Amy King and I have just put out a paper estimating the effect of ballot order in Australian elections. We look at all federal elections since ballot order was randomised in 1984, which gives us over 500 races (ie. electorate level contests), and over 7000 candidates.
The big surprise for us was to discover that the effect of ballot order is not uniform. If a bloke tops the ballot paper, he gets another 1.4% of the vote. If a woman tops the ballot, she gets no benefit. And 1.4% isn’t chickenfeed – one in ten races are decided by smaller margins than that.
Just for fun, we put together a list of the major party men in elections since 1996 who have had the #1 spot on the ballot paper, and won by less than 1.4%.
- Kim Beazley, the Labor Party candidate for Brand in 1996 (50.2%)
- Ross Cameron, the Liberal Party candidate for Parramatta in 1998 (51.1%)
- Michael Lee, the Labor Party candidate for Dobell in 1996 (50.1%)
- Gary Nairn, the Liberal Party candidate for Eden-Monaro in 1998 (50.2%)
- Paul Neville, the National Party candidate for Hinkler in 1998 (50.3%)
Our best estimate is that without ballot order effects, these candidates would have lost.
The paper also comes with a policy recommendation. RandomisedÂ ballot ordering is fair before the ballot draw.Â However,Â after the draw, it’s unfair that someone might win not because of the quality of their candidacy, but merely because of luck. A better system would be to rotate ballot papers (known to theÂ wonks as Robson Rotation),Â so the donkey voting effect is evenly distributed.Â
The abstract to the paper is below. I’d be happy to discuss the results in comments, though in some cases, you might find your question is answered by a quick flick through the paper (hyperlinked from the title).
Ballot Order Effects Under Compulsory Voting
Amy King & Andrew Leigh
Australia was one of the first countries to introduce random ballot ordering, and is one of the few democracies to make voting compulsory. Using all federal election results since the introduction of random ballot ordering in 1984, we estimate the magnitude and correlates of the ballot position effect in Australia. We find that being placed first on the ballot increases a candidateâ€™s voteshare by about 1 percentage point, or 28 percent of the voteshare received by the typical candidate. Strikingly, however, we find that the ballot order effect exists only for male candidates, who gain 1.4 percentage points when they head the ballot. By contrast, women gain no advantage from topping the ballot paper. Our estimated effects are politically important, since 1 in 10 races are decided by margins of less than 1.4 percentage points. We find no evidence that the ballot order effect has risen or fallen over time. In percentage point terms, the ballot order effect appears to be similar for major party, minor party and independent candidates. Across electorates, the ballot order effect is larger where fluency in English is lower.
Update: The Electoral Reform Society of South Australia have apparently been pushing for some time for Robson Rotation in that state.