Monday, March 1, 2010

Battle for the ballots: Party-lists play name game

02/05/2010 | 06:59 PM

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“What’s in a name?" In Shakespeare’s play, Juliet asks Romeo this question to point out that a name is just a meaningless convention.

But for party-list groups joining the May race, a name means a lot. It could mean winning a seat in Congress, especially if the names are listed first on the alphabetically arranged ballot.

In the past four elections, almost half or 36 of the 74 winning groups had names that started with the letter A, according to the results of the party-list elections compiled by GMANews.TV from government data. They were followed by 12 groups with names that started with the letter B.

In the first party-list elections in 1998, six or 46 percent of the 13 party-list winners had names starting with the first letter of the alphabet. The trend had continued in the succeeding polls: five "A" groups out of the 12 party-lists won in 2001; eight of the 16 in 2004; and 17 out of 33 in 2007. (See table)

Starting their names with the first letter of the alphabet appears to be the trick that the groups have learned over the years to get ahead of their poll rivals.

James Jimenez, director of the Education and Information Department of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), has noticed the trend and found it "absurd."

“First party-list elections pa lang, nakita na namin na may ganitong tendency. During the second, third, and fourth, namulaklak na ‘yung listahan ng mga nagsisimula sa letter A," said Jimenez, who is also the spokesperson of the Comelec.

(We had already observed this tendency even during the first party-list elections. We noticed that the number of groups with names starting in letter A had increased during the second, third, and fourth party-list polls.)

A Blessed… A Tambay… A Teacher

In the fifth party-list elections this year, more than half of the groups running in the polls – 79 out of 150 – have names that start with letter A.

Some of these groups have names that obviously do not start with the letter A such as A BLESSED (A Blessed Federation of Farmers and Fishermen International Inc.), A TAMBAY (Ang Tao Muna at Bayan), A TEACHER (Act Teachers) and AA KASOSYO PARTY (Kasosyo Producer-Consumer Exchange Association).

The “letter A trick" is not the only ploy used by party-list groups to get ahead in this year’s polls. Eleven of them have added either “1"or “1st" to their names, in the hope of replicating the victory of the group 1-UTAK in the 2007 elections.

1-UTAK Rep. Vigor Mendoza II explained that adding “1" was part of his group’s strategy to win the elections.

“Dahil nga alphabetical order ‘yung mga kandidato sa balota, nilagyan namin ng number 1 ang pangalan namin para hindi kami mapunta sa ilalim ng listahan, 1-UTAK Rep. Vigor Mendoza II told GMANews.TV.

(Because the candidates were alphabetically arranged on the ballots, we added number 1 to our name so we won’t be on the bottom of the list.)

“Kapag bago ka… it really matters. Mahihirapan ang mga botanteng hanapin ang pangalan ng party-list mo sa (150) na tatakbo kung hindi ka mauuna sa listahan. Kung established ka na naman, like Bayan Muna, it doesn’t matter," said Mendoza.

(If you are new…it really matters. Voters will find it difficult to locate the name of your party-list group on the list of 150 candidates if your name does not go first on the ballot. But if you are already an established party-list group like Bayan Muna, it doesn’t matter anymore.)

In the 2007 elections, only 1-UTAK had “1" on its name. This time around, two party-list groups have decided to have their names changed in order to be printed first on the ballots. A Comelec resolution showed that ANC or the Alliance of Neo-Conservatives changed its name to 1 ANG PAMILYA, while the AAWAS or the Alliance for Association of Accredited Workers in the Water Sector became 1-TUBIG.

Primacy effect

Political scientists have long recognized that ballot positioning is an effective tactic because it can influence candidate selection.

In 1998, Jon A. Krosnick and Joanne Marie Miller of the Ohio State University made a study on the effects of name ordering on poll results. The study "Impact of Candidate Name Order on Election Outcomes" showed that a candidate listed first on the ballot "nearly always" had an average vote advantage of 2.5 percent over his or her political rivals.

Krosnick and Miller's conclusion was based on their analyses of the election returns from the 1992 legislative polls in Ohio. They found out that ballot ordering had an impact on almost half or 48 percent of the 118 Ohio electoral races that they studied.

Why do voters choose the first name on the ballot? Krosnick and Miller believe that primacy effect – or the psychological tendency of people to remember things that are first mentioned – could be the reason for this voter behavior.

Ballot ordering affects candidate selection even more when voters are not well-informed about the candidates, according to Krosnick and Miller.

"These effects were stronger in races when party-affiliations were not listed, when races had been minimally publicized, and when no incumbent was involved. Furthermore, name-order effects were stronger in counties where voters were less knowledgeable about politics," they said.

Krosnick and Miller added, "All of this suggests that ballot structure influences election outcomes when voters lack substantive bases for candidate preferences."

In 2004, Krosnick, now professor at the Stanford University specializing in the psychology of political behavior, and Miller, now a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, released their second study, which reinforced their earlier findings on ballot ordering.

The study, “An Unrecognized Need for Ballot Reform," which they co-authored with Ohio State University’s Michael P. Tichy concluded that based on the nature of human psychology, options that are listed first will be chosen more often than those that are not.

The advantage of being first

In the same year, Yale University assistant professor of politics Jonathan GS Koppell and Boston College assistant professor of political science Jennifer Steen also came out with their own study on ballot ordering. (See abstract of "The Effects of Ballot Position on Election Outcomes" here)

The two confirmed name-order effects in the 1998 Democratic primary elections in New York City. Their study found out that in 71 of the 79 individual nominating contests in the city, “candidates received a greater proportion of the vote when listed first than when listed in any other position."

In 2007, a fourth study on the same subject was done by Stanford University’s Marc Meredith and Yuval Salant. The two concluded, “The impact of ballot order on the nature of elections is not only statistically significant but also economically and politically significant."

Meredith and Salant said that in about 10 percent of the elections that they studied in California where seven or more people joined the race, “the candidate listed first won office as a result of their ballot position." (See: On the Causes and Consequences of Ballot Order Effects)

They further said that the “use of alphabetical ordering" did not only provide candidates “with the advantage of ballot position in elections but also gives the beneficiaries of ballot positioning the subsequent advantage of incumbency."

Defeating the spirit of change

The studies on ballot ordering help explain the results of the Philippine party-list elections from 1998 to 2007.

It also explains why the camp of Liberal Party standard-bearer Benigno Simeon “Noynoy" Aquino III vehemently reacted to the Comelec’s decision to allow an unknown candidate from the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) party, Vetallano Acosta, to join the presidential race. Without Acosta on the list of candidates, Aquino would have been first on the ballot.

Lawyer Carlos Medina of the non-government Legal Network for Truthful Elections or LENTE believes that the battle to be first on the ballot is a manifestation of the weakness of the Philippine political party system.

“The intention of the party-list system is to empower marginalized sectoral groups by allowing them to join elections and represent their interest in Congress. But this isn’t happening because many party-list groups with questionable backgrounds are being allowed to run," Medina told GMANews.TV.

Medina urged the Comelec to address the problem and make sure that organizations that want to join the polls will run based on platforms for the poor and not just on their desire for political power. “Everybody is free to call themselves names, but these names should also reflect the true nature of the organization," he said.

Professor Edna Estifania Co of the University of the Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance said that if the trend continues, the supposedly more progressive party-list groups will become no different from traditional politicians.

"Party-list groups are supposed to be the voice for change," she said. “They're supposed to educate the people on who they are and why people should vote for them. Putting so much importance on being first on the ballot will defeat the spirit of change." with additional reports from Annie Ruth C. Sabangan/YA, GMANews.TV

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