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Does ballot position matter?

Thursday, Dec 12, 2013

* SJ-R

State Sen. Bill Brady will have the top ballot spot in the March 18 primary for governor, due to a lottery conducted Wednesday at the State Board of Elections.

Following Brady — a member of the state Senate from Bloomington and the 2010 Republican gubernatorial nominee — will be state Treasurer Dan Rutherford of Chenoa, state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale and venture capitalist Bruce Rauner of Winnetka. […]

The statewide lottery — which featured numbered balls being picked out of a wooden box by Becky Glazier, assistant to the executive director of the state board — determined ballot order for candidates who were in line to file when the filing period started at 8 a.m. Nov. 25. People who filed later will generally be on the ballot in the order they filed.

One other GOP candidate for governor, Peter Edward Jones of Franklin Park, will be fifth on the ballot unless a pending objection to his petitions yields the removal of his name.

* But will this really matter much? Larry Sabato has probably the best take on ballot position I’ve yet seen. He examined eight research papers, some conflicting with each other, and came to some important conclusions, including

1. There is an advantage to being listed first on the ballot. Voters who do not have well defined choices prior to voting appear to latch onto the first name on the ballot for each office, a phenomenon we might call “first-listing bias.” In the split-second process of decision-making, they do more thinking about this candidate. For those voters truly on the fence, this mental consideration of the first candidate can produce an affirmative vote. (An aside: One wonders whether the first-listing bias is as great for absentee and mail ballot voters, compared to those who turn up at the polls on Election Day. Voters can take their time at home–they can even do some internet research on the candidates before completing their ballots. At the polls, many voters feel anxious and tense. Everyone is in a hurry and being watched. No one wants to hold up the line. Alas, there is no research of which we are aware on this subject, perhaps because absentee ballots pose further obstacles to researchers. As one study stated, “We were unable to analyze absentee votes because name order is rotated from ballot to ballot, and records are not kept of vote totals separately for the different name orders.”)

2. The advantage for first-listed candidates varies widely. In some elections a first-listing produces just a handful of votes, though they can make the difference in an extremely close election. In other elections a first-listing can generate extra votes up to about 5% of the overall tally, according to some studies.

3. Offices at the top of the ballot, for president, governor, and senator, produce the fewest additional votes for a first-listed candidate. That is because the candidates for these high-visibility offices tend to be well known, and most voters have made a firm decision about which to support prior to voting.

4. Offices in the middle and bottom of the ballot are especially susceptible to the first-listing bias. Many candidates for lower statewide elected office (such as lieutenant governor, attorney general, labor commissioner, etc.) and other localized offices (state legislators, city councilors, and so on) are surprisingly little known by many voters. A voter may have gone to the polls specifically to vote for president or governor, and once in the voting booth be surprised to discover lots of other offices up for election. Some voters just skip these contests (which may be the responsible thing to do if one has not studied them in advance), and this produces a phenomenon called “voter fatigue” or “ballot drop-off.” The number of votes cast for president is almost always much greater than the number of votes cast for any other office, for example. Often, the number of votes cast per office drops consistently as one moves down the ballot. However, other voters feel an obligation to be “good citizens” and cast a ballot even in races where the candidates are unknown to them. First-listing bias can be a major factor for these voters. […]

6. Elections without well-known incumbents are more susceptible to first listing bias than those with such incumbents. Incumbency can substitute for a party label, in that less attentive voters may use name identification as a vote prompt where party identification is not available.

7. Primary elections are more susceptible to first-listing bias than general elections. By definition, party primaries do not contain a party identification prompt. All the candidates are either Democrats or Republicans, and so party voters lack a key voting cue. On the other hand, incumbency (if it exists and especially if it is noted on the primary ballot) can substitute for the party prompt, and thereby minimize first-listing bias. […]

9. There is some evidence that, in a long listing of candidates for a particular office, being listed last is almost as good as being listed first. This is somewhat biblical–”the first shall be last and the last shall be first”–but essentially, the suggestion is that the voter’s eyes assess a large, multi-candidate field by focusing on the first listed candidate and then the last-listed candidate, with those positioned in the middle getting short-shrift. The first-listed candidate still gets more “extra” votes, but the last-listed candidate does second best in this category.

