Ballot Framing Effects and the New Hampshire Primary
Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 11, 2008
Numerous psychology studies have found that people tend to miss the power of framed choices on their decision-making. That is, when presented with different options, we tend to believe we are looking inside ourselves to make a decision, when in fact we are being moved, often in ways we don’t appreciate, by the presentation of those options, including their order. Compounding this effect, we tend to accept the given frame of a choice as presumptively acceptable. Situationist contributors Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosfion examine those points in their article Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America.
According to Stanford University political science and social psychology professor Jon Krosnick, framing may have played a role in Senator Hillary Clinton’s surprising victory over Senator Barack Obama in the New Hampshire primary earlier this week. Below we excerpt a piece from Raw Story on his analysis.
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A Stanford University professor of political science and psychology claims a decision New Hampshire made to change the ordering of their primary ballot may have pushed Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) over the top.
Clinton’s New Hampshire victory left pundits scratching their heads, citing polls that showed Obama with a relatively consistent lead. Writing Wednesday on ABC News, professor Jon Krosnick believes he has part of the answer.
Until this year, he says, the Granite State rotated candidate’s names on the ballots, citing a statistical analysis that showed those who were listed earlier generally did better.
“Without a doubt, a big source of the discrepancy between the pre-election surveys and the election outcome in New Hampshire is the order of candidates’ names on the ballot and in the surveys,” Krosnick wrote. “Our analysis of all recent primaries in New Hampshire showed that there was always a big primacy effect — big name, big-vote-getting candidates got 3 percent or more votes more when listed first on the ballot than when listed last.”
“Until this year, New Hampshire rotated candidate name order from precinct to precinct, which allowed us to do that analysis,” he added. “This year, the secretary of state changed the procedure so the names were alphabetical starting with a randomly selected letter, in all precincts.”
The randomly selected letter for 2008 was Z. Thus, Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) was listed first, with Clinton near the top — “the first serious contender listed” — and Sen. Barack Obama (D-NH) close to last of the 21 candidates.
“I’ll bet that Clinton got at least 3 percent more votes than Obama simply because she was listed close to the top,” he writes. “More importantly, if New Hampshire had rotated name order in the voting booth as it has always done in the past, the race would probably have been too close to call without a recount and might even have been an Obama victory.”
Still, the professor’s analysis doesn’t account for the fact that pre-election polls showed Obama with as much as a nine-point lead prior to the vote.
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For the rest of the story, click here. For a sample of previous Situationist posts examining elements of the 2008 presidential election, see “Heart Brain or Wallet?” “Your Brain on Politics,” “Al Gore – The Situationist” and “Irrelevant Third Options in Presidential Campaigns.”
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