It has long been anecdotally noted that candidates whose name comes early in the alphabet seem to have a better chance of winning than those farther down ballot. This is particularly true in multi-winner election contests for at-large county or city council seats.
Some may think that a study showing that would simply be wasted academic effort to show the obvious. Yet, researchers Yuval Salant of the Kellogg School of Management and Marc Meredith of the University of Pennsylvania studied more questions surrounding what researchers call 'framing' or the way in which presentation and order affect choices.
From a release regarding the study:
The results were clear-cut. “In one out of ten elections, the candidate listed first won just because he was listed first,” Salant recalls. “The first candidate advantage,” the paper notes, “comes primarily at the expense of candidates listed in the median ballot position who are 2.5 percentage points less likely to win office than expected absent order effects”
Note that Mr. Salant said that the advantage comes at the expense of candidates in the median position; a candidates at the end of the list also gets an advantage over the median candidates, albeit a smaller one.
Yesterday, FWOb talked with Allen County Council member Bob Armstrong outside the Allen County Election Board, where Mr. Armstrong had just filed for re-nomination as an At-Large County Council member in the May Republican primary election. There is just one week to go before the filing deadline for the May primary.
There had been some speculation that Mr. Armstrong might not run for re-election; he has now put that speculation to rest. There had already been one open seat among the three to be elected; Paul Moss, one of the other At-Large County Council members, has filed to run for state representative in the 52nd district. That has set off interest among a number of candidates and potential candidates. Two open seats would have resulted in a cascade of interested candidates and, potentially, a broad field filed by next Friday's filing deadline.
He said that one area political science professor had run in to him recently and told him that he would be crazy not to run.
Mr. Armstrong said that there have been many, including both Fort Wayne daily newspapers, who have credited his win four years ago, to the first letter of his name and to coincidentally having the same name as former Mayor and County Council member Robert Armstrong.
However, Mr. Armstrong had previously held an elected office and is now the incumbent. Former Mayor Armstrong passed away three years ago.
Indeed, Mr. Armstrong defeated incumbent Patt Kite four years ago in the Republican primary. He finished second in the results. The order of finish: Roy Buskirk, Armstrong, Moss, Houlihan, Kite, Connie Teeple and then City Purchasing Director Jim Howard.
The candidate list for the 2012 Republican nomination for Allen County Council now includes Mr. Armstrong, Mr. Buskirk, former Commissioner Bill Brown, and newcomer Tom Rotering. While the primary list is currently front-loaded with candidates whose last name begins with one of the first two letters of the alphabet - it is likely to grow more crowded.
If no other candidate files whose last name begins with a letter that appears later in the alphabet than "R" Mr. Rotering can take some heart in the research that shows the last person in a list gets a slight bump, too.
When Allen County voted on the old green mechanical voting machines, the candidates' names were rotated due to the fact that the number of available places on the machine row were limited. A large number of candidates in a primary for an office might see names listed on the second or even third row of the machine. The result of being listed on other than the first row were readily apparent. Allen County had operated under an ongoing consent decree dating to the 1960's that required candidates' names to be rotated on the machine. That was not the case in other Indiana counties using the mechanical machines.
Today, candidates' names on grouped by office on the electronic voting machines - by descending alphabetical order.