10. Of all these principles that govern the first-listing bias, the most important are the degree of information held by individual voters and the position of the office on the ballot. Elections that draw a disproportionate number of well-informed voters have lower first-listing bias effects. And long ballots that ask voters to cast votes on an extended list of offices and candidates almost certainly exaggerate the first-listing bias for the offices toward the end of the ballot.

I think we can conclude from this that if Bruce Rauner gets his name recognition way up by March, then his fourth place listing won’t matter all that much. But if it ends up being a super-close race, then Brady might benefit a bit.

* There are obviously some races where ballot position will be important. Take, for instance, the 40th House District race. Rep. Jaime Andrade (D-Chicago) was appointed to replace Deb Mell. Andrade has six (yes, six) Democratic primary opponents. From Russ Stewart’s latest column…

(W)e shall see in the primary whether the Mell Machine is toothless and decrepit. Upon Deb Mell’s resignation, Dick Mell engineered the appointment of top staffer Jaime Andrade to her House seat.

In the primary, Andrade has six opponents—a clear signal of his political precariousness. He has multiple problems. First, Dick Mell’s clout has withered since his retirement. Second, Andrade is totally unknown, and must rely on Madigan money and Mell workers to persevere. Andrade backed the Quinn-Madigan pension “fix” so the speaker owes him. By doing so, he alienated Organized Labor; SEIU and AFSCME will spend heavily against him in the primary. Third, the Hispanic voter base in the district is only 30 percent of registered voters. And fourth, he exudes no charisma.

But he could still win, primarily because the non-Andrade vote will be split among six others. Andrade’s most formidable foes, each of whom have a base in the district, and fundraising ability, are Nancy Schiavone, a Logan Square attorney who is the 35th Ward Democratic Committeeman; Aaron Goldstein, a criminal defense attorney who was second chair on Rod Blagoiavich’s first corruption trial, and lead counsel on the second; and Bart Goldberg, an attorney who ran for 38thWard Alderman in 2011, getting 7.8 percent of the vote. Also, on the ballot are CPS librarian Melanie Ferrand, Mark Pasieka, and Wendy Jo Harmston.

The 40th District extends from Argyle Street on the north to Altgeld Street, between California and Kostner, and is bisected by the Kennedy expressway. According to the 2010 census, it is 45 percent white, with most concentrated in the area north of Irving Park Road, which is decidedly upscale, and in Logan square, in the southeast corner. It is 45 percent Hispanic, who are concentrated in the southwest of the Kennedy expressway between Irving Park and Logan Boulevard. According to Goldstein, about half the Hispanics are non-citizens, and non voters. The remaining 10 percent are Asian.

In the 2010 primary, Deb Mell initially had a serious challenger, Joe Liacona. Mell had moved, but failed to change her voter registration. Liacona challenged her residency, but Dick Mell’s high-priced lawyers prevailed. She beat Liacona 4,335-2,242 (65.9 percent), in a 6,577 turnout. In 2012, Deb Mell was unopposed, and turnout plunged to 4,011. The district contains 68 precincts, of which 21 are in Mell’s 33rd Ward, 16 in in the 35th Ward, and five in the 38th Ward.

Goldstein’s “Blagojevich connection” is no asset, especially since he was 0-for-2. Invariably, convicted defendants blame their lawyers, not themselves, so he can expect no help from the Mell Clan. Goldstein is energetic and creative, and will use adjectives like independent, reformer and progressive to describe himself; plus, he likely will be Labor’s choice. Andrade’s strategy will be to run as the incumbent, focus heavily on the Hispanic vote, and let mailers and door-knockers do the rest.

* Rep. Andrade is second on the ballot. Nancy Schiavone, the 35th Ward Democratic Committeeman, is at the top of the ballot. Mark Pasieka is at the bottom.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


19 Comments
  1. - Small Town Liberal - Thursday, Dec 12, 13 @ 9:46 am:

    I just think it’s pretty funny that Bruce ends up 4th. Can’t buy that one, buddy.


  2. - Aldyth - Thursday, Dec 12, 13 @ 9:59 am:

    Rauner couldn’t buy first place? I’m sure he’d pay good money for it.


  3. - dupage dan - Thursday, Dec 12, 13 @ 10:01 am:

    Yeah, Brady, et al, being ahead of Rauner will more than make up for the fact that they have less cash combined than Rauner paid for his new wardrobe.


