Having more candidates to choose from in elections actually turns voters off

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Democracy appears to work best when you keep things simple, a new study suggests. Many have theorized that more names on the ballet, or candidates to choose from, can be a benefit come Election Day. However, researchers from the University of Florida say that may not be true after all.

Andrew Janusz, an assistant professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Florida, and his co-authors used data from real elections to measure voter participation and assess the validity of this theory. Interestingly, they discovered that when the candidate field is crowded, voters actually tend to be more likely to sit out than turn out to vote.

“We were interested in looking at whether there is a relationship between abstention rate and the number of candidates,” Prof. Janusz says in a university release. “Choosing between many alternatives is tiring. We expected that voters would be less likely to participate when they are asked to make complex decisions. The data we analyzed in the experiment shows that as the number of candidates increases voter participation declines.”

Researchers were also sure to analyze whether or not listing party affiliations impacted voter participation.

“We may imagine that when people are given party information, it makes it easy for them to narrow the field and choose a candidate,” Prof. Janusz continues. “We found that party identification doesn’t narrow the gap like we might expect.”

Man in a voting booth
Photo by Edmond Dantès from Pexel

Study authors utilized 20 years’ worth of election data taken from Brazil between 2000 and 2020, encompassing over 60,000 elections. Among those contests, 47 percent had at least three candidates and four percent had at least six candidates. Regarding city council elections specifically, numbers of candidates tended to be even larger, ranging from 25 candidates in certain small municipalities to more than a thousand candidates in larger cities.

In Brazil, citizens are required to vote between the ages of 18 and 70. If a citizen opts not to vote come election time, they are forced to pay a small cash fine. Moreover, on election days, citizens can vote for an individual candidate, a political party, or invalidate their ballot.

“So even if you’re forced to turn out by the government, you still might be less likely to vote given more options on a ballot,” Prof. Janusz comments.

Study authors note that these findings most directly relate to voting behaviors in electoral systems with large candidate fields. Still, researchers say this research is worth considering when it comes to upcoming domestic elections in the United States.

“More and more politicians are throwing their hats in the ring and seeking their party’s presidential nomination,” Prof. Janusz adds. “When voters aren’t familiar with the candidates and presented with a ton of options, they’re more likely to approach the election with a wait-and-see approach.”

Early in the process, when the list of candidates is long, voters may become overwhelmed, leading them to conclude their opinions (and votes) ultimately won’t matter in the long run anyway. This, of course, is not true. Study authors stress that every vote counts and lack of participation has a huge impact on the ultimate outcome of elections.

“Although conventional wisdom suggests that providing voters greater choice may enhance democracy, our analysis shows that there is an overlooked cost to providing voters more choice,” Prof. Janusz concludes.

The study is published in the Journal of Elections Public Opinion and Parties.

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John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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  1. This would be as great way to keep 3red party candidates out of the race.
    Ever stop to think that maybe people are in such a hurry to vote because ALOT of voters have to work two or three jobs just to live? Also why are using election studies from any central American country? I thought their elections are rigged and that’s why NED has overthrown their governments because they are bringing democracy to those countries.
    The two party system has brought us inflation, $7.25 min wage?, skyrocketing rent and homeless numbers are growing out of control and most importantly WW3.

  2. Yes voters with three jobs barely have time to sleep, eat, vote and we can thank the 2 parties that made life so much harder to live.
    There’s no incentive to vote in 2 parties system when all workers get is Inflation, increasing rent prices, and minimum wage is still 7.25 hour, WW3 and more homeless than ever in history. Voters here your choices either giant douche or turd sandwich.
    Only people who dont want things to change are benefiting from everyone else’s misery.
    Bravo guy bravo

  3. Guess I had the wrong comment.
    Since its zero comments.
    Maybe I should of said Super idea voting for a way out of the American Nightmare would cause billionaires to lose money. So bad very bad

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