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Political Research Quarterly

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Post-print: the version of the article having undergone peer review but prior to being published


Studies suggest that between one-fourth and one-third of localities elect their leaders on partisan ballots. Does the presence of a party label on the ballot affect the level of partisanship in local office? I leverage the fact that within select states, school boards vary as to whether their members are elected on partisan or nonpartisan ballots. Do the differences in policy preferences between Democrats and Republicans differ across these ballot contexts? Does a party cue treatment, where respondents are reminded of the general policy positions of both parties, differentially affect elected officials in different ballot contexts? Evidence from the survey reveals a group of “polarized nonpartisans” who tend to express more partisan views about public policy than their co-partisans elected in an explicitly partisan system. At the same time, providing party cues in policy debates disproportionately moves those elected on partisan ballots as opposed to nonpartisan ones. That partisan-elected officials are more influenced by party cues appears to validate the motivations of nonpartisan reformers, yet the “polarized nonpartisans” found in the control group should give those reformers pause and reveals the need for continued research into the behavioral consequences of nonpartisan ballots.


Original publication information:

Crawford, E. (2018). How Nonpartisan Ballot Design Conceals Partisanship: A Survey Experiment of School Board Members in Two States. Political Research Quarterly, 71(1), 143-156.