  4. - wordslinger - Thursday, Dec 12, 13 @ 10:19 am:

    The GOP gubernatorial primary is the big race. I suspect those that show up will know who they want to vote for.


  5. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Dec 12, 13 @ 10:26 am:

    For me, if there arr 3 or more, I want to be “Rickey Bobby”….

    “If you ain’t first, you’re last”

    Yep. Three or more, first or last.

    Unless you get a cool ballot number …”Punch 10″ for a straight party back about a thousand years ago is something that resonated and was easy to remember, so if the “Punch” number is cool, or is workable, thann not being first or last is “OK”…


  6. - train111 - Thursday, Dec 12, 13 @ 10:28 am:

    I doubt if it will make much difference in the Gubernatorial race or even 40th HD as alot of dough will probably be dropped there.
    I suspect it probably makes quite a difference in those multiple Cook County Judicial Races where there is alot of ‘ballot fatigue’ voting for multiple offices where you haven’t heard of any of the people running.


  7. - walkinfool - Thursday, Dec 12, 13 @ 10:35 am:

    Good analysis. Makes sense.


  8. - DuPage Dave - Thursday, Dec 12, 13 @ 10:38 am:

    Does anyone know who was listed first in the 2010 GOP primary?


  9. - Wensicia - Thursday, Dec 12, 13 @ 10:45 am:

    I expect Rauner will be running commercials pointing out his position on the ballot, “Scan down, folks, until you see the correct choice!” right before the primary.


  10. - gesquire - Thursday, Dec 12, 13 @ 10:47 am:

    Anybody running for office knows that it’s more important that your name is longer so it sticks out. Rutherford is second with the longer name. He will show up best if any of this matters for an office like governor.


  11. - Arthur Andersen - Thursday, Dec 12, 13 @ 10:50 am:

    Wen, I’m sure you are right.

    “Hammer down to the bottom to Shake Up Springfield!”

    PS: Willy, great Ricky Bobby reference.


  12. - Nearly Normal - Thursday, Dec 12, 13 @ 10:51 am:

    2010 GOP Primary for Gov
    1 Dillard
    2 Brady
    3 Schillerstrom
    4 Andrzeijewski
    5 Proft
    6 Ryan
    7 McKenna

    Source 2010 Republican Primary Ballot Results for McLean County, Illinois–I assume the order would be the same for all primary ballots in the state.


  13. - A guy... - Thursday, Dec 12, 13 @ 11:06 am:

    At the top of the ballot, I think it matters a lot less. In a very unscientific poll I’ve done over the years, people tend to scan all the names first. If nothing jumps out at them, defaulting to the top position becomes more prominent. Down ballot, the position can make or break people. It’s stunning and disappointing how little time many people put into knowing who they’re voting for. That’s why person campaigning down ballot makes such a big difference. You really have to ask people to look for you.


  14. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Dec 12, 13 @ 11:20 am:

    - AA -

    “That there is trademarked, not to be used without written permission of Ricky Bobby, Inc.”

    Guess I let the Cat out of the Bag …

    To the Post,

    While I have my thoughts, the Post itself is very well thought out and it is a great read on this sometimes “silly”(?) discussion. Great Post.


  15. - thechampaignlife - Thursday, Dec 12, 13 @ 11:24 am:

    Seems we could nip this debate entirely by rotating the name order from ballot to ballot with a “form indicator” to let the scanners match up the vote with the right name during processing. It’s technically trival to accomplish but I’d guess about as likely to happen as leaving off party affiliation.


  16. - DuPage Rep - Thursday, Dec 12, 13 @ 11:55 am:

    With the LGs on the ballot next to the Gov, Sanguinetti has the longer last name. Sorry Dan fans.


  17. - titan - Thursday, Dec 12, 13 @ 2:11 pm:

    It is all sort of common sense, isn’t it?

    The less well known the office and candidate pool (and the bigger the candidate pool), the more likely the first or last gets picked rather than someone somewhere in the middle.


  18. - Rudykzooti - Friday, Dec 13, 13 @ 9:09 am:

    Russ Stewart? I read him for a laugh since he hasn’t gotten anything right in years…


  19. - steve schnorf - Friday, Dec 13, 13 @ 2:51 pm:

    Though it’s existence was obviously an anomaly, take a look at the bedsheet ballot to se if ballot position mattered


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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