One of the truisms about American politics is that some voters are uninformed when they go to the polls. This can be especially true when voters face complex ballot measures, such as those going before Californians this year.
How do voters fill that information vacuum? One way is to look for cues from outside sources, like business groups, nonprofit organizations, labor unions, political parties and politicians.
Political science research has shown that endorsements can influence voters. Even endorsements from newspapers – often derided as dinosaurs in the modern media landscape – can sway voters, particularly if they represent a dramatic reversal of a past position.
Yet voters often have limited access to these valuable external cues. Busy with their everyday lives, they don’t have the time or the resources to hunt through the public record to see who is taking sides on initiatives, pro and con.
To meet this urgent need for information, our two organizations – UC-Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies and the nonpartisan nonprofit group Next 10 – teamed up to create California Choices (www.californiachoices.org), an online clearing house of voter information, videos, polling data, and endorsements for voters seeking unbiased information before casting their ballots.
The most popular page on the site lists a tally of endorsements from more than 30 organizations across the political spectrum, including newspapers, political parties (including minor parties), and organizations focusing on issues such as education, health care, labor, and business.
Visitors to the site can record how they plan to vote on the ballot measures, and then share that information with others via email. They can also save their decisions for themselves, allowing them to review the information on their smart phones when they arrive at the voting booth.
There is plenty of other information on California Choices as well, and we invite voters to visit the site. Users can link to recent press coverage of the election, read pro and con arguments for each ballot measure, view video clips from neutral news sources as well as political ads, and access polling data from respected pollsters.
During the last mid-term and presidential elections more than 200,000 Californians used the site, proving that voters are hungry for reliable, useful information. We hope that in the remaining days before this year’s election, more voters will take the opportunity to use California Choices, and then go to the polls and help decide the important issues facing our state.
Jack Citrin is Director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. F. Noel Perry is the Founder of Next 10, a nonprofit that seeks to foster a deeper understanding of issues facing California.