Case Study: The All Important Ballot Designation
Officially it’s called the candidate’s “Designation of Title.” Consultants and their clients tear out a lot of hair deciding which words appear next to the candidate’s name. Split sample tests in survey usually show small differences in voter support between reasonable alternative designations. In Carlsbad, California, Councilmen Matt Hall, managed by Janette Littler of CALLIDUS Consulting Group, Inc., and Keith Blackburn, managed by Mary Azevedo of Mary Z, squared off to replace the retiring incumbent. CERC’s July poll showed Hall had slightly better name recognition and was viewed more favorably than Blackburn, but the latter had a comfortable 8% lead in the head-to-head ballot test. Huh? Their ballot designations were the difference: Blackburn was labeled in the head-to-head as a Councilman/former police officer; Hall was tested as Councilman/businessman. But it turned out that Blackburn would be unable to leverage his public safety past on the ballot because rules disallow a candidate from using a designation based on employment that occurred more than a year earlier. Fast-forward to mid-September when, despite little campaigning but the actual ballot titles now in place, a fresh poll showed Hall with a 7% lead! By not differentiating himself from Hall, Blackburn lost his competitive advantage and ultimately lost the race by 7%.
Lesson: Ballot designation (also wording, language, etc.) can matter. . . a lot.