I study how Guam voters mark their ballots a lot. The technique for measuring this is pretty simple and based on observation. We give a voter a practice ballot and then ask them to mark it using numbers to indicate their choices. Usually, a voter will mark major single-race contests first. For example, voters will often mark the delegate race or the governor's race first. Then the voter will mark legislative choices and finally, the board members are voted on. When voters mark seats for the Legislature, they usually mark five to eight names in one party right away. Then voters will mark five or so from the other party. The voter will usually count to make sure they have not marked too many candidates, which would spoil their ballots. About a third of voters indicate they bring a list of candidates with them to the polls.
After the test subject marks the practice ballot, a number of questions are asked to learn about candidate preference. Why do voters on Guam vote for candidates? The most frequent answer is that the voter feels they know the candidate or they have some sort of connection with the candidate. When they respond to this question, it is as if they are talking about a personal friend or family member. It is this direct connection or feeling of a direct connection that matters most to voters.
According to Dunbar’s number, the average number of people a person can maintain stable social relationships with is about 150. For several reasons, this number doesn’t really apply to the Guam case. All else equal, I would estimate the Guam number to be nearly double or about 300 people. But voters don’t really vote based on their social relationships with candidates. They vote for people they perceive they have a connection with. This is because our weak-tie connections appear to have strong significance on Guam. There are people we feel we know and then there are people we are just familiar with. This also helps voters to make choices.
Does name order matter? Not really, voters pick out names all over the ballot. Since they mark the practice ballots using numbers, it is easy to track this point. While it is not conclusive, there may be a bookend effect for some candidates. The last candidate in the column may get votes. It is hard to tell because often these candidates would be voted for anyway.
Do campaign signs matter? Not really. What campaign signs show is that the candidate has raised money and has a structure or organization. The signs themselves are simply a shorthand for this point. Many candidates will place their pictures on signs along with their names. In general, the most effective candidates have strong name recognition. For the most part, name recognition on Guam is achieved in a number of ways. One of the most effective ways is to write columns in the newspaper every week. I am not running for office anytime soon.