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Altruistic Voting: Warm Glow or Cool Thinking? Information Acquisition and Information Avoidance in a Swiss Popular Vote on Animal Welfare
Last registered on November 13, 2018


Trial Information
General Information
Altruistic Voting: Warm Glow or Cool Thinking? Information Acquisition and Information Avoidance in a Swiss Popular Vote on Animal Welfare
Initial registration date
November 10, 2018
Last updated
November 13, 2018 1:11 AM EST

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Primary Investigator
University of Hamburg
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
University of Pittsburgh
PI Affiliation
University of Hamburg
PI Affiliation
Toulouse School of Economics
PI Affiliation
University of Vienna
Additional Trial Information
In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
This research project investigates pure versus impure altruism in voting, with a focus on pre-vote information acquisition. Using the Swiss popular vote on the so-called “Horncow-Initiative” on November 25, 2018, we study one exemplary vote in which the voters themselves are not directly affected in material terms by the voting outcome, while the voting outcome will have externalities on others (in this case, animals). Such votes are liable to so-called “expressive voting” or “moral bias”, i.e., voters express altruism. Altruism can be pure – i.e., consequentialist and based on information about the true effects on those concerned – or impure, i.e., motivated by self-signalling, or, equivalently, by the so-called warm glow. In the latter case, voters are not necessarily motivated to acquire information about true consequences on those affected but use the vote to express, and signal to themselves, that they have morally good intentions. Impure altruism can even cause deliberate information avoidance. A welfare-maximizing approach that puts higher weights on externalities than on ego utility would imply minimizing information avoidance and hence reducing impure altruism. We conduct a survey experiment with a sample of approx. 2000 individuals to investigate the conditions under which voters acquire objective and balanced information, rather than to avoid information.
A second focus of this project is on animal welfare in its own right. We investigate whether consumption behavior that improves animal welfare (such as refraining from meat consumption) and voting in favor of animal-welfare regulation are positively correlated, or whether “altruistic voting” is a compensation for egoistic consumption behavior. Both possibilities are predicted by economic theories on (self-)signalling and moral behavior.


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External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Mechtenberg, Lydia et al. 2018. "Altruistic Voting: Warm Glow or Cool Thinking? Information Acquisition and Information Avoidance in a Swiss Popular Vote on Animal Welfare." AEA RCT Registry. November 13. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.3551-1.0
Former Citation
Mechtenberg, Lydia et al. 2018. "Altruistic Voting: Warm Glow or Cool Thinking? Information Acquisition and Information Avoidance in a Swiss Popular Vote on Animal Welfare." AEA RCT Registry. November 13. https://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/3551/history/37120
Experimental Details

Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
pre-vote acquisition of information supporting the Horncow Initiative, pre-vote acquisition of information supporting opponents of the Horncow Initiative, pre-vote informedness, reported voting behavior (YES, NO, abstention), consequentialism

Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Information acquisition is measured as the decision to read arguments (of proponents and / or opponents of the Initiative) that are offered to be read in the 1st survey and that remain hidden if the participant chooses not to read them. We also ask a number of test questions in the 1st surveys to estimate the pre-vote degree to which participants are informed about the Horncow Initiative and its possible consequences. Voting behavior will be elicited in the 2nd-wave surveys after the popular vote. In the 2nd surveys, we ask general questions about moral attitudes, in particular whether good intentions and / or good consequences should be rewarded. In addition to the causal hypotheses described in the (hidden) experimental-design section below, we hypothesize that (1) information acquisition and (2) informedness positively correlate with consequentialist attitudes, i.e., the preference for rewarding good consequences rather than (only) good intentions.
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
consumption of meat and other animal products, prior (belief about) degree of informedness, overconfidence, emotional involvedness, text data from the chat: emotion-based versus information-based arguments
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
We directly elicit consumption of meat and other animal products in the 1st surveys. Beliefs about own informedness and informedness of the average person are also directly elicited (belief about own degree of informedness, overconfidence). We directly elicit how much the participant is emotionally involved in the issue addressed by the Horncow Initiative. We hypothesize that (1) information acquisition negatively correlates with overconfidence and emotional involvedness. Since economic theories of moral behavior differ with regard to their implication on how past good / bad acts correlate with future good / bad acts, we test two hypotheses on the correlation between the consumption of animal products and voting in favor of the Horncow Initiative: (2) Subjects who refrain more from consumption of animal products are more likely to vote in favor of the Horncow Initiative (moral consistency), or (3) subjects who refrain less from consumption of animal products are more likely to vote in favor of the Horncow Initiative (moral balancing behavior). If we get sufficient text data from the chat, we will also investigate whether those who are classified as consequentialists based on their answers in the 2nd survey also use more information-based arguments than those who are not classified as consequentialists.
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
We implement six versions of one survey prior to the popular vote and two versions of another survey after the popular vote. Together, we therefore implement 12 survey treatments. We vary two different treatment variables: First, we vary (true) information that we give the subjects prior to the vote. Second, we vary the (anticipation of) the opinion of a chat-partner. The online chat of 3-5 minutes is part of the 2nd survey. Survey and chat are incentivized. Treatments are assigned randomly through randomization quota. Subjects are recruited by a professional panel provider.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Randomization is implemented by programming randomization quota within Limesurvey.
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
2100 individuals
Sample size: planned number of observations
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
Since we conduct two waves (prior to the vote and after), we expect to lose some of the subjects from the 1st wave. To be more precise, we expect to have 2100 completes in the 1st wave and 1400 in the 2nd wave. Thus, we expect to have approx. 116 completes per treatment in the end.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB Name
Dean's Office, University of Hamburg
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number