Mitt Romney may be favored in the New Hampshire primary, but the state’s ballot may hurt the former Massachusetts governor’s bid to meet the lofty expectations that he carries into the contest. Romney appears third from the bottom of the list of 30 candidates in the state’s Republican presidential primary. It’s a position likely to drag down Romney’s numbers, according to research by Stanford professor Jon Krosnick.
Ballot order can make a big difference, particularly when voters are undecided or conflicted headed into the polls. In 2008, for example, Krosnick estimated that Hillary Clinton gained at least 3 percentage points over Barack Obama in New Hampshire because her name was near the top of the ballot, his near the bottom. (Clinton won the primary by about 3 percentage points.)
The reason ballot order plays a large role, Krosnick explains, is a psychological process called “confirmatory choice.” When voters are undecided, they read down a list of names, with higher odds of selecting one they come across higher than lower. They may simply say “good enough” when they come to a satisfactory candidate.