As the old joke goes, if you change your name to Arthur Aardvark you are more likely to be elected mayor.

Why? Because voters often tick the person at the top of the ballot paper.

Randomising name placement has given people with so called T-Z Syndrome a fighting chance, but it does raise the question; how do people make decide who to vote for at local body elections?

An informal straw poll following the Hawke's Bay Today mayoral debate put Kirsten Wise as the frontrunner for Napier.

Advertisement

Wise received 181 votes, Chris Tremain was second with 49, Steve Gibson had 26 and David Hannay had five (although he had been unable to attend the debate for health reasons).

This, despite the fact that on the majority of issues spoken about on stage, candidates shared some common ground.

Chlorine for example. Gibson said it would be "gone in 12 months," Wise had a five-step plan for its removal, and Tremain would consider options and costs of going chlorine-free, utilising a mayoral taskforce.

The upgrade and location of the aquatic centre, also had near agreement.

Both Wise and Tremain would re-consult, Gibson said there was no need, build at Onekawa. Either way, there would at least be a pause on the Prebensen Drive proposal.

The major way Wise and Tremain have been differentiating themselves is discussing current involvement with the council.

Wise has been highlighting on her experience as councillor who has been fighting from the inside, saying while some might think her part of the problem, she is not.

Tremain, on the other hand, has been making a point of telling people he is not involved with the current council, more than once referring to its actions as "shenanigans."

Advertisement

Of course, all four candidates have their own policies, but on the major issues, everyone seems to agree.

So what else separates candidates when their policies are, at least superficially, similar.

Local Government Policy expert at Lincoln University, Jean Drage , said there were three main factors people voted on: the issues, incumbency/name recognition and representation.

She said recognising a name on a ballot paper was one of the main drivers for people voting when they did not know what candidates stood for.

She said this gave Wise and Tremain an advantage, as they have both held public office in Napier, as opposed to Hannay and Gibson.

She said another factor was representation, in simple terms, people voting for candidates who looked like them.

She said one of the main drivers for specifically women standing for local government was an inability to see themselves in their representatives.

Despite these other factors, Drage said this year local body elections across the country seemed to be predominantly issues focused.

Former campaign manager and Labour party President, Mike Williams, said at local level, name recognition was key, saying he would put his money on Tremain.

Williams managed the campaign for former Mayor of Auckland City, Dame Catherine Tizard.

She lost the 1980 election, but by 1983, the first election she won, she had better name recognition, Williams said.

He said the item candidates need to get right is their blurb, which comes with the ballot paper.

"A lot of people make their decision on the basis of that...you must have a good blurb."

He said being at the top of the ballot paper also helps.