While it would be great if you could choose between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy to represent yourself to voters on the ballot, the truth is that political candidates can’t use anything but the name they were given by their parents. In most states, however, you do have several options when it comes to using your full first name or a shortened version, and including a middle initial or even your full middle name.
So, are you more likely to win if you put your name on the ballot in one way instead of another?
Well, not really. Just like we’ve said countless times here, the most important aspect of your campaign is how hard you work . . . not the color of your yard signs or whether you put your middle name on the ballot.
Still, this is a good topic to focus on for a moment, if only because new political candidates waste a lot of time wondering how they should list their name on the ballot.
In most states, the name that will represent you on the ballot is determined by what you write on your petitions, which need to be signed by registered voters in order to qualify you as a candidate. You are usually allowed to use your full first name or a shortened version of your first name (“Phil” instead of “Philip,” for example); your full middle name, middle initial or no middle initial at all; and your full last name.
Let’s look at the two schools of thought when it comes to how your name should appear on the ballot.
The first says that the longer the name the better, since it will attract more attention from voters at the polls. If your name is longer than your opponent’s, they say, then it will jut out further on the ballot and undecided voters will be more likely to cast their vote for you than for the shorter name.
The second school of thought goes like this: you should shorten your name as much as possible, since regular people are naturally turned off by long, intimidating names. Undecided voters are much more likely to cast a vote for you if your name sounds informal and familiar.
Personally, I don’t think that either argument holds much water. I suppose that if you are a candidate who doesn’t plan on campaigning at all to win a seat, then you could focus on the psychology of which names voters are most likely to choose.
Then again, if you don’t plan on putting in any work on the campaign trail at all, then you are either a shoo-in incumbent or you don’t want to win anyway.
I’ve seen candidates win political campaigns while appearing on the ballot with names like Joe Smith and with names like Rutherford Minnifield Von Sprakenburg. If you’ve worked hard and done what it takes to run a great campaign, the voters aren’t going to care what your name is when they vote for you.
Conversely, if you haven’t taken your campaign seriously then you can count on few votes even if your name is Abraham Lincoln.
Here’s my advice for which name you should use on the ballot: run with the name that more people know you by. If that’s Joseph Maximilian Johnson, then go with that.
If, on the other hand, more voters are familiar with Joe Johnson, then make sure that is the name that appears on the ballot.