What's in a name? An edge when it comes to municipal elections

Voters can be creatures of habit, according to one political science professor.

Incumbents can more easily separate themselves from a crowded field, says MUN professor

Memorial University political science professor Amanda Bittner says that incumbents have an advantage in municipal elections. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Voters can be creatures of habit and that's a benefit for those seeking re-election in upcoming municipal elections in Newfoundland and Labrador, according to a political science professor at Memorial University.

Amanda Bittner said that the advantage for candidates already holding office is even more pronounced in municipal politics compared to voting in provincial or federal elections.

"The municipal elections tend to [have] the lowest level of information available," said Bittner.

"We don't have as much information about candidates, we don't know about public policies, we often don't have parties. So those kinds of cues that are normally available to voters in provincial and federal elections aren't there."

More challenging for voters

She said with elections going on in many municipalities at the same time — and some races with many candidates — it can be hard for voters to keep up on every candidate's focus and interests.

"It's a lot more challenging for voters to know what to do, and as a result, we fall back on the old standbys," said Bittner.

"Do we know this person? Do we recognize their name? Have we seen them on the street before? Have we seen them at our doorstep? These things all matter."

Recognition is 'key'

That means name recognition is very important, she said, and the recognition incumbents already have makes them more likely to be elected.

Bittner says name recognition doesn't mean political victory is a slam dunk. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

But new candidates shouldn't be counted out. Bittner said canvassing door-to-door and political signage is helpful for fresh faces to build that all-important name recognition.

"Most voters don't know a lot of people, don't know a lot about public policy, don't know a lot about what's going on. So just interacting, just talking, just getting your name out there is key."

With files from Anthony Germain