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Ticket-Splitting: Aggregate Measures vs. Actual Ballots Author(s): Alan R. Gitelson and Patricia Bayer Richard Source: The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Sep., 1983), pp. 410-419 Published by: University of Utah on behalf of the Western Political Science Association Stable URL: . Accessed: 04/01/2011 02:31
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Loyola Universityof Chicago and


OR SOME DECADES now, political scientists have investigated the influence of various motivational, behavioral, and institutional variables on voting behavior. More recently, the phenomenon of ticket-splitting has captured the attention not only of political scientists but of political practitioners and journalists as well. Ticket-splitting refers to the behavior of individual voters; it generally is taken to mean the act of casting votes for candidates representing more than one political party on a single ballot. The study of split-ticket voting, however, has been confined to the use of indirect measures, primarily survey and aggregate data, because of the unavailability of actual ballots. This study, however, utilizes actual ballots. The researchers examine several aggregate measures of ticketsplitting which have been proposed and/or employed in the literature. We then evaluate the accuracy of these aggregate measures by comparing the estimates of ticket-splitting with actual ticket-splitting in one community, ascertained from its 1972 and 1976 election ballots. Finally, we assess the hazards of drawing conclusions about ticket-splitting based on aggregate measures of the phenomenon.


For a variety of reasons (e.g., their availability, their avoidance of many of the measurement problems of survey research), social scientists frequently use date on geographic units such as states, counties, or census tracts to assess individual behavior (Shively 1969; 1183). At the same time, they have directed attention to the logical and methodological problems inherent in drawing inferences from one level of analysis to another (Robinson 1950). Others (Alker 1965; Duncan, Cuzzort, and Duncan 1961) have expanded on the problems arising from interlevel inferences. In essence, this "ecological fallacy" consists of inputing correlations on the individual level from correlations between the same variables based on groups or aggregations of individuals as the units of analysis. Studies of split-ticket voting run the risk of inaccurate inferences when they rely on aggregate election data (Gitelson 1978). Burnham (1965) and Rusk (1970), for example, use the difference in partisan vote proportions for different office contests to make statements about individual ticketsplitting. Yet Cowart claims (1974: 110-12) that this indicator is necessarily a conservative measure of the true level of ticket-splitting, always ~ to the actual level. Others, for example DeVries and Tarrance (1972) and

Ticket-Splitting 411 Phillips (1975), use split partisan outcomes for two elected offices to discuss levels of individual ticket-splitting. Both these indicators, difference in partisan proportions and split outcomes, may misestimate the number and proportion of split tickets as well as give rise to incorrect comparisons between communities or elections with regard to levels of ticket-splitting. They bear no necessary relationship to the actual number of split ballots. The data and discussion which follow raise questions about the degree of distortion arising from two aggregate measures of ticketsplitting.

Two aggregate measures for determining levels of ticket-splitting are evaluated by the authors: the Burnham measure and the Duncan and Davis method of setting limits. Burnham The most commonly used aggregate measure of ticket-splitting patterns is the Burnham measure. Burnham's formula measures "the difference between the highest and lowest percentage of the two-party vote cast for either party among the array of offices in any given election" (Burnham 1965: 9). The resulting percentage gives a split-ticket value. In response to criticisms by Rusk (1970) regarding the formula, Burnham introduced a second version of the aggregate measure, the standard deviation of partisan percentages across the array of statewide offices compared over a series of elections (1971). Both formulations of Burnham are examined and compared with the actual election ballots. Duncan-Davis Concerned with minimizing the inherent problems of using aggregate data to assess individual behavior, Duncan and Davis (1953) suggest using aggregate figures to establish the range within which a true value must fall. In their formula, one calculates the minimum and maximum relationships at the individual level which would be consistent with the aggregate marginals, and hence the parameters for the true relationship. Table 1 presents a hypothetical example. While the Duncan-Davis method requires no assumptions about the relationships between vote in one electoral contest and vote in another, both Shively (1969) and Cowart (1974) note that the limits derived may be unrealistically broad. We present the Duncan-Davis limits along with the actual values for ticket-splitting and analyze the pertinence of the Shively-Cowart criticism. The purpose of this research, then, is to apply the Burnham and Duncan-Davis measures to a data set of all 1972 and 1976 election ballots from a single community in an effort to evaluate their utility and validity in arriving at adequate estimates of split-ticket voting patterns.


