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.