Key voters prefer ballot measures to candidates

October 15, 2014

New research shows that key demographics in the midterm election have a pronounced interest in ballot-measure campaigns as opposed to frustration with candidates and bodies such as Congress and state legislatures.

As we approach another low-turnout midterm election, research conducted by the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center uncovers a pronounced interest in ballot measures from key demographic groups such as women, young people, likely drop-off voters and people of color.

“Perhaps the most unifying theme we’ve discovered is frustration with government,” said Justine Sarver, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. “Voters express very little confidence in their elected officials. They see ballot measures as an opportunity for personal empowerment, a chance to have a say in a political process in which they often feel like spectators.”

Today, the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center released its 2014 Pre-Election Report, which includes an analysis of two years of focus groups research on attitudes towards ballot measures among women, young people, likely drop-off voters and people of color.

To download the complete report:

Key findings

  • Voters in important demographic groups are enthusiastic about ballot measures.
  • Voters in these demographics see ballot measures as direct and tangible opportunities to effect change in their state, their community or their own lives.
  • In contrast, voters are increasingly unhappy with the status quo and believe their expressed desire for change is going unheard – or ignored – by elected officials. As this feeling intensifies, enthusiasm for ballot measures becomes more pronounced.
  • Despite this enthusiasm, voters in all the demographics studied find the initiative process confusing. They are also skeptical that moneyed interests can manipulate voters through ballot measures.

Impact on 2014 midterm elections

Voters who may otherwise have skipped the election could be persuaded to vote by a ballot-measure campaign. And voters who develop a personal stake in the outcome of a ballot measure could use the issue to inform the way they vote on candidates.

Key issues in the 2014 midterm elections

  • Minimum wage increases are on the ballot in Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, South Dakota and in several municipalities.
  • Attacks on women’s reproductive health are on the ballot in Colorado, North Dakota and Tennessee.
  • Voting rights – both efforts to expand voting rights and attacks on voting rights – are on the ballot in Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri and Montana.
  • Public education is a key issue in Missouri and Washington.
  • Gun safety is on the ballot in Washington State.

Corporate Spending

While there may be fewer ballot measures in 2014 than an average year, spending on ballot-measure campaigns has continued to grow. Corporations with deep pockets are willing to spend lavishly to protect their bottom lines.