A New Study Examines the Effect of Ballot Placement
Ballot order affects candidate success, a recently released study of 7,846 California city council, community college and school district elections shows.
“In between four and five percent of the elections we examined, the candidate listed first won office as a result of her or his ballot position,” report Marc Meredith and Yuval Salant in their 41-page study, On the Causes and Consequences of Ballot Order Effects.
In one out of 10 elections, candidates listed first win owe their victory to ballot placement, the study concludes.
Meredith and Salant say the-first-on-the-ballot effect is “similar in city council and in school board elections, in races with and without an open seat and in races consolidated and not consolidated with statewide general elections.”
The advantage is larger on crowded ballots where there are a greater number of candidates.
It also helps to be a “higher quality candidate.”
The study notes that the first candidate advantage comes primarily at the expense of candidates who aren’t listed first.
“We found that candidates listed second perform worse than candidates listed first and that candidates listed third perform relatively similar to candidates listed second. We also found that the relative performance of the second and third candidates does not differ significantly between two-winner and three-winner races.”
The races the researchers examined occurred between 1995 and 2008. California was chosen because the order of candidates on ballots is random. If ballot placement wasn’t a factor then all spots on the ballot would generate the same proportion of winners.
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