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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Candidates whose names appear first on an election ballot may attract more voters simply because they’re listed before their rivals, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that, in nearly half of the 118 Ohio races they studied (48 percent), the name placement on the ballot significantly affected vote totals. In nearly all the cases, the candidate who was listed first had the advantage.

On average, candidates received 2.33 percent more votes when their names appeared first on the ballots than when their names were listed last, said Jon Krosnick, co-author of the study and professor of psychology and political science at Ohio State University.

However, in some races, candidates received as many as 6 percent more votes when listed first than when listed last.

“Our results indicate that there is more than a slim chance that name order could affect the outcome of a close election,” Krosnick said.

Findings showed that 3 percent of the races studied would have had different results if only one name order had been used, depending upon which name was chosen. However, on Ohio ballots, candidate names are rotated so that each candidate is listed first on the ballot in approximately the same number of precincts.

Although researchers had long suspected that candidate name order may influence election results, Krosnick said there has been little good research on this topic to date.

Krosnick conducted the study with Joanne Miller, a graduate student in psychology at Ohio State. Their results will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Public Opinion Quarterly.

For the study, the researchers analyzed precinct-by-precinct vote returns for all the races in the 1992 elections held in the three largest Ohio counties: Franklin (which includes Columbus), Cuyahoga (Cleveland), and Hamilton (Cincinnati).

The results showed that, in general, name order was more likely to have an effect on races in which voters knew less about the candidates, Krosnick said. For example, name order had a stronger affect in non-partisan races.

“Party affiliations act as a cue that help voters decide where a candidate stands on issues,” Krosnick said. “If voters don’t know if a candidate is a Republican or a Democrat, they may be more likely to let name order influence their vote.”

Name order also had a stronger effect on races that received less coverage in the media, suggesting that voters were less well informed about these candidates.

“In 1992, some voters may have gone to the polls mainly to vote in the national presidential election, but then were faced with lots of other candidates running in races that they knew little about,” Krosnick said. “In these less-visible races, the order of names played a larger role in voting decisions.”

The order of names on the ballot may also be more important for those who are less knowledgeable about politics, Krosnick said. Results showed that name order effects were stronger in Franklin County, where the formal education of voters was lower than in the other two counties studied.

Krosnick noted that only four of the 118 races studied (3 percent) would have had different results if just one name order was used. (The four races were for a Franklin County commissioner, a Cuyahoga County commissioner, a Supreme Court justice race in Franklin County and a Court of Appeals Judge race in Franklin County.)

“In general, most of the name order effects we found were relatively small and concentrated among the less visible races. These effects are doing little to undermine the democratic process,” Krosnick said.

“However, these results shouldn’t be ignored. Other states should follow Ohio’s lead and balance name order in future elections to ensure fair outcomes,” he said.


Contact: Jon Krosnick, (614) 292-3496; krosnick@osu.edu
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; grabmeier.1@osu.edu