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Aggregate vote totals


Votefor CandidatesFor Office B Democrat


Vote For Candidates For Office A

Republican Democrat 7,000 5,000

4,000 8,000 12,000

B. Minimum Number of Ticket-Splits(3,000)

For VoteforCandidates Office Republican Democrat Total

Vote For Candidates For Office A

Republican Democrat

4,000 3,000 7,000

0 5,000 5,000

4,000 8,000 12,000

C. MaximumNumber of Ticket-Splits(11,000)


Votefor CandidatesFor Office B Democrat


Vote For Candidates For Office A

Republican Democrat

0 7,000 7,000 THE DATA

4,000 1,000 5,000

4,000 8,000 12,000

In 1968, voters in Midcity,1 a community of 40,000 people, were introduced to a new form of election ballot, the punch card. The voter punches out, with a stylus, his or her choices in Midcity. The voter can opt to make a single punch for a straight party vote or multiple punches for individual selections among the array of candidates on the ballot. These individual general election ballots for Midcity for 1972 (N = 18,107) and 1976 (N = 17,744) comprise the data for this research.


The first aggregate index of ticket-splitting evaluated is the Burnham measure. Table 2 shows the office pairs considered. These pairs were selected because they represent electoral contests within and between the federal, state, and local office levels and are comparable between the elections considered. The President-U.S. Senate pairing is included in the 1972 data set (there was no U.S. Senate race in 1976) because of the frequent analysis of this pairing in other studies examining ticketWhile coal mining dominated Midcity's economy until this century, today it is predominantly an agricultural and manufacturing center and the home-office of several large manufacturing and service-oriented industries. Both economically and politically Midcity parallels many communities in the Midwest.

Ticket-Splitting 413

Office Pair

Burnham Estimate of Split Tickets (Percentage)

Actual Split Tickets (Percentage)


1972 President-U.S. Senate* President-U.S. Representative President-Governor President-Coroner Governor-Attorney General Governor-Coroner Coroner-State Senate 1976 President-U.S. Representative President-Governor President-Coroner Governor-Attorney General Governor-Coroner Coroner-State Senate

10.52 6.93 10.20 7.90 17.84t 2.30 9.20

21.7 15.7 19.2 18.7 22.5 23.4 21.7

-11.18 - 8.77 - 9.00 -10.80 - 4.66 -21.10 -12.50

13.49 16.02 2.06 2.82 13.96 18.30t

18.50 20.70 16.20 13.60 18.70 25.50

- 5.01 - 4.68 -14.14 -10.78 - 4.74 - 7.20

*No Senate race in 1976. t Among this set of paired electoral contests, this percentage represents the Burnham split-ticket value, the difference between the highest and lowest percentage of the two-party vote cast for either party among the array of offices in any given election.

splitting. The "Difference" category in Table 2 represents the Burnham measure's misestimate of the true split-ticket value. An overestimate.As the data in Table 2 demonstrate, all Burnham estimates underrepresent the degree of ticket-splitting for the office-pairs considered. For 1972, ticket-splitting estimates for four of the seven pairs are at least 10 percent less than the actual value. Notable differences are found in the Governor-Coroner comparison (21.1 percent) and the Coroner-State Senate comparison (12.5 percent). For 1976, two of the six office pairs have difference scores of 10 percent or higher. The underestimates exhibited in the comparisons in Table 2 show up in all possible pairings in both the 1972 and 1976 elections. Of the sixty-six possible office-combinations for the 1972 election, 47 percent (n=31) had difference scores of 10 percent or higher, 23 percent (n= 15) had difference scores of 15 percent or higher, and two pairings had difference scores of 20 percent or higher (see Appendix A). Of the twenty-eight possible office combinations for the 1976 election, 29 percent (n=8) had difference scores of 10 percent or higher, and one office comparison had a difference score of 19.44 percent (see Appendix B). The data clearly demonstrate a strong inclination for the Burnham measure to underestimate true ticket-splitting values within an election year; distortions range up to 24 percent, and the pattern of underestimation is uneven.


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Potential for underestimate.Although with these data the Burnham measure consistently underestimates the amount of ticket-splitting, another outcome is possible. The measure omits any votes cast for minor party or independent candidates. It also ignores selective non-voting or null votes observed by Feigert (1979). Both these phenomena, non-major party voting and selective non-voting, might result in the Burnham splitticket value overestimating the amount of ticket-splitting. Table 3 and the following discussion illustrate this.

