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Ballot Order in Cueless Elections: A Comparison of Municipal and Provincial Elections in Québec

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 November 2017

Charles Tessier*
Université Laval
Alexandre Blanchet*
McGill University
Université Laval, Département de Science politique, Pavillon Charles-De Koninck, 1030 Avenue des Sciences humaines, Québec G1V 0A6, email:
McGill University, Department of Political Science, Room 24-5, 3610 rue McTavish, Montréal, Québec H3A 1Y2, email:


This paper studies the prevalence of ballot order effects in two different types of Canadian elections which differ greatly by the strength of party cues they provide to voters. Provincial elections are best described as a typical competition between well established and institutionalized parties, hence providing voters with strong party cues. Alternatively, municipal politics provide voters with much weaker party cues. We use electoral results from recent provincial and municipal elections in Québec and find ballot order effects in municipal elections but not in provincial ones. Although ballot order effects may also be the product of alphabetic preference bias, we argue that in any case these are cognitive biases that are ultimately the product of insufficient cues that voters need in order to cast well-informed votes. The paper, therefore, sheds some light on an understudied type of election in political science.


Cet article étudie l'impact de l’ordre des candidats sur les bulletins de vote lors des élections municipales et provinciales au Québec. Les élections provinciales québécoises sont le lieu d’une compétition entre des partis bien établis et offrent donc des signaux partisans forts aux électeurs. À l’inverse, la politique municipale québécoise offre des signaux partisans beaucoup plus faibles. Nos analyses démontrent que les résultats des candidats sont influencés par leur position sur le bulletin de vote lors des élections municipales, mais pas lors des élections provinciales. Bien qu’il soit possible que des biais de préférences alphabétiques soient à l’origine de ces résultats, nous arguons qu'ils sont le produit de biais cognitifs qui résultent de la faiblesse des signaux partisans qui sont nécessaires à la prise de décision des électeurs. L’article apporte également un nouvel éclairage sur des élections qui demeurent peu étudiées en science politique.

Research Article/Étude originale
Copyright © Canadian Political Science Association (l'Association canadienne de science politique) and/et la Société québécoise de science politique 2017 

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Acknowledgments: The authors would like to thank Laura Stephenson and the reviewers for their comments. They would also like to thank the Fonds de recherche du Québec - Société et culture for their financial support and the Ministère des Affaires municipales et de l'Occupation du territoire for providing the election data.


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