We investigate how voter and political candidate behavior and election results are affected by an explicit blank vote option “None of the above” (NOTA) on the ballot paper. We report evidence from two online survey experiments conducted in the weeks preceding the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election and the 2016 Austrian run-off election for President. We subjected participants either to the original ballot paper or to a manipulated ballot paper where we added a NOTA option. We find that introducing a NOTA option on the ballot increases participation and reduces the vote shares of non-establishment candidates. NOTA is chosen more frequently by voters with a protest motive, who are either unhappy with the candidate set or with the political establishment in general. Using a laboratory experiment we further explore the reaction of political candidates to the existence of a NOTA option. We replicate our field evidence that NOTA diverts votes from a protest option (e.g. an inferior candidate or policy), thus decreasing the likelihood that the protest option actually wins. However, (establishment) candidates anticipate this shift and become more likely to make unfair policy proposals when NOTA is present. As a result, a NOTA option on the ballot in our laboratory setting improves efficiency but increases inequality.
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