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What's in a name?

Categories : Our WorldPolitics

The elections are now over, but is there any insight that can be gained into why people voted the way that they did? By looking in detail at some of the council results that resulted from the 6th May, Figure it Out has been able to delve inside the minds of voters. When you are voting for someone in an election there are often few things that you know about them. You will know the party that they represent, and if they are a well known local candidate, then you may know some of the things that they have done, either good or bad and this will influence your vote. However in a large number of cases, the only other thing that is known about who you are voting for is their name. What impact does your name have on how people vote for you? The best way to view this information is to look at local council elections. In some local councils there are 3 councillors for each ward, who are all elected at the same time. Most parties field more than 1 candidate. Although some of these candidates will be known to the public, a lot will not be, and by analysing the difference between the average achieved for the party in that ward, and the votes for each individual candidate, some interesting insights can be gleaned. The Aaron Aardvark effect One of the most important things on a ballot paper is where you appear. A lot of voters move from the top to the bottom, and so anyone who meets their criteria at the top tends to get their vote more than those who meet their criteria at the bottom. Add to this the fact that a number of voters are confused by the system and only vote once instead of the 2 or 3 times that they are allowed to vote, and you get a large advantage for those towards the top of the paper. By considering each ward on a party by party basis, we can compare within that party how each candidate did. We can then compare their votes with the average for their party. This therefore isolates any party political impact on the voting position. The results are shown below: -



So in the results studied, if you were the 1st name for your party on the ballot paper, you got an average of 63 votes more than your colleagues (4.5%). If you were 2nd then you got an average of 1 more vote, and if you were 3rd then you got an average of 90 votes less than your colleagues (-5.2%). Whilst alphabetical order should be a perfectly neutral way of ordering candidates, in practice it unfairly helps those who appear at the top of the ballot. Perhaps those who run elections could consider randomising the order for each election? Haven’t I seen you before? Politicians come in 2 flavours – either the old campaigners who have been standing in the same place for year after year, or the new fresh kids. Does the public take any account of incumbency? This is a difficult thing to analyse, as the effect of incumbency can go 2 ways – either they can love the work that you have done in the community, and therefore you will receive a bonus – or they will hate what you have failed to do and you will suffer. Whatever the reason, the net result was that incumbency had very little impact on the election, with an incumbent being only 8 votes better than a new candidate (0.4%). The female angle There are very few women involved in politics – in our election only 31% of the candidates were female. And yet they do better than men by an average of 22 votes (1.6%). However this difference is small - In only one of the wards that would have made the difference between winning and losing. The Alf Garnett factor One issue that appeared during the election was the attitude of people in the UK to people from outside the UK. How do they actually react when they are confronted by people with foreign names? The result is that Alf Garnett lives on in some of our communities – candidates with foreign names in the election got an average of 73 votes less than the average of the others in their party. Note that this was just those with a foreign name, and not necessarily those who are in an ethnic minority themselves. So what does this all mean? First a word of caution – the results analysed for this study were fairly small and are therefore only indicative. Also there is no indication of how all of these factors fit together. However the results do indicate that to maximise your chances of success in politics, you should ensure that you are female and change your name to something like Anna Abell. But even if you do this, other factors such as the party you represent will always be more significant. Names are important in all walks of life. Some firms have long considered their name to be an important part of their brand – and for those who are less bothered about the sound of their name, they can often achieve other benefits from their name, for example by ensuring that they appear at the top of alphabetical lists in directories – anyone for AAA Cabs?

About the author

Jonathan Chadwick
Jonathan Chadwick
Jon has worked for 18 years as an analytical consultant in the UK, USA and Europe for a diverse range of sectors, most recently Financial, Oil & Gas and Government. Jon has extensive experience in benefits realisation, modelling, business analytics, portfolio management and change management. Jon devised and created Figure It Out.

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