Vote Candidates Office B For for

Democrat Total


Vote for Candidates For Office A

Republican Democrat Independent Vegetarian -

4,750 100 100 50 5,000

750 3,000 750 500 5,000

5.500 3,100 850 550 10,000

Burnham Estimate = Percent Two-Party Vote Republican Office A

Percent Two-Party Vote Republican Office B

64% -50% = 14% 850 Actual Split (Major Parties) = 8600 = 9.9% 2,250 Actual Split (Major and Minor Parties) = 100 = 22.5% 10,000 B. The Case of SelectiveNon-Voting
Republican Democrat Total

Vote for Candidates for Office C Vote for Candidates for Office D Burnham Estimate Split-Ticket Value

5,000 7,000 7,000 - 10,00 000 = 5,000

5,000 5,000 8%

10,000 12,000

Actual Split-Ticket Value Could Be Equal to Zero Percent

While not all elections include minor parties or independent candidates, many do. When more candidates than those of the two major parties participate, the Burnham measure can overestimate ticketsplitting (between the two major paties) as Table 3 shows. Rusk makes a proviso about applying the Burnham formula to elections in which more than 10 percent of the vote goes to non-major party candidates (1970), but Cowart, in his critical review, fails to recognize this problem (1974). Null votes, or selective non-voting on an election ballot, also cause potential problems of overestimation with the Burnham measure. In general, the Burnham formula uses two different denominators (the N's of the two-party vote in selected office races) to calculate partisan percen-

Ticket-Splitting 415 tages. Table 3 demonstrates that differences in total votes cast for two offices could cause the Burnham estimate to exceed the actual level of ticket-splitting, considered as ballot choices for candidates of more than one party. The alternateBurnham measure.If we modify the Burnham estimate so that we look at all pairs of offices across a given ballot and find the estimate percentage of splits in each case, we can derive the mean percentage of splits. This parallels the measure Burnham introduced as a response to Rusk's criticism of his initial measure, discussed above (1971). Table 4 compares the mean percentage of actual ballot splits over all the pairs of offices to the mean percentage of Burnham estimates over the same set of office pairs for both 1972 and 1976.


Actual Ticket-Splits for all Pairs (Mean Percentage) Burnham Estimates of Ticket-Splitting for all Pairs (Mean Percentage)

20.3 9.7

22.8 16.0

Table 4 demonstrates that distortions result if the Burnham estimates are employed to make statements about change in ticket-splitting proportions. The average values of the Burnham estimates suggest a dramatic increase in ticket splits between 1972 and 1976. Yet, when we assess the actual change in split ballots (shown in Table 4) rather than the Burnham estimates, this evaluation must be revised. The Burnham measures suggest an additional 6.3 percent splits per pair on the average in 1976 compared to 1972, or an increase of 65 percentin ticket splits between 1972 and 1976. An examination of the actual ballots for Midcity indicates that approximately 2.5 percent more splits occurred per pair in 1976, or an increase of only 12 percent in ticket-splitting between 1972 and 1976. Thus, the alternate Burnham measure may distort the actual increase or decrease in ticket-splitting between two election years; consequently, it is a poor instrument for assessing proportional changes in ticket-splitting over time.

Establishing the minimum and maximum numbers of split votes in paired electoral contests, as Table 5 shows, yields little useful information. At least for these data, using the marginals to derive the smallest and the largest numbers of split ballots compatible with them yields a wide band. For most office pairs, the Duncan-Davis parameters contain a range equal to half the votes cast. Because the minima and maxima are so far apart, a researcher without access to the actual number of split-tickets would be unable to compare levels of ticket-splitting among office pairs or across


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years in any meaningful way. Thus, this empirical test upholds the Cowart and Shively criticism of these estimates. It further suggests the limits so established bear an inconsistent relationship to the actual values, although the latter approach the lower limits more closely than the upper limits.

Office Pair




1972 President-Senator* President-Representative President-Governor President-Coroner Governor-Attorney General Governor-Coroner Coroner-State Senator 1976 President-Representative President-Governor President-Coroner Governor-Attorney General Governor-Coroner Coroner-State Senator * No Senate race in 1976. 2,107 2,538 233 379 2,068 2,779 10,351 10,168 11,731 7,995 9,464 14,511 3,291 3,682 2,873 2,413 3,314 4,519 16,494 16,703 15,928 16,689 15,987 16,127 795 1,157 1,741 1,365 2,927 315 1,385 9,953 12,887 13,757 12,777 12,223 14,587 15,353 3,935 2,841 3,471 3,441 4,083 4,231 3,949 16,892 16,928 17,278 16,648 17,040 16,744 16,358

In addition, for many office pairs, the sum of the marginals for office A would not equal that for office B, i.e., the total number of votes cast in each race would differ as a result of selective non-voting. Such variations in aggregate votes could be handled, to some extent, with the Duncan-Davis method by providing an additional column and row for null votes. Taking into account unequal numbers of votes cast in two races reduces both the minimum and maximum number of splits between the two major parties, since it decreases the shared base of votes. As a result, consideration of selective non-voting generally would increase the range established by the Duncan-Davis limits expressed as percentages of the shared vote. Even with this adjustment, the Duncan-Davis measure, like Burnham and other aggregate measures, remains insensitive to null votes which cancel each other out (voters who select candidates for office A but not for office B matched by those who select candidates for office B but not for office A).

