28 November 2005
There was an article in The New York Times on Friday discussing the "demise" of the Conservative Party in New York State. New York is one of the few jurisdictions where candidates can receive votes on multiple ballot lines and the totals are simply added together. For example, George Pataki ran on the Republican and Conservative line in 1994, 1998, and 2002. Pataki averaged about 350,000 votes on the Conservative line in 1994 and 1998, but dropped to about 175,000 votes in 2002. The article mentions briefly that the Conservative Party was listed in the third spot on the ballot in 1994 and 1998, but dropped to fourth in 2002. Could the simple change in ballot position explain the drop-off in support?
Dan Ho and Kosuke Imai have a forthcoming article in the Journal of the American Statistical Association that shows that ballot position did make a difference for minor party candidates in the California Recall Election. California rotates the ballot position of the candidates in each electoral district, using a randomized alphabet lottery. This randomized feature allows Ho and Imai to make causal inferences about the effects of ballot position. In the recall election, minor parties did seem to gain more votes when listed on the first page of the ballot.
In the New York case, we are only dealing with a single-page ballot for governor. But in 1994 and 1998, the Republican Party was in the second slot on the ballot and the Conservative Party in the third, so Pataki was back-to-back on two lines. In 2002, however, the Republican Party was first and the Conservative Party fourth. Perhaps the greater degree of separation contributed to the lower voter totals for Conservatives, as maybe some voters didn't make it quite so far down the ballot.
The Times mentions two other possibilities. First, the Conservative Party has seen a modest decline in registration of about 20,000 voters recently. But the New York State Board of Elections reports that enrollment has been constant around 160,000-170,000 for several years, so it is unlikely that this is a big factor. The Conservatives were clearly doing much better than their party enrollment in 1994 and 1998. The second explanation is that Conservatives have become disenchanted with the party continuing to endorse a liberal Republican. Yet the same was true in 1998 (and 1994).
While the evidence is hardly conclusive, the article does raise some interesting questions about the role of "third" parties when they end up endorsing a major party candidate anyway.
Posted by Ian Yohai at November 28, 2005 5:26 PM
Interesting. Fusion voting is being promoted here in Oregon as a way to encourage third party growth and satisfy the desire of the 1/3 or more of the electorate who declare themselves as Independents to be drawn more into the system.
Posted by: paul g. at November 28, 2005 5:58 PM
There is a tendency for minor parties and fusion attempts to pop up in states that are uncompetitive politically. A recent story reported that Hillary Clinton is facing a pro-withdrawal Green Party challenger in heavily-Democratic NY. A few years ago the Libertarian candidate almost outpolled the Republican candidate when running against Ted Kennedy in liberal MA. Independents and third parties have historically done well in AK too. It looks like there will be a ballot initiative next year in MA to allow fusion. The group advocating the change calls it "removing the ban on cross-endorsement." Ballot access rules have to be at least partly endogenous reflections of the underlying preferences of the electorate in a state. Note that in MA there are more registered independents than Democrats. See my earlier post on the Colomer article.
Posted by: Barry Burden at November 29, 2005 10:36 AM
Interesting. It makes sense that third parties do better in uncompetitive states because third party voters don't really have to grapple with the wasted vote argument when it is clear who is going to win. I would have thought that fusion might be more attractive in competitive races/states, though. It seems like the minor party could extract a policy concession or two in exchange for fusing with a major party candidate. The major party wants to keep the minor party from running a potential spoiler, and the minor party remains alive for future elections by remaining on the ballot. In an uncompetitive race, the incentives would much reduced because it is clear which major party will win, regardless of the third party activity.
Posted by: Ian Yohai at November 29, 2005 11:39 AM