Open-list proportional representation electoral systems place extraordinary information demands on voters. In these systems, voters must select a party, and then express candidate preferences from the list of party candidates. In countries with many viable political parties, all of which have long candidate lists, how do voters decide on their preferred candidate? We address this question by considering ballot position effects and other heuristics voters use in casting their vote for parliamentary candidates in Poland and the Czech Republic. Both countries use proportional representation to elect the lower house of their national parliaments, but with different open-list ...view middle of the document...
Besides testing for ballot position effects, our comparative analysis allows us to investigate differences in the magnitude of these effects, since the two countries use different preference voting rules. We hypothesize that compared to the Czechs, Polish voters will rely more heavily on ballot position heuristics because they are required to select a candidate, whereas in the Czech Republic, voters have the option to skip the preference vote and vote only for the party.
We test these hypotheses using candidate data from the 2011 Polish Sejm and 2010 Czech Chamber of Deputies elections. Our dataset includes all candidates listed on the ballots of parties that secured parliamentary seats in these elections: 4545 candidates in Poland and 1703 in the Czech Republic. Our multiple regression analyses confirm that while being first on the party ballot has a disproportionately positive effect compared to other ranks in both countries, the effects are indeed stronger in Poland. The last position effect appears in Poland, but in the Czech Republic, the positive boost is dispersed among the candidates in the lowest quarter of the ballot. Overall, our models show that ballot position effects are twice as strong in explaining candidate preference vote share in Poland compared to the Czech Republic.
Ballot position as a source of advantage
Rational actors are expected to behave efficiently. They select strategies that maximize their payoffs while simultaneously keeping costs as low as possible. The dilemma faced by a rational voter on Election Day is modeled by the calculus of voting (Downs 1957, Riker and Ordeshook 1967) and the calculus of attention (Lupia and McCubbins 1997/2003). The strategies used by voters to reduce the decision-making effort are described as heuristics, which they use to compensate for knowledge they lack. Despite the limited information provided by these shortcuts, they enable voters to vote correctly (Lau and Redlawsk 2001: 952). Lau and Redlawsk (2001: 953-954) identify five major heuristics relevant in the U.S. context: party affiliation, ideology, endorsements, public opinion polls, and candidate appearance (e.g. Laustsen forthcoming). While this list applies to most first-past-the-post electoral systems where just one candidate is nominated by each party contesting the election, it requires modification in open-list proportional electoral systems, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, where voters first select a party and then cast a preference vote for a candidate (or candidates) from that party’s list.
Information used by voters can be divided into three types (Brockington 2003: 4). Primary information is obtained before making a voting decision, usually during the electoral campaign. Secondary information consists of candidate information reported on the ballot, and works through “triggering existing judgment based on stereotype” (Brockington 2003: 4). When the secondary information is of little help, voters...