Study: Bush's placement on top of Florida ballot gave him edge

November 08, 2000

COLUMBUS, Ohio The fact that George W. Bush's name was listed first on all ballots in Florida probably was enough of an advantage to give him a win in that state's presidential election, research suggests.

In a study of Ohio elections published in 1998, researchers found that candidates received an average of 2.33 percent more votes when their names appeared first on the ballots, rather than when their names were listed last, said Jon Krosnick, co-author of the study and professor of psychology and political science at Ohio State University. However, in some races, candidates received as much as 6 percent more votes when listed first compared to being listed last.

"Bush's placement at the top of all Florida ballots almost certainly allowed him to win that state, given the closeness of the contest," Krosnick said. By Florida law, the party that controls the governor's office has all of its candidates listed first on ballots in the state.

"George W. received an electoral boost by the fact that a Republican his brother Jeb is governor," Krosnick said.

Some states including Ohio have laws that mandate that candidates' names be rotated in different precincts to eliminate the candidate name order bias.

The study was published in 1998 in the journal Public Opinion Quarterly. Krosnick conducted the study with Joanne Miller, a former graduate student in psychology at Ohio State and now a professor of political science at the University of Connecticut.

For the study, the researchers analyzed precinct-by-precinct vote returns for all the races in the 1992 elections held in the three largest Ohio counties: Franklin (which includes Columbus), Cuyahoga (Cleveland), and Hamilton (Cincinnati).

The results showed that, in general, name order was more likely to have an effect on races in which voters knew less about the candidates, Krosnick said. Name order also had a stronger effect on races that received less coverage in the media, suggesting that voters were less well informed about these candidates.

These findings suggest Bush's placement on top of the ballot probably didn't have a huge positive effect on his vote total, Krosnick said. But since the difference in vote totals between Gore and Bush was less than 1,000 (as of early morning Nov. 9) it seems likely that name order affected enough votes to swing the election, he added.

"The results of this study shouldn't be ignored," Krosnick said. "Florida and other states should follow Ohio's lead and balance name order in future elections to ensure fair outcomes," he said.
-end-
Contact: Jon Krosnick, (614) 292-3496; krosnick@osu.edu
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; grabmeier.1@osu.edu

Ohio State University

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