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.
Use of “Straight Ticket” in a sentence
- In the 2020 election, the state saw a significant decline in straight-ticket voting, as more voters split their ballots between different parties for various offices.
- Some political scientists argue that the option for straight-ticket voting on ballots perpetuates party loyalty at the expense of individual candidate evaluation.
- As the country becomes more polarized, straight-ticket voting has gained prominence, often reflecting less about the qualifications of individual candidates and more about national partisan sentiments.
Taegan Goddard is the creator of the Political Dictionary.
Goddard spent more than a decade on Wall Street as managing director and chief operating officer of a prominent investment firm in New York City. Previously, he also served as a policy adviser to a U.S. Senator and Governor.
Goddard is also co-author of You Won – Now What?: How Americans Can Make Democracy Work from City Hall to the White House, a political management book hailed by prominent journalists and politicians from both parties.
His essays on politics and public policy have appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines across the country.
Goddard earned degrees from Vassar College and Harvard University.
He lives in New York with his wife and three sons.