Ballot Placement: A Delicate Balance What impact does the placement of names and issues on ballots have on election results? Plenty. Stanford professor Jon Krosnick discusses the issue with Lynn Neary.
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Ballot Placement: A Delicate Balance

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Ballot Placement: A Delicate Balance

Ballot Placement: A Delicate Balance

Ballot Placement: A Delicate Balance

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What impact does the placement of names and issues on ballots have on election results? Plenty. Stanford professor Jon Krosnick discusses the issue with Lynn Neary.

LYNN NEARY, Host:

Stanford University professor John Krosnick has drawn that conclusion from research that shows that the vast majority of time coming first on the ballot increases a candidate's vote total by an average of two percent. Professor Krosnick joins us now from our bureau in Chicago, where he's attending a conference. Thanks so much for being with us.

JOHN KROSNICK: Pleasure to be here.

NEARY: Now, before we get to this year's elections, first of all let me ask you how you know that ballot placement makes a difference.

KROSNICK: And what we found is exactly what you said, that in 85 percent of the cases that we looked at, we found on average candidates were doing better by two percent.

NEARY: Can you give me a specific example of a real result in a real election?

KROSNICK: And in California they also rotate name order across assembly districts. And this difference of nine percent we still saw even when we took into account the fact that certain districts tend to vote Democratic and others tend to vote Republican.

NEARY: What's the psychology behind this, the idea that the name that's there first is the one that people go for first?

KROSNICK: But in elections, the psychology of it is a bit different. There are really two reasons it appears that people grab the first name they see. The first is lack of information, the second reason is ambivalence. There is lots of evidence that in recent years many Americans have walked into voting booths deeply ambivalent even in visible races for president of the United States, torn, seeing advantages of candidates on both sides. And when they find themself in the voting booth with a long line of people behind them and they've got to get out to work and they still haven't made a choice and they were hoping to be inspired when they saw the names there, just to get out of the booth they grab the first name that they see and move on with life.

NEARY: But this isn't enough to reverse the results of a race, the research you've done, is it?

KROSNICK: So if anything approximating that, even half of it, even a quarter of it, even a tenth of it, had occurred in Florida in 2000, Al Gore would have won the presidency in that year.

NEARY: Well, given what you're saying, is this something that state election officials should be paying closer attention to and is there a remedy?

KROSNICK: And what's nice about it is every candidate gets an equal opportunity to be listed first, and anyone who wants to inspect it can always look at the ballots on Election Day to be sure each precinct's ballots are as they should be according to the law.

NEARY: All right. Well, thanks so much, John.

KROSNICK: Thank you, Lynn.

NEARY: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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