Public Voting and Prosocial Behavior

72 Pages Posted: 10 May 2018

See all articles by Rebecca Morton

Rebecca Morton

New York University (NYU) - Wilf Family Department of Politics

Kai Ou

Florida State University

Date Written: April 24, 2018


One argument against secret ballots is that such procedures lead to more selfish voting behavior and that public voting can increase prosocial voting and the likelihood of prosocial outcomes when voters are not subject to intimidation and coercion from outside interests. We investigate this supposition as well as voter preferences over observability in voting in this context. We find that voters are significantly more likely to choose nonselfishly when voting is public. These differences in behavior advantage prosocial choices in elections (by 27%) when voting is public. Moreover, voters appear to recognize these differences and a substantial minority of voters whose selfish preference is not the prosocial choice willingly choose public voting even though the likely outcome will be costly to themselves.

Keywords: Elections, Voting, Prosocial Behavior, Secret Ballots, Observability, Laboratory Experiment

JEL Classification: A13, C90, D72, D83

Suggested Citation

Morton, Rebecca and Ou, Kai, Public Voting and Prosocial Behavior (April 24, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Rebecca Morton

New York University (NYU) - Wilf Family Department of Politics ( email )

715 Broadway
New York, NY 10003
United States
212-998-3706 (Phone)

Kai Ou (Contact Author)

Florida State University ( email )

Tallahasse, FL 32306
United States

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