Order Effects of Ballot Position without Information-Induced Confirmatory Bias

This source preferred by Andrew Johnson

Authors: Johnson, A.J. and Miles, C.


Journal: British Politics

Volume: 6

Pages: 479-490

ISSN: 1746-918X

DOI: 10.1057/bp.2011.26

Candidate list positions have been shown to influence decision making when voters have limited candidate information (e.g. Miller and Krosnick, 1998; Brockington, 2003). Here, a primacy advantage is observed due to a greater number of positive arguments generated for early list candidates (Krosnick, 1991). The present study examined list position effects when an absence of information precludes such a confirmatory bias heuristic. We report the first large scale low-information experimental election where candidate position is fully counterbalanced. Seven hundred and twenty participants voted in a mock election where the position of 6 fictitious and meaningless parties was counterbalanced across the electorate. Analysis by position revealed that significantly fewer votes were allocated to the terminal parties (Experiment 1). In addition, Experiment 1 reported preliminary evidence of an alphabetical bias (consistent with Bagley, 1966). However, this positional bias was not present in a methodological replication using six genuine UK political parties (Experiment 2). This suggests that in situations of pure guessing, the heuristic shifts from the primacy benefiting confirmatory bias to an alternative heuristic that prejudices the first and last parties. These findings suggest that whilst the UK general electoral process may be largely immune to positional prejudice, English local elections (in which there can be multiple candidates from the same party) and multiple preference ranking systems (Scottish Local Government and London Mayoral Elections) could be susceptible to both positional and alphabetical biases.

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