The biggest mystery of the week in politics is, I suppose, the story of the Democratic nominee for Senate in South Carolina. Who is he? Is he a real candidate, or part of someone's crazy plot? And, in the part of the question that political scientists should be able to shed some light on -- how did this happen?
In fact, there's a nice item over at the Monkey Cage by John Sides looking at the effects of ballot order on vote in low-information elections. Apparently being in the first spot in the ballot might make a bit of difference. John also speculates about race: could voters have guessed the ethnicity of the candidates and voted on that basis?
I haven't seen anyone mention yet, but there is another possibility. The guy's name is Alvin Greene...and there is a very famous, and I think generally well-loved, person named Al Green. Here in Texas, the Democrats have been plagued by a fringe candidate named "Gene Kelly," who managed to win a few nominations over real candidates, presumably simply on the basis of sharing a name with the movie star.
Now, I'm not saying that's what happened here...I have no idea! I would say that I've been a little puzzled about the Gene Kelly thing...I'm a big fan of (the real) Gene Kelly, but he did die fourteen years ago now...his last acting was about 25 years ago (he was on a Love Boat!), Xanadu is thirty years old, and while he did show up on TV quite a bit in the 1970s, his movie career was slipping by the mid-1960s; I'd be sort of surprised if all that many people in their 20s and 30s know who he was (yes, Singin' in the Rain is still well known -- for a movie from the 1950s. A lot of people don't know any movies from the 1950s). Anyway, Al Green -- he's Albert Green, no "e" at the end, and he's not from South Carolina, for what it's worth...well, I'd imagine that he's at least as well known among South Carolina Democrats as Gene Kelly is among Texas Democrats, and if anything more liked. Well known enough that people know that he's not "Avlin Greene"? No idea! Well known enough that people, faced with two unknowns, might pick the one with the same name as a star they love? Could be; as John Sides points out, if we assume a coin flip going in, it doesn't take much to get a 58/41 result. Of course, the other candidate did run a bit of a campaign, so it was perhaps not 50/50 going in...but maybe take a few points for ballot order, and several more for "Take Me To The River" and perhaps that's enough.
As far as I know, no one has ever studied the Gene Kelly effect, but I'm willing to guess that it's a factor in this one. As John asked in his post, anyone have anything better?