A surprising number of Coloradans who voted in favor of banning animal leghold traps didn’t reach decisions until they entered voting booths, a recent Colorado State University survey found.
The survey, conducted by the university’s Human Dimensions In Natural Resources Unit and the Colorado Division of Wildlife, asked 422 Coloradans who voted in November’s general election how they reached decisions about Amendment 14. The amendment, which proposed a ban on leghold, body-gripping and steel-jawed traps in Colorado, passed with 52 percent in favor and 48 percent opposed.
The poll also aimed to gauge how Colorado voters reached decisions about Amendment 14, including information they relied on to cast votes, when they decided positions and what factors influenced decisions.
"Wildlife professionals are troubled by the increasing use of ballot initiatives for dealing with complex wildlife issues," said Mike Manfredo, Colorado State professor and study leader. "It is feared the public is voting on these critical issues without careful deliberation about the potential consequences of those decisions."
Eight out of 10 people surveyed decided how they would vote on Amendment 14 a week or more prior to election day. However, 7 percent of those who voted in favor of the ban decided their positions in the voting booth, compared to 1 percent of those opposing the ban who reached their decision on-the-spot.
Despite widespread media coverage about the amendment prior to the November election, only three out of 10 voters said they were influenced by an information source such as newspaper or television, state voting brochures or conversations with others.
Because Amendment 14 passed by a narrow margin, voters who made their decisions in the voting booth played an important role in the outcome, Manfredo said. The survey findings support past research that suggests when there are a number of issues on the ballot or when people have little interest in an issue, they tend to adopt shortcuts in reaching decisions. Colorado voters faced a large ballot last November, along with seven statewide ballot initiatives that included Amendment 14.
Manfredo said conclusions from past studies are supported by the findings from Colorado State’s survey. On average, survey respondents who voted yes on Amendment 14 cited fewer reasons than no voters for their vote. The survey showed that 50 percent of all yes voters gave one or no reasons for their decision, compared to 36 percent of no voters.
An overwhelming majority of those who voted to ban trapping- -about 60 percent–made decisions on the single widespread belief that trapping is cruel and inhumane. About 28 percent of yes voters mentioned they felt trapping is unnecessary, outdated or indiscriminate.
Reasons for voting against the initiative were more diffuse and included concern for predator control, 26 percent; concern for ranchers, 23 percent; the belief that the public should not make the decision, 15 percent; that Amendment 14 should not be a constitutional amendment, 10 percent; and that government has too much control, 14 percent.
"Clearly, ballot initiatives are an important check in the policy formation process," Manfredo said. "However, our study highlights the limitations of this form of decision-making on wildlife issues. Decisions about wildlife policy can have a wide variety of effects on the economy, environment, recreation opportunities as well as the public’s health and safety. It is important that these effects are considered in setting policy."