The Effect of Spotlight on the Allocation of Voter Attention: Evidence From Block-Voting Ballots

Yiran Li, Tao Li*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


The prevailing notion in electoral studies suggests that salient candidates boost the visibility of their neighbors on the ballot, whereas the selective visual attention theory from psychology predicts the opposite. This article leverages the unique setting of large Chinese block-voting ballots, which originally came from Europe, to resolve the theoretical controversy. Our findings reveal that conventional ballot position effects persist, with top-listed candidates receiving more votes. More importantly, we demonstrate that a candidate who receives more votes steals the spotlight of the local neighborhood by reducing the votes of her immediate neighbors. The selective visual attention effects vanish in randomly reshuffled placebo ballots yet remain robust when we use pre-election media exposure as an instrumental variable for the votes of spotlight candidates. Our research offers a novel perspective on the interaction between voter attention and candidate positioning, supporting the selective visual attention theory within an electoral context.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPolitical Studies
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 May 2024

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

User-Defined Keywords

  • ballot position effect
  • block voting
  • selective visual attention
  • spotlight effect


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