shy voter

A “shy voter” is one who does not admit to supporting a certain candidate to pollsters, but still votes for that candidate in the election.

The term comes from the “Shy Tory Effect,” a phenomenon that found British conservatives greatly outperforming their poll numbers.

Shy voters seem to not make up a large percentage of the voting population, and have not been found to affect an election. However, the idea of the “shy Trump voter” was talked about in the 2016 election as a means to explain how Trump outperformed polls.

Harry Enten: “The ‘shy Trump’ theory relies on the notion of social desirability bias— the idea that people are reluctant to reveal unpopular opinions. So if the theory is right, we would have expected to see Trump outperform his polls the most in places where he is least popular — and where the stigma against admitting support for Trump would presumably be greatest… But actual election results indicate that the opposite happened: Trump outperformed his polls by the greatest margin in red states, where he was quite popular.”

elastic state

An “elastic state” is one whose voting outcome in a presidential election is relatively sensitive or responsive to changes in political conditions, such as a change in the national economic mood.

Nate Silver: “Elastic states are those which have a lot of swing voters — that is, voters who could plausibly vote for either party’s candidate. A swing voter is very likely to be an independent voter, since registered Republicans and registered Democrats vote with their party at least 90 percent of the time in most presidential elections. The swing voter is also likely to be devoid of other characteristics that are very strong predictors of voting behavior.”

An inelastic state, by contrast, is one which is relatively insensitive to these changes.


Psephology is the scientific study and statistical analysis of elections and voting.

The term was coined in 1952 by Oxford Professor R. B. McCallum and is derived from the Greek word psephos, which means pebble, and references the pebbles used by the Ancient Greeks to cast their votes.

fusion voting

fusion voting

Fusion voting allows a candidate’s name to appear on multiple parties’ ballot lines, and to combine his or her votes from those lines.

The practice was widespread in the 19th century, as Democrats benefited from fusion tickets with populist parties, but now remains legal in only eight states. In those states, minor parties will often agree to cross-endorse a major party’s candidate in exchange for influence on the candidate’s platform.

split ticket

A split ticket is when a voter chooses candidates from different political parties in the same election.

straight ticket

Straight ticket voting allows voters to choose every candidate on a single party’s slate by making just one ballot mark.

Over the years, many states that once allowed straight ticket voting have abolished it. In 2020, only seven states will allow straight ticket voting in the presidential election. Those states are Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah.

There are a number of concerns about straight ticket voting. Some pundits have argued that, while straight ticket voting makes this easy for uninformed voters, it makes it easier for inexperienced candidates to win office. Political parties have little incentive to vet the candidates at the bottom of the ticket, the argument goes, which means that less qualified politicians can be swept into office along with the rest of their party.

Other critics of straight ticket voting say that the practice unfairly benefits the two major political parties. It’s harder for third party candidates to get a fair chance in states which allow straight ticket voting, some say.

Some people also have expressed concern that the ballots are confusing and that in states which allow straight voting, voters may not actually cast a ballot for president. That’s because in certain states, straight ticket voters still have to make a separate mark to indicate their choice for president – something which many voters don’t realize.

Informally, “straight ticket voting” is often used to describe the practice of voting for every candidate from a single party, even in states where there is no specific straight ticket ballot option.

The opposite of straight ticket voting is “split ticket voting.” A voter who votes a split ticket chooses candidates based on their individual merit, from several political parties. Some analysts argue that split ticket voters are seen as more intelligent and discerning than straight ticket voters.

Still, straight ticket voting has been on the rise in recent years, perhaps in line with the increasingly polarized electorate. In 2016, the Washington Post notes, the highest percentage of straight-ticket voting in over a century took place. 100 percent of states that held Senate elections voted for the same party for Senate as for president.

Split ticket voting has been on the decline for decades. Studies have shown that voters are identifying candidates, even in local and municipal races, with the party leadership. One study, carried out by Saint Louis University, looked at how voters select their state lawmakers. It turned out that most voters weren’t looking at the lawmakers’ platforms or their voting records. Instead, they were basing their vote on what they thought of the US president.

So during the Obama administration, voters who were unhappy with the president voted Republican in local elections. During the Trump administration, voters who are unhappy with the president vote Democrat in local elections.

In 2016, straight ticket voting appeared to reach a peak. Each state that selected a Republican senator went on to vote for Donald Trump. At the same time, each state that had voted for a Democratic senator also voted for Hillary Clinton.