How ballot order helps candidates
Some candidates on Tuesday may get a boost — from the ballot itself.
Appearing first on a ballot can be worth as much as 2.3 percentage points more votes, enough to swing a close race.
That number comes from research by Jonathan Koppell and Jennifer Steen, political science professors at Yale University and Arizona State University, respectively.
They looked at the 1998 Democratic primary in New York to test their hypothesis that ballot order mattered.
Because New York rotates the order in which candidates are listed in every precinct, Koppell and Steen were able to test how well the candidates did who were listed first. They found the advantage was from 1.6 to 2.3 percentage points.
"People economize," Steen told Congress.org. "Political scientists have borrowed this concept from economists and political psychologists. The theory is that one time- or labor-saving device is to make an easy decision, and when you're presented with a list of choices in a written format, you'll pick the first one that is acceptable to you."
She said that the effect is most likely in "low-information elections," in which people are not familiar with the candidates, such as local or nonpartisan offices. She does not think it has as much effect on high-profile races for Congress, except in some tight races.