Evidence presented in this paper brings into serious question the utility of the aggregate measures reviewed. Applied to actual election ballots for two elections, the Burnham measure underestimated the level of ticket-splitting in every case, while the size of the underestimates varied. Taking an average value for splits per pair of races similarly underestimates the actual splits unevenly, making comparisons across points in time hazardous. In its turn, the Duncan-Davis limits established

Ticket-Splitting 417 parameters for actual levels of ticket-splitting so broad as to render the measure useless in studying voting patterns. Both measures yield values close to (or, in some instances, identical with) actual values under certain conditions. The Burnham split-ticket value will be equivalent to the true number of ticket-splits when: (a) all voters who cast ballots for the candidate of Y party for office 1 also cast ballots for Y party's candidate for office 2; (b) they are joined in their choice for office 2 by some voters who cast ballots for the candidate of Z party for office 1, when, in other words, tickets are split in one direction only; (c) no minor party or independent candidates run for either office 1 or office 2; and (d) the set of voters is identical for both offices 1 and 2. Certainly, actual elections rarely if ever meet these conditions. However, the measure approaches the actual value as these conditions tend to be met. To turn to the other measure examined, the Duncan-Davis method of setting limits, like the Burnham index, potentially can yield results close to the actual figures. For Duncan-Davis to set a narrow range, the results of at least one of a pair of electoral contests must be very one-sided. When races are even moderately close, the maximum and minimum number of ticket-splits compatible with the marginals diverge substantially. And this is generally the case as Table 5 demonstrates. These data demonstrate the variability of patterns of ballot preference and the potential distortions that exist when evaluating the proportional change in ticket-splitting from one election to the next. In some paired electoral contests a Burnham-type measure stands but a few percentage points below the actual value. In others, the underestimate runs to over 20 percent of those voting. Ticket-splitting rarely occurs in one direction only; many voters choose third-party and independent candidates as well as selective non-voting. Hence the conditions are seldom met which allow the Burnham measure or Duncan-Davis to estimate very closely the actual number of ticket splits. The Burnham index, then, picks up only net gains which appear in vote totals for a major party. The individual ballots may show quite a different picture. For example, the lowest estimate of ticket-splitting for 1972 in Table 2 (2.3 percent) appears for the Governor-Coroner pair. Yet a computation of the ballots themselves reveals that this pair had, in fact, the largest percentage of split-tickets of any reported in this table (21.1 percent). Further, 4 percent of all voters in 1972 did not vote in one of these two races (.5 percent voted in the coroner's but not the governor's race). Examination of Table 2 and Table 3 along with Appendices A and B strongly suggests that one should be quite wary of statements about the levels of ticket-splitting and particularly of claims that ticket-splitting is increasing or decreasing over time or across political jurisdictions based on Burnham-type indicators. In the latter cases, misestimates can compound, one upon the other. On the other hand, Cowart's concern about the distorting effects of outliers (in terms of partisan percentages) on the Burnham split-ticket value may be misplaced. Table 2 shows that the split-ticket value does not


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overestimate the average percentage of splits among these office pairs. Further, since ticket-splitting more approximately describes behavior across a total ballot, rather than for one pair of offices, actual numbers of ticket-splitters, persons not voting straight complete party ballots, undoubtedly exceed the Burnham estimate even using "outliers."2 For the Duncan-Davis measure, while the actual numbers of split tickets come closer to the minima than the maxima for the pairs examined, again, as with Burnham, no consistent pattern of relationship appears. This examination of two aggregate measures of ticket-splitting, in light of individual-level data, provides empirical substantiation for criticism directed at them. The accuracy of both Burnham and Duncan-Davis estimates has limits which restrain considerably the kinds of conclusions they can support. For example, while a variety of evidence for the decline of political parties has been introduced, prominent among them are Burnham estimates of ticket-splitting. This investigation points out that trends in voter behavior and indeed accurate readings of the pattern of individual voting decisions in a single election may be distorted by this indicator. Consequently, researchers who use these measures must be modest in the claims built upon them. Students of the area must take into account the margins of error inherent in such methodologies in assessing research findings. Finally, the notion of confidence limits ought to be employed explicitly when making statements about ticket-splitting based on aggregate data since, in the end, aggregate measures probably cannot be abandoned. The authors encourage work on more accurate estimates using aggregate data and expect to undertake such efforts in future research. Appendix A: 1972 Paired ElectoralContests in which the Burnham Split Ticket Value Underestimatesthe Actual Percentage of Ticket Splits by 10 Percent or More of the Votes
Governor-Secretary of State Governor-Coroner Recorder of Deeds-Secretary of State Governor- Recorder of Deeds Secretary of State-State Senate Recorder of Deeds-Comptroller Coronor-U.S. Representative Governor-U.S. Representative Recorder of Deeds-State Senate Secretary of State-U.S. Representative Coroner-Secretary of State County Auditor-U.S. Representative County Auditor-Coroner Secretary of State-Comptroller Governor-Comptroller Coroner-Clerk (Total possible pairs = 66)

