Political Behavior

, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 567–593 | Cite as

Are Ballot Initiative Outcomes Influenced by the Campaigns of Independent Groups? A Precinct-Randomized Field Experiment Showing That They Are

  • Todd RogersEmail author
  • Joel Middleton
Original Paper


Ballot initiatives are consequential and common, with total spending on initiative campaigns in the US rivaling that of Presidential campaigns. Past work using observational data has alternately found that initiative campaign spending cannot affect initiative outcomes, can increase the number of votes rejecting (but not approving) initiatives, or can affect outcomes in either direction. We report the first field experiment to evaluate an initiative advocacy campaign with precision. We find that campaigns can influence both rejection and approval of initiatives by changing how citizens vote, as opposed to by influencing turnout or ballot completion. Our experiment (involving around 18 % of Oregon households in 2008) studied a statewide mail program conducted by a Political Action Committee. Results further suggest that two initiatives would have passed if not for the advocacy campaign to reject them. We discuss implications for theories about direct democracy, campaign finance, and campaign effects.


Direct democracy Campaign effects Ballot measures Field experiments 



We thank Our Oregon for collaborating with us. We thank Josh Berezin and Kevin Looper for cooperation and assistance. We thank Analyst Institute and Catalist LLC for providing data. We thank Don Green, Max Bazerman, David Nickerson, Kevin Collins, Jennifer Green, and the Analyst Group for providing feedback. We thank Julia Kamin, Carly Robinson, and John Ternovski for help with analyses and editing.

Supplementary material

11109_2014_9282_MOESM1_ESM.docx (6.8 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 6978 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Harvard Kennedy SchoolCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.University of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA

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