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The Causes and Consequences of Ballot Order-Effects

Feb 2007
Working Paper
06-029
By  Marc Meredith, Yuval Salant
To better understand how list orderings affect choices of economic significance, we explore how ballot order affects election outcomes. Unlike previous work, we show that ballot order significantly affects the results of elections. In more than five percent of the elections in our dataset of California multi-member district local elections, the candidate listed first won office as a result of the ballot ordering. Using multi-member district elections allows us to isolate the mechanisms leading to order-effects in a way unavailable in single- member districts. We reject the hypothesis that ballot order-effects only result from voters running out of available votes prior to reaching the end of the ballot. We also demonstrate that ballot order-effects are history-dependent: candidates perform worse when they are listed immediately after higher quality candidates. This suggests that policy makers should use more sophisticated rotation schemes to mitigate order-effects. Finally, we find evidence that our point estimates are robust to the presence of partisan cues.