24.00 21.10 19.90 19.30 17.10 17.50 17.80 17.40 16.26 16.90 16.39 16.07 16.10 15.69 15.60 14.97

Coroner-Recorder Clerk-Secretary of State Clerk-U.S. Representative Governor-Clerk Governor-State Senator Coroner-State Senator Comptroller-State Senator Recorder-U.S. Representative President-Clerk Coroner-Comptroller President-Secretary of State U.S. Senate-Attorney General President-U.S. Senate President-Coroner County Auditor-Clerk

14.60 14.16 14.30 13.50 13.86 12.50 12.90 13.07 12.20 11.28 11.69 11.56 11.18 10.80 11.07

The authors will examine alternative definitions of ticket-splitting in a later paper, including the impact of null votes on a given ballot on estimates of ticket-splitting.



Appendix B: 1976 Paired Electoral Contests in which the Burnham Split Ticket Value Underestimates the Actual Percentage of Ticket Splits by 10 Percent or More of the Votes. Secretaryof State-StateSenate President-Coroner President-Comptroller Senate Comptroller-State Governor-U.S.Representative Comptroller-Coroner Attorney General-U.S.Representative General Governor-Attorney (Total possible pairs = 28) REFERENCES Alker, Haywood. 1965. Mathematicsand Politics. Toronto: Collier-Macmillan. Burnham, Walter Dean. 1965. "The Changing Shape of the American Political Universe." AmericanPolitical Science Review 59 (March): 7-28. .. 1971. "Communication." AmericanPolitical ScienceReview 65 (December): 1149-52. Campbell, Angus, Philip Converse, Warren Miller, and Donald Stokes. 1964. The American Voter:An Abridgement.New York: Wiley. Cowart, Andrew. 1974. "A Cautionary Note on Aggregate Indicators of Split Ticket Voting." Political Methodology 1 (Winter): 109-30. Grand Rapids, DeVries, Walter, and Lance V. Tarrance. 1972. The Ticket-Splitter. Michigan: William B. Eerdman's Pub. Co. Duncan, Otis Dudley, and Beverly Davis. 1953. "An Alternative to Ecological Correlation." American Sociological Review 18 (December): 665-66. Duncan, Otis Dudley, R. P. Cuzzort, and B. Duncan. 1961. Statistical Geography. Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press. Feigert, Frank B. 1979. "Illusions of Ticket-Splitting."AmericaniPolitics Quarterly7,
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19.44 14.14 14.03 13.13 12.87 11.57 12.41 10.78

Gitelson, Alan R. 1978. "An Analysis of Split-Ticket Voting Patterns at the Microanalytic Level." Political Methodology5, no. 4: 445-59. Goodman, Lea A. 1959. "Some Alternatives to Ecological Correlations." American Journal of Sociology 64 (May): 610-25. Jennings, M. Kent, and Richard G. Niemi. 1966. "Party Identification at Multiple Levels of Government." AmericanJournal of Sociology 72 (uly): 86-101. AmericanParties and Politics in the CommunicaPhillips, Kevin P. 1975. Mediocracy: tions Age. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. Robinson, W. S. 1950. "Ecological Correlations and the Behavior of Individuals." Americal Sociological Review 15 (June): 351-57. Rusk,Jerrold G. 1970. "The Effect of the Australian Ballot Reform on Split Ticket Voting." American Political Science Review 64 (December): 1220-38. Shively, W. Phillips. 1969. "Ecological Inference: The Use of Aggregate Data to Study Individuals." AmericanPolitical ScienceReview 62 (December): 1183-96.