In a recent blog post, Why don’t we vote like we shop?, Jayson Lusk discussed his consumer research into the puzzle of why California voters have voted to outlaw the same cage-produced eggs they overwhelming select when purchasing groceries. He explained that this vote-buy gap is not the result of the non-buyer hypothesis, which is understandable, as American Egg Board research shows 94 percent of U.S. households purchase eggs.
I share Lusk’s interest in understanding the vote-buy gap, and I think there are parallels found in referenda on other subjects. For instance, voters in the states where I have resided have been quick to approve bond referenda for schools and parks but have been equally quick in voting down tax increases required to ultimately retire the bonds.
In the case of the bond referenda, voters are made aware of the potential benefit to the community -- new schools and parks -- but not how they will be paid for or the cost to them as an individual. When it comes time to approve that increase in the sales tax rate to pay off bonds or to fund another new project, there is a real cost associated with that. Would the votes have come out differently if the ballot had the retail prices for cage-produced and cage-free eggs printed beside them?
Explaining the vote-buy gap may be simple. When we pay for items ourselves, whether in a store or restaurant, we know the price and we know that the money is coming out of our own wallets. When deciding at the polls, I think voters don’t know the cost and most think the money is coming out of someone else’s wallet.