British Journal of Political Science


Is There a Secret Ballot? Ballot Secrecy Perceptions and Their Implications for Voting Behaviour

Alan S. Gerber, Gregory A. Huber, David Doherty and Conor M. Dowling *


Do people believe the votes they cast are truly secret? Novel items added to a nationally representative survey show that 25 per cent of respondents report not believing their ballot choices are kept secret and over 70 per cent report sharing their vote choices with others. These findings suggest that standard models of candidate choice should account for the potential effects of doubts about ballot secrecy. Consistent with this view, regression analysis shows that social forces appear to have a greater effect on vote choices among people who doubt the formal secrecy of the ballot. This analysis supports the broader claim that the intended benefits of institutional rules may not be realized if people's perceptions of these rules differ from their formal characteristics.

(Online publication July 03 2012)


*  Gerber and Huber at Department of Political Science and Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University; Doherty at Department of Political Science, Loyola University Chicago; Dowling at Department of Political Science, University of Mississippi (email: This research was funded by Yale's Center for the Study of American Politics and Institution for Social and Policy Studies. Data and supporting materials necessary to reproduce the numerical results will be made available at upon publication. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2009 meeting of the American Political Science Association. We thank Kevin Arceneaux, John Bullock, Rachel Vanessa Cobb, Jamie Druckman, Susan Hyde, Gabriel Lenz, Neil Malhotra, Marc Meredith, Eric Patashnik, Eric Schickler, the anonymous referees and the Editor for feedback on earlier versions. An appendix containing additional information is available online at: