Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Will the left handers give Wikileaks a Senate seat from West Australia?

It appears we all have a tendency to veer to the left when it comes to voting. Not towards some philosophical left. Rather an actual geographic one. And left handed people veer left much more strongly than right handers.
That, at least, is the finding of a recent experiment published in the journal Political Psychology.  The paper, Moderators of Candidate Name-Order Effects in Elections: An Experiment by Nuri Kim, Jon Krosnick and Daniel Casasanto, was based on an experimental election of two hypothetical candidates, each diverging on issues and each randomly sorted into a left or right spot on the ballot. Just as previous studies have shown a donkey vote favouring the first named candidate when people vote down a list,  candidates listed on the left-hand side of this experimental ballot enjoyed a distinct advantage in gaining votes compared with those on their right. What made the finding different came when comparing the votes of left handed people with right handed ones. ”Everyone, even righties, had a bias to select the candidate on the left, but that tendency was stronger in lefties,” author Casasanto says.
The paper itself is behind a pay wall but this is the abstract:
Past studies of elections have shown that candidates whose names were listed at the beginning of a list on a ballot often received more votes by virtue of their position. This article tests speculations about the cognitive mechanisms that might be responsible for producing the effect. In an experiment embedded in a large national Internet survey, participants read about the issue positions of two hypothetical candidates and voted for one of them in a simulated election in which candidate name order was varied. The expected effect of position appeared and was strongest (1) when participants had less information about the candidates on which to base their choices, (2) when participants felt more ambivalent about their choices, (3) among participants with more limited cognitive skills, and (4) among participants who devoted less effort to the candidate evaluation process. The name-order effect was greater among left-handed people when the candidate names were arrayed horizontally, but there was no difference between left- and right-handed people when the names were arrayed vertically. These results reinforce some broad theoretical accounts of the cognitive process that yield name-order effects in elections.
A report in the National Journal gives more details.
Let’s break down the results of the Political Psychology paper. Righties showed a bias for the candidate on the left because it is the first name they read. That’s consistent with other research on primacy, that there’s a bias for the first in a list. Lefties showed that effect, as well as an additional left-hand bias: Lefties chose the candidate on the left because his was the first name they read and because they have a positive association with things on the left. Whereas among righties, the candidate on the left showed a 21 percent advantage, among lefties, that jumped up to a 36 percent advantage.
There’s a huge caveat here. These results were pulled from an experiment on a fictitious election. And they are the first of their kind—it takes years of repetitive results to nail down a phenomenon. So take caution in extrapolation. “I don’t expect that we would see anything like that enormous, ridiculous, percentage point difference in real elections,” Casasanto says of the 21 percent and 36 percent advantages. “But in light of Jon [Krosnick]‘s previous data. I think we have every reason to believe that these effects are and can be found in real elections.”
That previous data is contained in a forthcoming paper in the journal Public Opinion Quarterly that, analyses all statewide California elections between 1976 and 2006. California rotates candidate ballot order district by district. The analysis found when candidates were listed first (no matter the ballot type), “on average, across all contests, candidates received nearly half a percentage point of additional votes compared to when they were listed either in the average of all later positions.”
In Australia the Wikileaks Party will be encouraged by this kind of research. In the new Western Australian Senate election it has drawn the prized Column A on the left hand side of a very wide ballot paper.
Last time around, when it was positioned elsewhere on the paper, Wikileaks managed only a paltry 0.73 per cent of the WA vote. That saw it eliminated quite early in the shuffling of minor party preferences that enabled a small primary vote to end up electing one of the political tiddlers in both versions of the counts that were finally held invalid leading to next month’s new poll.
Add half a percentage point because of the favourable draw and the chances of Wikileaks start looking a lot better. Add on a bit more for the impact of lefties and the Antony Green Senate Calculator: Western Australia shows them really in the race taking into account the latest lot of minor party wheeling and dealing over preferences.
Some examples:
The Wikileaks vote remains unchanged at 0.73%
2014-03-26_waresult1Wikileaks would make it to the 17th count before being excluded.
The Wikileaks vote improves by 0.5 percentage points to 1.23% – the same six elected with Wikileaks surviving until the 19th count before being eliminated.
The Wikileaks vote improves by 0.6 percentage points to 1.33%
And there we would have it: a Wikileaks Senator. A good reason for Julian Assange and his followers to get those left handers into the polling booths.
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