less likely to support stem-cell initiatives. “The influence of polling location … would be more than enough to change the outcome of a close election,” it said. “Choices of voting places can have unintended effects on election races.”

It ultimately didn’t affect me, but it still seemed improper.  Of course, logistics will likely make coming up with neutral ground nearly impossible unless we adopt a completely remote voting system (like Oregon’s vote-by-mail system or some sort of web-based electronic system).


  1. queuno says:

    I notice that the Keller Lions Club is a precinct.  I wonder what sort of undue influence may be exerted there.

    I’ll bet that next library vote, Tandy decides to try to get the existing Keller Library installed as the polling place.

  2. Heh.  The Lions Club was the voting location for *my* precinct. 

    I didn’t notice anything undue there.  Although, at first, I was a bit suspicious that the “Vote Yes” signs were too close.  They had them all up and down Keller Parkway in front of the parking lot.  But they were (barely) behind the electioneering warning marker.