The Runner-Up Effect
66 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2014 Last revised: 13 May 2022
Date Written: June 2014
Exploiting regression discontinuity designs in Brazilian, Indian, and Canadian first-past-the-post elections, we document that second-place candidates are substantially more likely than close third-place candidates to run in, and win, subsequent elections. Since both candidates lost the election and had similar electoral performance, this is the effect of being labeled the runner-up. We explore the potential mechanisms for this runner-up effect, including selection into candidacy, heuristic behavior by political actors, and the runner-up obtaining an advantage from strategic coordination (being more likely to become a focal point). Selection into candidacy is unlikely to explain the effect on winning subsequent elections, and the weight of evidence suggests the effect is driven by strategic coordination. We find no effect of finishing in third-place versus fourth-place.
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