Friday, June 24, 2011

Downs' Article Discusses the Advantage of Being First on the Ballot

Andrew Downs, Director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IUPU-Fort Wayne, has an interesting article in the Indianapolis Star dealing with the issue of ballot placement:
If you were running for elected office, would you want your name to be first or second (or third or fifth or last) on the ballot?

Many of us would want to be first, and there's good reason for that. People have a tendency to pick the first option when presented with a list. It's called the primacy effect.

Jon Krosnick, a professor of communication and political science at Stanford University, and others have studied the primacy effect in regard to elections. They've found that being listed first on the ballot is worth 2.5 percent to 25 percent of votes. The effect is largest in races where there is limited information.

The primacy effect might be expected to disappear in high-profile races, but it doesn't. It can be tracked especially well in California because the order of names on the ballot is rotated throughout the state. In 1996 and in 2000, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both did better on ballots in which they were listed first. Even after controlling for the partisan makeup of voters, Clinton in 1996 performed about 4 percent better when he was listed first. Four years later, Bush collected about 9 percent more votes when he was listed first.
For the rest of the article, click here.

Downs' article focuses mostly on the advantage of being first on the general election ballot when there are head-to-head matchups between the party.  I would like to see the effect of alphabetical order on "list" type races in primary and general election.  For example, next year there will be 9 Marion County Superior Court judges nominated by the parties at the primary.  What if there is a list of 11 candidates...what is the effect of being say ninth on the list?  Or is there an advantage to being dead last as opposed to being buried in the middle?

You also have primary races where there might be four candidate running for a seat. I know that a lot of time the party will recruit a sham candidate with a lower last name to appear first on the ballot to take away some of the impact of a non-slated candidate being listed first.  Does this strategy work?

From observing these list type races, I can state purely from observation that it appears that being first on the ballot helps.  But in Marion County, I also notice other effects. For example, being a female candidate on a list of candidates, especially in a low profile race, appears to be a big advantage.  Having a "foreign" sounding name can also make things difficult.  A Charlie White has an advantage over a Vop Osili, for example.

One thing I do find surprising is the finding that the "first on the ballot" advantage doesn't go away in high profile races where voters actually know the candidates.  I'm still a little skeptical of that finding.

I think Indiana really needs to consider changing the alphabetical listing of candidates.  Whether it be a random draw or some other method, there has to be a more fair way than simply giving a candidate an edge because he or she has a last name that comes early in the alphabet.


Nicolas Martin said...

Yet more evidence that the electorate is comprised of idiots and democracy is a risible sham.

Unigov said...

Look at the last names of current US Senators. 25% begin with A, B, or C.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Unigov, I don't know that other states have the alphabetical listing provision on the ballot. I doubt it. Plus that would only matter in the primary.

I do recall when I worked in the legislature looking up at the board of legislators names and seeing they were heavily weighted toward the first part of the alphabet. It doesn't seem to be as bad anymore.