Political Behavior, Vol. 25, No. 1, March 2003 ( 2003)
A LOW INFORMATION THEORY
OF BALLOT POSITION EFFECT
This article suggests a theory of ballot position effect based on the amount of informa-
tion present in the electorate while accounting for several alternative hypotheses. The
more information that voters have, all other factors held constant, the less a role ballot
position will play. Additionally, the role of electoral institutions in mitigating or magni-
fying the effect is considered. The theories are tested with precinct-level data from
city council elections held in Peoria, Illinois, from 1983 through 1999. Position effect
is found to account for a bonus of 0.7% to 5.2% of the precinct-level vote share per
position on the ballot. The level of aggregate information and the institutional setting
explain a significant share of ballot position effect, even while examined in the pres-
ence of alternative explanations such as incumbency, endorsement, campaign expendi-
ture, gender, and race.
Key words: ballot position effect; low-information voting; municipal elections.
TOWARD A THEORY OF BALLOT POSITION EFFECT
The voting behavior literature of the past 20 years has figuratively taken
Key’s dictum (1966) that “voters are not fools” to heart. This trend is charac-
terized by (but obviously not limited to) research such as Fiorina’s (1981)
suggestion that partisan identification is a standing decision rather than a psy-
chological reflex, work that depicted the voter as rational through aggrega-
tion (e.g., Page and Shapiro, 1992), the notion of low information rationality
through the reliance on heuristics and cues (Lupia, 1994; Popkin, 1991; Snid-
erman, Brody, and Tetlock, 1991), and that the ability of the reasoning voter
David Brockington, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Department of Political Science, University
of Twente, Postbus 217, 7500AE Enschede, The Netherlands (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A previous version of this article was presented at the 2001 meetings of the Western Political
Science Association, Las Vegas, Nevada, the conference presentation and part of the research
was funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).
0190-9320/03/0300-0001/0 2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation